After his divisive turn as the Joker in DC’s Suicide Squad, Jared Leto attempts to jump on the superhero bandwagon again as Doctor Morbius in the Spider-Man villain’s first standalone film. Once again, he misses the mark and winds up flat on his face.
Michael Morbius is a renowned doctor whose goal in life is to find the cure for a rare blood disease that has afflicted him and his friend Milo (Matt Smith) since they were children. Morbius develops the cure using DNA from vampire bats, but when he tests it on himself he is transformed into a bloodthirsty killer with superpowers who requires human blood to stay healthy. Cue scenes of Jared Leto sucking bags of blood dry like they’re Capri-Suns.
The central conflict of the film arises when Morbius denies Milo the cure, believing it to be a curse. In retaliation, an embittered Milo steals it for himself and frames him for murder. Whereas Morbius struggles to refrain from killing people with increasingly ineffective artificial blood, Milo inebriates himself with slaughter.
Jared Leto jumps back on the superhero bandwagon and winds up flat on his face
Matt Smith seems to be having fun hamming it up as the villain here, gently drawing on the quirky persona he cultivated in Doctor Who. However, his moments stand out more as awkward blips rather than entertaining idiosyncrasies in what is otherwise a suffocatingly serious film. Smith doing a little dad dance over the corpses of murdered cops could have been raucous in an off-the-wall James Gunn film – here, it’s jarring.
For his part, Leto lacks the wild eccentricity that makes Tom Hardy’s turns in the Venom films so compelling. Instead, he weighs Morbius down with a leaden performance, while the supporting cast is given little to do.
There’s nothing in the script to give depth to these characters or their relationships. Jared Harris plays the doctor who cared for Morbius and Milo from when they were children, and serves as a surrogate father to the pair. But his role is emotionally weightless and he disappears for long stretches. Adria Arjona, meanwhile, is reduced to little more than hanging around as the charisma-deficient lead’s medical colleague and love interest, Martine.
The audience has to make do with the gruel of muddy CGI in dimly lit locales
The action sequences are similarly lacking. This is where Morbius could deliver a crumb of genuine imagination, but instead the audience has to make do with the gruel of muddy CGI in dimly lit locales. The conclusion to the climactic fight scene is so underwhelming that it’s easy to mistake it for a fake-out before a real finale to come.
The fact that Morbius attempts to court an audience by dangling a potential connection to the Tom Holland Spider-Man universe is the worst kind of unearned fan service in a film this lacklustre. Compelling characters are the lifeblood of a good superhero story, so it’s tragic that a film about two warring vampires in the Marvel universe is utterly bereft of them.
In UK and Australian cinemas now. In US theaters Apr 1.