When Jared Leto makes his first appearance in Morbius wearing a black, bat-like cape that looks like he bought off the discount rack at a Spirit Halloween store, you know that this film isn’t exactly going to be one for subtlety. That isn’t necessarily the kiss of death for Morbius, as Superhero films have a reputation for hammering their message home like a railroad spike, and we’re usually okay with it. What sucks the life out of Morbius is a trifecta of failures. The first is Jared Leto’s performance, somehow wooden and annoyingly over-the-top at the same time. The second is the uninspired series of action sequences, which would have looked dated if they had gone toe-to-toe against The Matrix in 1999. And the third is a complete lack of anything approaching a real human character. These issues and many more make a solid case that Morbius isn’t just bad — It’s irredeemable.
Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant young doctor whose invention of artificial blood has saved lives around the world. However, he’s running out of time to save himself, having suffered from a blood disease since birth that requires dialysis multiple times a day. All of his research is dedicated to finding a cure not just for himself but also for the many others who suffer from the same ailment, including his childhood best friend Lucien, aka Milo (Matt Smith).
He finds a promising lead in certain coagulants found in vampire bats and theorizes that if he can somehow fuse human and bat DNA together, the blood disease will be neutralized (If you have any background in science or, hell, even a used 6th-grade biology textbook sitting around in your childhood bedroom, you will likely find this hypothesis particularly galling). Predictably, this doesn’t go as planned. Although Michael indeed finds a way to rid himself of his disease’s painful and debilitating effects, it comes at a terrible cost: He needs to drink blood more and more frequently until it becomes an overwhelming ache that consumes his every waking thought.
On its face, Leto seems like a perfectly acceptable choice to take on this role. He has a certain trademark intensity that would seem fitting for a superpowered vampire desperately trying to control his darker urges. But whether it’s his performance or simply the way the role is written, there’s nothing there – no charisma, no life, no humor. We know he’s a generally upright kind of person based on his desire to help people and the lengths he goes to prevent himself from hurting anyone. But for the most part, it’s like staring into a pure void.
He is not particularly well supported by his fellow cast members, either. There’s a version of this film where Matt Smith as Lucien would be a great counterpart to Morbius – he’s a much more interesting actor than many give him credit for and has a quiet menace and charm that can be extremely engaging under the right circumstances. Alas, he’s wasted here. The character of Lucien is poorly written, and Smith’s efforts to imbue him with life end up with him going entirely off the rails, gnawing on any bits of scenery he can find. Adria Arjona as Martine Bancroft, Morbius’ dedicated fellow doctor, doesn’t fare much better. In a true step backward for superhero love interests everywhere, there is absolutely nothing to her character other than a pure devotion to Morbius. Oh, and she’s smart. That’s it. It’s hardly Arjona’s fault that the character she’s asked to portray is paper-thin, but it makes her yet another weak component of the film.
But who cares about characters? People are going to see a superhero movie for the action, anyway, right? Well, Morbius is a letdown there, too. Despite this film’s bloated budget, there are extended fight sequences that look no better than a video game. Even worse is how the film feels bold enough to slow down the action, as though to show off a particularly cool move, which only exposes how shoddily put-together the conflict is. There’s no choreography, just a bland CG mess adding nothing to the production.
Look, with the amount of superhero content released every year, it stands to reason that not all of them will be winners. But when you watch Morbius, there’s an inescapable sense that someone had to be actively trying to make a movie this bad. It fails on almost every conceivable front, making even its comparatively short run time of under two hours (rarer and rarer for a comic book movie these days) feel like an eternity. The young versions of Morbius and Lucien, who have about four minutes of screentime, are good, and the always dependable Jared Harris is a brief shining light in the darkness. But that’s it. And that’s not nearly enough to save Morbius from the disastrous fate of becoming one of the worst movies in recent memory.