Review: Even with vampire Jared Leto, lifeless 'Morbius' is a soul-sucking superhero effort

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

Here’s a little knowledge to impart on the non-superhero fan in your life about the new film “Morbius”: Jared Leto is a bat man but he’s not Batman. Or Spider-Man. Or any of the other many cinematic superheroes the film tries to copy.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (“Life”), “Morbius” (★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Friday) is the next major movie to introduce a new Marvel comic-book character to the movie fold, seemingly based in Sony’s Spidey-centric galaxy (see also: “Venom”) instead of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the worst superhero outing since “Fantastic Four” doesn’t really fit anywhere: With Leto flying and jumping through New York City as a do-gooding bloodsucker with moral “Should I feast on my fellow man?” quandaries, “Morbius” is a lifeless slog with no real bite.

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Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) develops a taste for blood when he experiments with vampire and human DNA in the superhero horror movie "Morbius."

Suffering from a rare blood-borne disease since childhood that leaves him weak and is slowly killing him, scientist Dr. Michael Morbius (Leto) is determined to find a cure to help old friend Milo (Matt Smith) and others with this same illness. Morbius travels to Costa Rica  for vampire bats so he can mix their DNA with human genes for some highly illegal experiments. With the help of fellow doctor (and love interest) Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), he thinks he’s finally cracked it and tries it out on himself, leading to a transformation into a buff dude with superhuman strength, crazy jumping abilities and sweet echolocation skills.

Oh, and a taste for blood. The artificial stuff he slurps works at first but he wants the real human thing more and more. Morbius also begins to lose control, and he gets pegged as a serial killer by authorities even though there is another “vampire murderer” on the loose that Morbius has to battle.

Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) gets help with his condition from fellow doctor Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) in "Morbius."

The whole thing is pretty silly – apparently being a “living vampire” means he’s got a weird bat face rather than one of those sexy “Twilight” vamps – and extremely derivative. “You would not like to see me when I’m hungry,” Morbius says with a stern face, aping the old “Incredible Hulk” TV show. But, aside from Smith’s inexplicably goofy dancing every so often, there’s no self-awareness whatsoever. Instead of having even a dark sense of humor, the film’s simply hellbent on being a superhero horror movie yet fails at being a good superhero film or an effective horror treat.

Coming off of Leto’s enjoyably campy turn in “House of Gucci,” his Morbius – best described as a goth-friendly mix of Popeye, Dracula and the Hulk – is a dour disappointment. The prosthetics he wears to match the facial look of his original comic counterpart look good when he’s snarling still, but when he starts flipping around, fighting, or just quickly swapping between regular dude and vampire guy face, the special effects prove to be a letdown.

Milo (Matt Smith) is an old friend of Michael Morbius with the same rare blood disease in "Morbius."

Smith’s character suffers from a lack of development as does Jared Harris’ role as a mentor to Morbius and Milo. “Fast and Furious” stalwart Tyrese Gibson plays a cop in pursuit of the newly vampiric doc – his job is mainly to grimace a lot. And Michael Keaton reprises his role as the Vulture from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” although he also seems to be wondering why he’s there.

Most of the MCU movies and some of the recent DC films like “The Suicide Squad” are case studies on how to best introduce obscure superhero personas onto the screen. The gonzo “Venom” movies know and proudly own what they are. “Morbius” misses all those lessons and seems to be stuck among the more lackluster films from the early to mid-2000s a la “Elektra.” Even the mid-credits scenes that attempt to bring Leto’s role into a larger landscape wind up being more confusing than cool.

Rather than a fang-tastic time, “Morbius” is just a soul-sucking effort.