Morbius Review: Jared Leto Vibrates With Vulnerability

FGet the Dark Knight Get the Dark Knight. MorbiusJared Leto, the Pale Knight is a thoughtful, gentle-spoken biochemist with a ponytail. He wants one goal: to find a cure. Leto suffers from a rare blood disorder that renders him unable to walk on his own and needs multiple transfusions every day. Leto’s Michael Morbius thinks the secret to a cure may lie in blood-sucking bats, who gorge themselves on the red stuff and somehow manage to process it just fine. The serum is made from the innards of the bats. He then allows himself to become a guineapig. However, the experiment fails. Although the formula gives him superhuman strength and speed, it also makes him a vampire. A drawn creature, with no nose and pointy teeth, the virus has turned him into an undead vampire. He must drink blood to function, and though artificial blood—which he happened to also invent—does the trick for a while, only that of actual humans may provide a long-term solution. What does Dr. Ponytail want? That guy?

Your feelings about Morbius will probably depend on how much you have invested in the Sony-Marvel pie slice, and on your feelings about Leto, who perhaps isn’t so much a serious actor as one who takes himself very seriously. Still, his performance here has a quietly vibrating vulnerability; he seems to have made at least a small emotional investment in this film, as if to keep it from sliding into total special-effects-laden soullessness.

His efforts pay off, nominally: Michael Morbius doesn’t want to be a baddie, though his ungodly urges keep pulling him in that direction. It doesn’t Help that his closest friend from childhood, reclusive rich guy Milo (Matt Smith), who suffers from the same disorder, wonders why he can’t be healed as Morbius has. Leto is capable of portraying believable anguish and cautious tenderness, particularly in his scenes with the fellow doctor for whom he has “feelings,” Adria Arjona’s Dr. Martine Bancroft.

Leto generates probably more real emotions than the slender, but extravagantly lavish movie requires. Daniel Espinosa is the director. He is also probably a more skilled director than what this movie needs. He is also the director of The Elegantly Tense Space Thing. The Best of LifeAnd the cold mystery of the child-killer Children 44.) Some of the effects here are nifty: Morbius, with his special bat powers (which include extra-sensitive hearing—his ears have sprouted delicate mushroom-like gills) doesn’t so much fly around as flash through space, and when he does, he leaves feathery wisps of color in his wake. If the action sequences feel numbingly generic, at least they’re not noisy or assaultive. You can also watch the trailer for Nosferatu fans, there’s a sly F.W. Murnau joke.

But what happens if Morbius doesn’t drag, it doesn’t exactly whiz by, either. Espinosa may have been trying to distinguish his film from the dozens—are we into the hundreds yet?—of other movies spawned from the comic books of various universes, and his efforts do give MorbiusA vaguely noble air. But in the end, we may not feel we need to know much more about Michael Morbius than this movie has already told us, even though a stinger alerts us that we’re due to see more of him in the future. This is a movie that feels like one big windup for something else, even if we walk out feeling we’ve already seen plenty.

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