In the realm of movies made from Marvel properties, we’re looking at an increasingly empty barrel from which to draw blockbusters.
The latest entry, “Morbius,” borrows tropes from certified Marvel hits like “Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange,” at least as far as the way it doles out, if not superhero qualities, certain familiar manifestations. Morbius, for example, doesn’t need the stickiness of web-slinging to fly through the canyons of Manhattan. He just spreads his arms and disappears in a smoky whoosh.
The central character is played by Jared Leto, who has impressed Hollywood of late with his performer’s bag of tricks: his ability to shape-shift in ways that put method actors like Christian Bale to shame. Leto’s turn in the recent “House of Gucci” had him unrecognizable under wigs, padding and prosthetics. But here he’s handsome and brooding, and looking like he needs a good hug.
A little background. Michael Morbius is a brilliant doctor and researcher who wins the Nobel Prize for his development of artificial blood. And true to his humanistic nature, he humbly spurns the award as an unnecessary accolade.
His true purpose, as laid out in an extended flashback, is to find a cure for an affliction that has him crippled and gaunt, much like his best childhood pal, Milo, played in adulthood by Matt Smith, a rakishly effective Prince Philip in “The Crown,” but probably more familiar as a goofy Dr. Who.
Morbius is fixated on experiments mixing his own DNA with that of vampire bats, in the hopes that one day the combination might restore his health. But as often happens in comic-book movies, it pays to be careful what you wish for.
Testing the potion on himself quickly proves that his newfound vim and vigor can be a curse when it leads to uncontrolled vampirism. There are hints of “American Werewolf in London,” in the way the good doctor transforms into a beast with the prowess of an Olympic athlete and possessing super-human strength.
But to make the distinction clear, the moviemakers pile on the special effects. The claws and incisors extend, the eyes look like glowing marbles. More to the point, though, Morbius develops an inconvenient taste for human blood.
Early on, he’s accused of several murders, with all the victims found drained of blood. Or, as a weary detective puts it, “exsanguination.”
Is it our doctor who’s guilty, or—horrors—someone else?
A copycat maybe? Or a close associate?
To reveal more would be akin to a spoiler. Let’s just say that “Morbius” gets better as the story unfolds. And for some, it’ll be a bloody good time.