Indisputably, our cinemas are clogged with superheroes. Griping about a trend that’s just a Hollywood fact of life is almost trite, but in the case of Morbius, the dark and gloomy Jared Leto vehicle finally making it to theaters this weekend, I have to register a complaint. Morbius, a “living vampire” who can fly and has super-strength and -reflexes, is the least helpful superhero I have ever seen in a movie. He causes many problems, resolves almost none of them, and at no point does anything particularly altruistic.
One might counter with the notion that Morbius, who exists alongside Venom as part of Sony’s nascent Spider-Man-themed universe, is an antihero: a super-being plagued by an edgy, dramatic past who is not consumed by a need to carry out the typical bits of derring-do. Plenty of interesting comic-book portrayals along those lines have cropped up in recent years—think of Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, or Ryan Reynolds’s wisecracking Deadpool. But Morbius is little more than an irritant, a grumpy, one-note CGI beastie who spends most of his movie pondering whether he should go full supervillain.
Spoiler alert: Morbius never really answers that question. Even by the standards of the many monotonous origin stories that have been rolled out during this superhero boom, Daniel Espinosa’s film is a whiff, a half-hearted effort to create a character on a knife-edge between valor and villainy that instead ends up a portrait of a very annoying weirdo. Perhaps that’s par for the course given Leto’s track record in this genre—his take on the Joker in Suicide Squad, intended as gritty and menacing, felt gratingly obnoxious. His Morbius is not quite so over-the-top, but he’s still a charmless knockoff lead, a character who deserves to be quickly forgotten rather than brought into the Spider-Man fold.
When audiences first meet him, Dr. Michael Morbius is a scientific genius on the brink of death, suffering from a rare blood disease that limits his movement and requires constant transfusions. His efforts to cure his condition have led him to develop artificial blood, a groundbreaking achievement that would probably be a far more interesting topic for the film to focus on. But Morbius cares most about healing himself, which he of course achieves by injecting himself with a serum of vampire-bat DNA. Suddenly, he’s super-strong, his reflexes are perfect, and there’s just one tiny side effect: He’s a fanged beast who thirsts for human blood every few hours.
Leto, an actor who often makes a public meal of how committed he is to his roles, does his best to sell the monster within through lots of anguished screaming. For all his internal torment, however, Morbius is a dull creature switching between equally bland personae: the human Michael, puzzling over his predicament, and the vampiric Morbius, who roars at people with a highly unconvincing, computer-generated face. Neither achieves anything remotely positive. The only time Morbius seems fleetingly interested in working for the public good is when he stalks some shady-seeming gangsters to a lab where they’re making counterfeit goods—but he then reveals that he only wants to hijack their lab to carry out more of his experiments.
Other than that, Morbius is useless. He guzzles artificial blood to try to stave off his addiction, though it is apparently a flimsy substitute for the real thing. He creates carnage wherever he goes, throwing cops around a subway station and inadvertently putting his lab partner, Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), in harm’s way whenever she tries to help him. Most crucially, his best friend, Milo (Matt Smith), who has the same blood condition, gets his hands on the serum and becomes a vampire as well, embracing his villainy and delivering many a florid monologue about how great it is to suck people’s blood out of their neck. Morbius is tasked with defeating him, but given that Milo is a problem of the doctor’s own creation, that’s the least he could do.
Smith does his absolute best to wring a little fun out of his character, dancing around in smoking jackets and throwing himself into every action scene with aplomb, but it’s not enough to distract from the overall dour tone. When Leto is at his most maximalist, it helps if the movie matches him—the willingness to embrace exaggerated silliness is what made House of Gucci such an enjoyable ride, with Leto hamming it up right in the middle of all the chaos. Morbius is reflective of Leto’s much more self-serious side, and the film is thuddingly tedious as a result. For all his vampiric power, I encourage Dr. Morbius to return to the noble field of blood science, because it’s clearly the only thing he’s actually good at.