Memes are beginning to shape the perception of movies in a way movie studios can’t cope with.
Memes Rule The World
You’ve probably heard of ‘The Snyder Cut’. Back when Justice League was being filmed, Zack Snyder had to step away from filming due to family troubles, and he wasn’t able to return in time to finish directing. The movie we got as a result could have been something great, but lacked polish and vision. Fans online demanded the Snyder cut! The Snyder cut would have been great! The studio, realizing the could capitalize off this meme without losing face, partnered up with Snyder to make this happen. Fans got what they wanted, over online streaming services, but the Snyder cut ended up being five hours. Online, people seemed to like it a lot! But was it actually good? Or was it better only because they’d written five hours of script and tried to cram it into half that for a theater release? It was a poorly conceived project, and needed a re-write. In a world without memes, they wouldn’t have gotten away with re-framing the project parameters to turn a movie into a show.
Compared to the original shortened version, where character development and breathing room were cut to fit, the five hours of movie pulled out of the Snyder cut was better, but still suffered from some of the same problems Batman V. Superman did. By having a direct comparison, and by giving fans what they’d asked for, the Snyder cut of Justice League earned a higher rating than it probably actually deserved and would have gotten if it came out by itself without all the baggage. Once you, a fan, has asked for something, it would be rude to say you didn’t like it, right? A similar meme led to a very hideous Sonic from the Sonic movie getting a total overhaul into a much cuter Sonic, and people pushed each other to see it because the studio had gone through tremendous effort to make their movie watchable. The least you can do is go watch it, right?
Memes played a crucial role in ‘fixing’ both of these movies, giving fans a voice and letting DC and Sega know that the path they’d started down was not one they could continue on.
However, you can’t be ‘in’ on the joke if you don’t have any goodwill around your brand. People like Sega, and they liked Zack Snyder. DC has stumbled a few times since the release of Justice League, rusting out fans’ goodwill with controversies like cutting Ray Fisher (who played Cyborg) for speaking out about poor treatment of the character, but keeping Ezra Miller (who plays Flash) despite Miller assaulting more than one person in Hawaii while filming.
DC doesn’t have much goodwill left from non-fans. They stop listening to memes when those memes might cost them money. Sony, however, does not have their experience. This is what lead to ‘Morbin’ Time’ and a thousand-theater re-release nobody actually wanted.
The first meme to refer to ‘morbin’ time’ came off a tweet that said you, the reader, couldn’t say that it wasn’t his catchphrase because the reader didn’t see the movie, either. Immediately, this should have been a hint to Sony that it was funnier if you hadn’t seen the movie. The perception of Morbius was a lot like the perception of the Green Lantern movie, except in a future where people know the Green Lantern movie isn’t good.
“I loved it when he said ‘It’s Morbin’ Time!’ and morbed all over those guys.” “Stand Back, I’m beginning to Morb!” “What are we, some kinda Morbius?” “True Morbheads know what it means to morb and be morbless.” Et cetera. On Tumblr especially, the point of being a Morbhead was that you hadn’t seen the movie. You could ‘morb’ someone by flashing them with a very compressed, very pixelated two-minute gif of the entire movie. I got morbed on Tumblr and TikTok. People were streaming Morbius illegally on Twitch, a livestreaming platform usually used for gaming. Pirating it so you could show it to friends against their will was funny. Morbing someone was a punchline. You didn’t want to watch the movie. Sincerely watching movie outside of those gifs would ruin the fun of not knowing he didn’t morb all over those guys. Worse was paying for the privilege to do so after it was clear the movie was just another trash film.
Unfortunately, Sony misunderstood that the memes were laughing at them, not with them, and attempted to re-release the movie and double-dip on their opening weekend. Their first weekend was fine and made back the movie’s budget (meaning it didn’t actually bomb, despite the memes), but this second, undeserved re-release only earned them an additional 85,000$ across 1000 theaters in the US. It also soured people on actually watching it even more. Would they have done this without the memes? Absolutely not.
People who were interested would have seen it the first go-round. Online moviegoers realized how terrible of a precedent allowing Morbius to succeed on it’s second weekend would set. Companies could make a bad movie, and instead of fixing the issues that lead to the bad movie, they could instead manufacture memes about how bad their movie is, generate hype online for it, and then re-release it for people to laugh at how bad it is, at full price, of course. This would reward studios for producing lackluster content and rushing production. Morbius is alright, a little cheesy, but not the worst superhero movie, according to reviews – when Sony so much as thought they were in on the joke, the meme turned cold and cringe, and they lost all of that organic marketing they could have watched roll in on streaming services, rentals, and dumb merch. All to re-release a movie ‘nobody even saw’.
The Idea of the Movie
Morbius is one of those characters that’s just sort of there. He’s not one of the big, popular, everyone-knows-and-likes him kind of characters by default the way Spiderman is. Still, being a relatively unknown side character in today’s day and age is not a movie’s death sentence. Few knew who Iron Man was before Robert Downey Jr. turned him into one of the most well-known Marvel characters of all time in a movie that most critics expected to bomb. Instead, it set off a chain reaction that led to one of the biggest, most profitable, most-beloved and well-known cinematic universes the world has ever seen.
It didn’t seem preposterous that Dr. Morbius, a vampiric character that’s often pitted against Spiderman and co. could eek out a worthwhile movie and set himself up for a sequel and some merch. Unfortunately, the movie was nothing special, and the actor playing Morbius himself wasn’t helping matters.
The Guy in the Movie
Jared Leto has had good roles that he played well. He was in American Psycho, Blade Runner 2044, and a handful of other big movies. Unfortunately, he became better-known for his role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, another superhero movie about a handful of side characters that was poorly received by critics and the internet. Leto’s idea of the Joker, to use a phrase I stole online, is like a pizza cutter – all edge, no point. He’s kooky and cringey, and has a set of lines straight off of Reddit’s r/ImFourteenAndThisIsDeep. The movie failed because the script was really bad and had too many characters competing for screentime, a common DC issue, but Leto’s Joker stood out as one of the worst parts of the movie, remembered alongside iconic lines like “What are we, some kinda… Suicide Squad?” and “This is Katana. I would recommend not getting killed by her, her sword traps the souls of her victims.” (Are you seeing the setup to “It’s Morbin’ Time” in these lines?)
To make matters worse, Jared was also notoriously creepy and rude to his costars for the sake of ‘method acting’, going so far as to send Margot Robbie a rat, which then had to be re-homed because it’s a living animal and not a prop. He couldn’t seem to distinguish between press that said he’d gone too far in a good way and press that said he’d gone too far in a bad way, either, which egged him on in interviews after the fact, further solidifying his reputation as a jerk online. The poor performance in the movie made many people question what Jared actually thought method acting was – are you turning Jared Leto into the Joker, or are you turning the Joker into Jared Leto’s Joker?
Aside from that, Jared’s got some weird thing going on with a bunch of young women and an island that he’s kind of hinting might or might not be a cult, but not in a way that couldn’t be plausibly denied.
And On Morbius
Now that I’ve told you all about Jared’s weird behavior to get into character as the Joker, you’ll be ecstatic to know he did it again with Morbius, and used a combination of crutches and wheelchairs to adapt to the character. That in and of itself is actually good method-acting: playing a disabled character accurately as an able-bodied actor means putting yourself in their wheels or crutches, experiencing the world as they do. You have to learn to hold your weight differently, at the very least. You learn things like motion-activated sinks and sinks that are too high aren’t mobility-aid friendly. Heavy pull doors suuuck. These are things you don’t think about until you have to live with them. Unfortunately, Leto took this to such an extreme that filming would come to a halt as he used the crutches to get to the bathroom and back, taking up to 45 minutes to do so.
To strike a deal, the director had someone backstage wheel him to and fro in a wheelchair so the bathroom breaks would stop eating up so much time, which is where it became bad method acting. Jared was sort of parodying what an able-bodied man thinks crutch-users have to go through to get to the bathroom, not actually experiencing it, because the set has to stop because he’s the star and he can take however long he wants. He never had to learn to hurry on the crutches like real people often do, or like someone like Dr. Morbius would have had to, or how to actually handle things like opening doors and washing hands, or using mixed physical aides to do all of this in a reasonable time frame. Instead, he can flail through it, doing it the long way, instead of doing it the way crutch users actually do it. Because he’s Jared Leto and he’s the star. Thus, he’s not portraying a man on crutches accurately.
All of this is a lot of work for very little payoff – Morbius is a movie about a doctor who cures his own illness by becoming a vampire, so between you watching him decline and then recover, the part of the movie where he’s on crutches is maybe a 6th of the film at best.
The Movie Itself
The movie itself was nothing special. It’s a Sony movie. Fans have spent a long time watching Sony movies about superheroes miss the mark, so viewers are wary. People who liked Superman were willing to watch Man of Steel, but Morbius had very little built-in fanbase who’d go see it no matter what.
All this said, Morbius is allegedly fine, but not something you’d go out of your way to see unless the movie you were actually going to was sold out and nothing else was close in timing. Jared Leto delivers a passable if dramatic performance, the movie has good action scenes that are almost comically splattered with CG effects, the plot makes sense, it’s fine. Not good, not Iron Man or Wonder Woman, but not Batman V. Superman or Justice League.
It did fine too. It made its money back. But because it wasn’t the huge blockbuster comic book movies tend to be, and a lot of comic nerds avoided a movie they’d normally watch because it was from Sony, there were rumblings online that ‘nobody had seen it’, which started the memes. The movie itself could have gone down as one of Sony’s more passable movies if the studio hadn’t tried to hijack the memes into advertising.