'Morbius' review: Jared Leto is wasted in lifeless origin story

The latest Marvel anti-hero film, set in the Spider-Man universe, falls flat despite outstanding special effects

Jared Leto plays Dr Michael Morbius, who gains superhuman strength and agility after ingesting a serum. Photo: Sony Pictures
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“I should have died years ago,” murmurs Jared Leto’s ailing medic in Morbius. Judging by this messy Marvel spin-off, one that’s finally released in cinemas after several pandemic-related delays, it would’ve been good if he had. Like Venom before it, Morbius is a film set tangentially in the Spider-Man universe. He’s a villain from the comics, who first appeared in 1971, who now gets to take centre stage in an origin story that also operates (or tries to) as a horror film.

'Morbius'

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Stars: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona

Rating: 2/5

For the uninitiated, Dr Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant scientist with a debilitating and rare blood disease. When we first see him as an adult, he’s pale, thin and forced to use crutches to get around. The superbly transformative Leto, last seen fattening up for his flamboyant turn in House of Gucci, doubtless had a field day in shedding the pounds here to look like a man living on borrowed time.

Sadly, Leto’s efforts have gone to waste in a lifeless story that has less pulse than a 100-year-old corpse. We soon learn that Morbius, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing artificial blood, is trying anything he can to save himself and others suffering from the same disease — including his friend Milo (Matt Smith), who he’s known since childhood, when both were looked after by the kindly Nicholas (Jared Harris) in a medical facility.

Matt Smith as Milo in 'Morbius'. Photo: Sony Pictures

Working with Dr Martine Bancroft (Good Omens’ Adria Arjona), the increasingly desperate doctor begins experimenting with vampire bat DNA. Capturing these deadly creatures in Costa Rica, he then performs the procedure on a container ship several miles from Long Island (in international waters, to avoid legal complications, it seems). But after ingesting the serum, Morbius gains superhuman strength and agility — and an insatiable thirst for human blood.

Scripted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who previously co-wrote the appalling Dracula Untold, the story soon has Morbius as Most Wanted, with the police (including Fast & Furious star Tyrese Gibson) chasing him down after a litany of corpses are left on the ship. Meanwhile, Smith’s Milo takes the serum too, without Morbius’s knowledge, causing him to become the film’s de facto pantomime villain, who causes havoc around the city with his newfound abilities.

To be fair, the special effects used to show Morbius and Milo’s physical transformations into their vampiric alter-egos are superb — the razor-sharp teeth, the sunken eyes and pallid skin are all beautifully designed. But this aside, it’s a film that has very little in the way of terror, bar one scene where a woman feels she’s being stalked in a corridor. Director Daniel Espinosa proves as inept in handling horror as he was in the sci-fi universe when he made 2017’s Life.

The film shows Dr Morbius transforming into his vampiric alter-ego. Photo: Sony Pictures

Even Morbius himself feels poorly etched as a character. One minute, he’s making references to reading Cosmopolitan and watching that beloved romance movie with Ryan Gosling, The Notebook, like he’s come straight from a Sex and the City episode; the next, he’s draining someone’s blood until they’re a withered cadaver. While Leto looks disengaged as the film wears on, Smith overacts entirely, prancing around in flashy costumes like he’s John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Much like the equally lousy Venom, in which Tom Hardy played a reporter who gets taken over by an alien symbiote, it’s a film that shows how risky it is to place your bad guy as the main character. Without Spider-Man’s presence, the antagonism between good and evil just isn’t there. The filmmakers might argue that the conflict is all internal inside Morbius, but in a story littered with crash-bang-wallop visuals, that never comes across.

Naturally, there are two post-credit stings to sit through, which do at least tie the film into the wider Marvel universe with the appearance of a familiar character. The inference is that there will be further adventures, and a bad-guy team-up — with Hardy’s Venom also likely to be called upon too — to face off with our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Maybe that will work better, with the villains dropping back and allowing Spidey to lead the way.

As it is, Morbius is a film that has to be endured. Only the most devoted Marvel fans need apply.

Morbius is now showing in cinemas across the UAE

Updated: April 01, 2022, 6:35 PM
'Morbius'

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Stars: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona

Rating: 2/5

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