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MOVIE REVIEW

‘Morbius’: Say hello to a different sort of batman

The latest Marvel movie stars Jared Leto as a superhero with an unusual beverage preference

Jared Leto in "Morbius."Jay Maidment/Associated Press

Dr. Michael Morbius is an impressive guy. Since childhood he’s suffered from a rare genetic condition that requires three blood transfusions every day. That hasn’t kept him from inventing artificial blood (it’s blue, not red) and winning a Nobel Prize. He turned down the award. He doesn’t think he deserved it, since he’s yet to find a cure for that rare condition, which also afflicts his best friend. He’s also good at origami.

With the help of some vampire bats, he thinks he may have come up with a cure. Martine, the fellow doctor he’s in love with, urges caution. Wait, caution in a superhero movie? Good luck with that. “We have to push the boundaries,” Morbius tells her, “take the risks. Without that, there is no science, no medicine, no breakthroughs at all.”

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You can see where this is going.

Adria Arjona in "Morbius." Jay Maidment/Associated Press

Morbius injects himself with a cocktail of vampire bat DNA and human DNA, then bumps up against the law of unintended consequences. Let’s just say that there are ways in which he’s more of a batman than Batman is — or at least a vampire batman. You don’t want to be the flight attendant asking what his beverage selection is.

As Morbius, Jared Leto has all the hair he lacked in “House of Gucci” and gets to look haunted and soulful. He does that well. (It’s a toss-up between Leto and Cillian Murphy for male actor with most beautiful eyes in the movies.) It’s true that in a medical-man superhero face-off with Dr. Strange, Dr. Morbius would be a serious underdog. He’s more likable, unless you’re in the vicinity of a blood bank.

Matt Smith in "Morbius." JAY MAIDMENT/Associated Press

Adria Arjona, as Martine, doesn’t have much more to do than look concerned. She’s not especially good at it. Matt Smith, who was the creepy boyfriend in “Last Night in Soho,” plays the best friend. Sidekicks in superhero movies do just fine. Best friends, not so much. They’re up there with Spinal Tap drummers for job security. Tyrese Gibson, as a stern FBI agent, is more furious than fast.

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Even at 104 minutes, practically a short by superhero-movie standards, “Morbius” feels draggy. Daniel Espinosa (”Easy Money,” “Life”) directed. Also unusual for a superhero movie, it feels earnest. This honors the character of Morbius but rather violates the spirit of the genre. The movie’s not entirely without humor. There’s a nicely underplayed Venom reference, and when Martine offers Morbius some coffee, he says, “No, thanks, I quit caffeine.”

Jared Leto in "Morbius." Jay Maidment/Associated Press

What makes the joke funny is that we’ve been seeing Morbius chugging from blood bags. The sight is disturbing, even more than the filmmakers presumably intend. It’s easy enough to see the various influences “Morbius” derives from: vampire movies, werewolf movies, “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Spider-Man, the whole science-gone-wrong tradition. But the sight of those plastic bags as drinking vessels, that really is original. That doesn’t mean the originality is welcome.

★★

MORBIUS

Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless; based on comic book characters created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. Starring Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Tyrese Gibson. At Boston theaters, Kendall Square, suburbs. 104 minutes. PG-13 (violence, frightening images, brief strong language).


Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.