'Morbius' review: Leto bares fangs in dried up vampire exercise
Skippable comic book movie feels like a relic of the '90s.
There's a scene in "Morbius" where Jared Leto's character, a vampire scientist named Dr. Michael Morbius — a name which sounds funnier the more every character on screen says it — stands in front of a chamber full of bats while the film's Hans Zimmer-like score swells to a crescendo.
The setting is given a blue-gray tint, and as Morbius opens the glass door and is engulfed by the winged creatures like he's in the center of a bat tornado, for a moment it's like you're watching "The Dark Knight."
It stands out because it at least recalls something, where most of "Morbius" is flat, forgettable and undefined. This is comic book filmmaking at its most uninspired, as if the last 20 years of Marvel and DC movies never happened. It's enough to make you appreciate the "Venom" films, because as loud and messy as they are, they at least have their quirks. In "Morbius," every ounce of character and personality has been sucked dry.
Leto's Morbius suffers from a rare and debilitating blood disease, and he gets around with the help of a pair of forearm crutches. His ailment leads him to find his own cure for what's missing from his DNA, and he comes up with it in the form of an artificial blood supplement (and wins a Nobel Prize in the process). When he doubles down and turns to a flock of vampire bats to extract their blood properties, well, when's the last time an experiment with vampirism went right?
Morbius comes to rely on drinking blood, and he sucks down his packs of blue goo like a kid crushing a juice box after soccer practice. Soon the synthetic stuff just isn't doing it anymore, and he needs real blood to quench his increasing thirst.
Leto, who never plays anything down the middle (see his work in, well, anything), decides to play Morbius straight: there's no accent, no ticks, nothing loud that announces he's performing here. There are a handful of scenes between him and Adria Arjona, who plays his assistant and fiancée, Martine Bancroft, that could pass as an episode of network TV. It's Leto as Leto, and he just happens to be a bloodthirsty vampire. (It's funny that this is the role where he comes off as somewhat normal.)
The conflict comes from his character not willing to give into his urges, and the blood trail that comes from the times he does. Morbius' childhood pal, Milo (Matt Smith), who suffers from the same disease, has much less resignation about draining victims of their blood, and becomes an over-the-top supervillain in the process. A pair of FBI agents, played by Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal, are always cold on the trail, and seem to be unsure of what kind of movie they're in.
The audience can sympathize. "Morbius" is oddly flavorless, with little narrative drive propelling it forward. It suffers from dull pacing, lifeless characters and bland action, its only visual signature coming from the whooshes Morbius and Milo leave behind when they enact their superspeed abilities. They're like colorful curls of vampire chemtrails.
As a character, Morbius is part of the Spider-Man universe, and only at the end of the movie do we get that connective tissue. That eventual tease is "Morbius'" raison d'etre, which somehow manages to cheapen the experience even further. The urge to expand "Spider-Man" is understandable, especially at the corporate level, given the massive popularity of the Spidey films. But there's nothing in "Morbius" that couldn't have been better summed up in a two-minute trailer.
Rated PG-13: for intense sequences of violence, some frightening images, and brief strong language
Running time: 104 minutes