Relentlessly grim superhero outing Morbius feels exsanguinated

Morbius: Jared Leto as Dr Michael Morbius

MORBIUS (15, 104 mins) Horror/Action/Fantasy/Romance. Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson. Director: Daniel Espinosa.

Released: March 31

THE month's second origin story of a tortured, self-destructive crusader with a curious kinship to demonised flying mammals spills just as much blood as The Batman, also conducts most of its action sequences under a cloak of darkness and boasts another 15 certificate for 'strong threat and violence'.

However, this first dance of death with a Nobel Prize-winning scientist played by Jared Leto clocks in 72 minutes shorter than the tour of Gotham City and feels exsanguinated like some of the title character's victims.

Based on the Marvel Comics anti-hero created by Roy Thomas, Daniel Espinosa's horror unfolds in juddering, desperate spurts like a freshly severed artery. Characters are nonchalantly side-lined, confrontations are rushed and emotion is swept away by a tsunami of wearisome digital effects.

Less is Morbius.

Leto brings a steely intensity to the eponymous medical pioneer, who injects himself with a top-secret serum and blossoms from withered weakling to shirtless sex god. His metamorphosis into a crazed predator with echolocation crescendos with slow motion Matrix-style bullet dodging and brief flashes of moribund humour.

Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless orchestrate a promising opening to sketch fraternal bonds across 25 years and justify a "highly experimental, ethically questionable" scientific endeavour that tampers with DNA from humans and bats.

Dr Morbius is afflicted with a rare blood disorder and has dedicated a life racked with physical pain to engineering a cure for himself and wealthy best friend Milo (Matt Smith). In pursuit of a medical breakthrough, Michael travels to Costa Rica to harvest a particularly ferocious breed of bat.

"I should have died years ago," Michael reminds concerned colleague and token love interest Dr Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona). "Why am I still alive if not to fix this?"

Ignoring the cautious approach of his mentor (Jared Harris), Michael takes a dangerous gamble that revitalises his ravaged body – but the six pack and swagger are temporary and come at a terrifying price. He must hunt human prey and drink blood to feed the darkness that has been unleashed.

A rampage to quench this thirst places Michael squarely in the sights of FBI agents Rodriguez (Al Madrigal) and Stroud (Tyrese Gibson) but there is an insidious threat closer to home.

With Spider-Man: No Way Home web-slinging to sixth place in the highest grossing films of all time and a third Venom film currently in development, Morbius expands the comic book universe inhabited by Peter Parker and his adversaries.

It's a relentlessly grim chapter with one cute sight gag – the cargo ship where Michael conducts his experiment is christened the LGV Murnau, a tribute to the German director of the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu.

Espinosa intentionally leaves plot threads hanging to justify a sequel. But without a script transfusion, no fangs.


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