The last hero of Marvel is hard to explain. He’s a man and a bat, too. No, not Batman. Let me try again: he’s a day-walking vampire, but, no, this adorable cat isn’t a blade. This guy is good but also very bad. See, he clearly has an identity crisis and his movie is in equally trouble.
“Morbius” is a forgettable, and often funny, entry in Sony’s attempt to fill in its cinematic universe adjacent to Spider-Man, a poorly edited, time-sucking derivative film.
He’s wasting the big talents of Jared Leto, who’s often left here as the snarling lead singer of a heavy metal band. The execution of the film is so muddled that it looks more like a horror movie than a superhero movie.
Leto stars as Dr. Michael Morbius, a weak, intelligent, and wealthy biochemist with a rare blood disease whose desperate search for a cure leads to a serum that makes him powerful but also turns him into a bloodthirsty vampire.
After a hit of serum, he goes from needing crutches to swinging through the air on tubes like an Olympic athlete. “I don’t know what I can do,” he says. One downside: He has to scream with bags of blood, so that’s it. He also seems to be able to transform into a bat and fly but why he didn’t fail his way out of this movie is unfathomable.
The filmmakers – director Daniel Espinosa, who was stumped by a sloppy script from Matt Sasama and Burke Sharpless – simply don’t know what to do with this creature once they give us its background. They compete with his best friend (Matt Smith) and a love interest (Adria Arjuna) in hopes of making it into a Shakespearean thing, but they walk in water.
Instead of a smooth, textured visual style, we got comic and buffet work from previous films – “The Matrix”, “American Psycho”, “The Usual Suspects” and “An American Werewolf in London”. Typical Marvel violence is unleashed, including so much muscle that our hero smashed the concrete streets of New York City into the subway system below.
Surprisingly enough, despite the entire movie, we know very little about Morbius. He is so principled that he refused the Nobel Prize but is okay with butchering his followers. He makes tiny origami animals for sick kids, and despite having a lot of money inventing artificial blood, he wears a cheap Casio watch. At one point, Morbius lost focus as the main man when Smith’s rival character hijacked the entire movie.
The special effects team is working overtime to give Leto, who has unfortunately been dressed as a messy guy throughout the movie, a kind of bat—his pupils cloud and his ear hair vibrate as if he’s using sonar. His skin will suddenly stretch over the bone and snarl a lot as well. For some reason, whenever he jumps, a sticky cloud surrounds him. It can also take slow motion, slow motion bullets, and motion sequences to build moments when everything is suddenly still and calm stylistically, like inside the eye of a hurricane.
“It’s a curse,” Leto states at one point and you wonder if he might be talking about the role and his place in his career, but he’ll be fine. He just has to ignore moments like Morbius being chained to a police station interview room desk and saying, “I’m starting to get hungry and you don’t want to see me when I’m hungry.”
There will be a lot of debate about where “Morbius” is in the Marvel canon. There is evidence that he has a Spider-Man fight in the future, but perhaps the best thing for an anti-vampire superhero is to just ignore him or beat him like a wayward bat.
“Morbius,” a release from Sony Pictures due in theaters today (Friday), is rated as PG-13 as “intense violence sequences, some frightening visuals, and strong, succinct language.” Show duration: 104 minutes. One star out of four.