The critics have spoken. And it’s not looking good for “Morbius,” now in theaters as a showcase for Jared Leto as Marvel’s “living vampire.” Such adjectives as “boring,” “disjointed” and “incoherent” have been tossed at Sony’s big-screen debut for a minor-league villain created by Marvel Comics in 1971 to pester Spider-Man.
Come on, this movie is much worse than that. And none of it matters. “Morbius” is the third film in the studio’s spin into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following “Venom” and “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which raked in over a billion bucks despite a burn from reviewers.
Audience appetite for comic-book antiheroes means you’re going to line up for “Morbius” no matter what anyone says. From Loki to Thanos, bad boys are big box office. And Leto, an Oscar winner who played the Joker in “The “Suicide Squad,” always goes the extra mile.
The actor never condescends to the role of Dr. Michael Moribus, a scientist who accidentally turns himself into a vampire after combining his DNA with that of a Costa Rican vampire bat to cure a rare blood disease that put him on crutches and sapped his strength.
Having finished shooting nearly three years ago, “Morbius” feels like it’s been tinkered with during the period when the pandemic pushed the release dates of mega-budget epics that wanted to wait for theaters to reopen in a big way. That time seems to be now. Look at “The Batman.”
At its core, “Morbius” is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ripoff about a good doctor who heals himself thorough illegal experiments that turn him into a monster with pointy teeth. Yes, he gains super strength and speed, but the urge to kill people leaves him feeling guilty afterwards.
And that’s a problem right there because it allows Matt Smith, a former Doctor Who who crushed it as a young Prince Phillip on “The Crown,” to steal the movie right out from under Leto’s star spot. Smith plays Milo, a Morbius friend since childhood who suffers from the same blood disease but has no interest in stewing in brooding misery. Milo is a natural-born party boy.
The minute Milo steals a dose of bat blood serum from Morbius, he’s off to the races. Milo is a billionaire who’s been living large in Manhattan from the outset. But the serum brings out the delicious worst in him, within PG-13 limits. Milo doesn’t wear a t-shirt saying, “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good,” but he could. Whenever Milo is off screen, the air goes out of this movie.
Truth to be told, “Morbius” never had much helium to begin with. Director Daniel Espinosa (“Life,” “Safe House”) dutifully connects the dots of the story without taking any flights of imagination that might have lifted it past the merely generic. Espinosa needed a dose of Milo.
“Morbius” comes in under two hours, but it feels much longer. The hot romance between Morbius and his colleague Martine (Adria Arjona) is barely lukewarm. Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal are strictly pro forma as FBI agents in over their heads. Even the great Jared Harris doesn’t add much as the father figure to these fang boys.
What we’re left with in “Morbius” is the ghost of an effective horrorfest overwhelmed by an elephantine budget, botched suspense and the need to brag, especially during the shameless, sequel-begging end credits, that it is Spider-Man adjacent. Even the creepily charismatic Leto and Smith can’t sell a vampire epic that would profit most from a stake through its heart.