Jared Leto is a new kind of bat, man.
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Branding aside, Batman has never really done bat things. He may have the swag and the color scheme, but there's no real communion, if you will, with the small winged mammals that gave him his name. Not so Marvel's Morbius, the dark hero who finally gets his due in the titular film hitting theaters this Friday. The fact that it's really only half a movie — much like Dune, its entire plot is essentially the preamble to a larger story — only partly diminishes the lizard-brain fun of watching Jared Leto zip around for 100-plus minutes like a you-know-what out of hell, sucking the blood from hired thugs and finance bros and then feeling really bad about it.

He's a killer with a conscience, you see: Dr. Stephen Morbius, a world-renowned scientist so gifted and so principled that he can casually turn down a Nobel Prize. His sole aim in life is to cure the disease he was born with, some kind of rare disorder that leaves him in a permanently weakened state. He's not alone in his misfortune; there's a childhood friend who shares his illness, Milo (Matt Smith), and the kindly man who cares for them, Nicholas (Jared Harris), both established in early flashbacks. In the present day, there's also Martine (Adria Arjona), the fellow researcher who is, by the laws of Hollywood, both improbably hot and remarkably amenable to sudden startling alterations in Stephen's DNA.

Morbius
Jared Leto in 'Morbius'
| Credit: Columbia Pictures

It turns out that a scouting trip to a well-stocked cave in the wilds of Costa Rica has borne fruit for the good doctor; after a little tinkering in the lab, a syringe of precious bat-liquid gives him the life he's never had. With each infusion his withered legs grow strong, and his concave chest turns to Men's Health marble. He can run, leap, fly! He also can't stop draining humans like they're Capri Suns, feeding on the pints of hemoglobin that instinct tells him he needs to survive.  

Naturally, this behavior attracts the attention of law enforcement, largely in the form of two nonplussed FBI agents (Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal) who try their mortal best to keep him contained. But handcuffs and stern lectures are hardly a match for Morbius; it's only Milo — the friend who burns for a cure as badly as he does, only without a moral compass — who presents any real threat. Smith, a former Dr. Who, excels at the poor-little-rich-boy villainy of his character, a tragic aristocrat whose eyes gleam with mania. His Milo has been waiting for this moment for a long time. (Leto too, fresh off a Razzie for his molto Italiano turn in House of Gucci, hits the right notes of fear and longing in a surprisingly restrained performance, though his aggressively ageless beauty at 50 suggests its own kind of blood bargain.)

Swedish-Chilean director Daniel Espinosa (Life) gives it all a dark sheen, and shoots the pair's inevitable confrontations less like traditional comic-book clashes than something from The Matrix. The air around them moves like liquid ribbons, and even in peak CGI, their fights looks like something between jet propulsion and underwater ballet. Logic and plot flow are generally treated like civilian casualties, but the movie, with its canny mix of whiz-bang violence, goth atmosphere, and high camp, feels pleasingly pulpy and urgent up until its last minutes, when the narrative doesn't so much wind down as run smack into the final title card.

This being adjacent to the MCU, of course, it's not really over; there's one telling post-credits scene, and then another, featuring a famed alumnus some will undoubtedly have already predicted, and others will soon have spoiled for them by the internet. Whatever elaborate offshoots and cross-pollinations those last moments promise, though, this particular bat man's future is most likely in fans' hands. Because there's still one superpower Morbius doesn't have: the license to green-light a sequel. Grade: B

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