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Why Jared Leto's Morbius has us worried

Comic book movies aren't going to stop coming until every last character's made a trip to the big screen. Next on the list for adaptation? That would be Morbius, the Living Vampire, a Marvel Comics character being brought to life by Sony Pictures for its Spider-Man-centric cinematic universe.

Far from being a marquee character, Morbius is a great unknown to much of the movie-going public. As a result, the news that actor Jared Leto would be portraying the bloodsucking anti-hero came as something of a surprise, especially since the actor already has his own high-profile superhero role as (one of) DC Films' villainous Joker(s)

While some may be excited to see the Academy Award-winning actor and Thirty Seconds to Mars' frontman's take on Morbius, plenty of others have questions and concerns. A Morbius movie might sound interesting on paper, but there's a number of red flags we've gotta talk about regarding why, in this instance, it just might not work out. Here are all the reasons that we're worried about Jared Leto's Morbius

You've got to be joking

As an actor, Jared Leto's been a steady presence on-screen since the 1990s, when he demonstrated a stunning ability to both pick the right roles and turn in memorable performances. Fight Club, American Psycho, Requiem for a Dream — the actor built his reputation with work in all-time classics, and he's not a bad actor at all. But his profile in recent years makes him feel unsuitable for the role of a vampiric superhero, especially since he's still booked in the DC universe as the Joker

We're not saying Leto shouldn't be Morbius just because he's still busy with his Joker commitments. Actors can compartmentalize — Josh Brolin played Thanos and Cable basically back-to-back. No, it's that we don't want Leto on this thing because of how he handled the Joker, and how poorly that performance was ultimately received. Let's not tiptoe around it — Leto's Joker is divisive at best, with plenty of evidence to back up opinions that his performance is completely obnoxious

It's not just that Leto's go-around as the Joker suffers by comparison when you've got Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger to choose from. In many corners of the viewing audience, from a disconnected dad down to the angry internet commentator, Leto's Joker is just straight-up intolerable and worthy of mockery. The idea of combining that over-the-top performance with a vampire, an inherently flamboyant and theatrical figure, is just cringe-worthy. There's too many ways this could go wrong. 

So who even is Morbius?

It goes without saying that Morbius, the Living Vampire is not the most popular character in the Marvel Comics canon. As far as popularity is concerned, the dude's a D-lister at best. His obscurity isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. After all, as far as general audiences are concerned, Iron Man used to be relatively unknown, too. 

Dr. Michael Morbius, a PhD and MD-holding scientist who first appeared in 1971's The Amazing Spider-Man #101, was introduced following a relaxing of the standards of the Comics Code Authority, the self-censorship board that once governed what could and couldn't appear in comics. When the board lifted its long-standing ban on vampires, writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane created Morbius as a Spider-Man villain. But where many of Spidey's enemies are bank robbers and low-level bad guys, Morbius is a more tragic figure. 

Afflicted from birth with a rare blood condition, Morbius attempted to cure himself with increasingly dangerous science — specifically a combination of vampire bat DNA and electroshock therapy. The treatment went south, cursing Morbius with a state of pseudo-vampirism, leaving him sensitive to light and thirsty for human blood. And though his early appearances showed him as a villain, Morbius eventually swore never to harm innocents with his bloodlust. He became a vigilante, catching and killing bad guys in a decidedly anti-heroic way.

Got all that? Now picture watching a movie about it...with Jared Leto as a blood scientist-turned-vampire.

Sony's so-called Spider-verse

The Morbius movie is being produced as part of Sony Pictures' shared universe centering around its Spider-Man-related Marvel properties. The proposed series exists outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and seems like it may not even involve Spider-Man himself. 

The live-action, Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man movies are co-productions between Sony and Marvel Studios, the result of an agreement signed in 2017. Marvel has all the creative control, while Sony reaps a share of the profits. Outside of the MCU, Sony retains the rights to make its own, unrelated movies featuring characters from the wider Spider-Man universe — and that's where Morbius fits in. 

While much has been written about Sony's shared universe of Marvel characters, at the time of this writing, the franchise doesn't actually exist yet. The first movie in the series is set to be Tom Hardy's Venom, a standalone movie about the symbiotic antihero learning to use his powers and fight. 

While it may not seem like it from the outside, the performance of the Venom movie is massively important to the future of Morbius — which might prove problematic, should Venom fail to succeed.

Shaky foundations

In short, Sony probably shouldn't have announced this Morbius movie until they knew whether or not Venom was a hit. As of now, that's an open question. It may go over with audiences, or it may flop and be ignored.

Venom's performance is so important to Morbius' future because Venom is the movie that's supposed to establish Sony's universe of spinoffs. Sony hopes it's the Iron Man of their shared universe, setting the tone for more movies to come...but it could also wind up being The Mummy. If it's Iron Man, then Morbius can slot in as a natural follow-up. But if it turns out to be The Mummy, Sony could be in for big problems, not just with Morbius, but with the whole Spider-Man spin-off slate. 

What happens if Venom bombs, or gets a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, turning everybody off of Sony's style of superhero filmmaking? Are the producers really just going to force their way forward with a character who's even less popular? As far as strategy goes, it seems short-sighted. If they can't launch a franchise and win audiences over with Venom, they're almost certainly not going to be able to do it with a scrub like Morbius.

The people in charge

Aside from Jared Leto, who's bringing this Morbius project to life? According to The Hollywood Reporter, Morbius is being put together by director Daniel Espinosa, who previously directed the movies Life and Safe House. The script is being written by Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama, whose recent credits include Power Rangers, Gods of Egypt, The Last Witch Hunter, and Dracula Untold. Now, we don't want to knock these guys too hard, but if past is prologue, then this Morbius movie looks doomed. Sorry — that's just what the track record here is telling us. 

As a director, Espinosa's English movies have been middle-of-the-road and pedestrian, notching so-so critical and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes. But the screenwriters have got a real checkered past, with their movies getting terrible reviews. 

And the writers' previous movies do very little to inspire confidence, with Gods of Egypt in particular often catching flak as one of the worst big-budget movies in modern memory. Their best work, like Espinosa's, tends to top off somewhere around "serviceable" — which is not the worst thing in the world, but it's a cause for concern. 

It's especially concerning since Dracula Untold notably tried — and failed — to launch its own franchise, being a sort of false start for Universal's Dark Universe project. While it's possible everyone involved will pull out career bests with Morbius, these don't look like the ingredients for a great movie.

Anti-heroes

Another unresolved problem with the Sony Spider-Verse (which is not an official title, however much it should be) is that it seems to feature an unsustainable dearth of good guys. 

Think about it: What are the heroes we've heard announced for this spinoff shared universe?  We've got Venom, a villainous and horrifically frightening alien who's occasionally a good guy, but is by no means necessarily a good guy. There's Black Cat and Silver Sable, a cat burglar and a mercenary who occasionally put aside their own goals for the greater good. Add in Morbius, and Sony's Spider-Verse stable feels populated with villains in search of a hero.

Morbius' whole thing is that he's tormented by his vampirism, and the dark things it makes him do. That's interesting when he's a villain who can be contrasted against the moral purity of Spider-Man — but in a vacuum, on his own? That's never really been tested before. Even in Morbius' scarce solo comics, his relationship with Spider-Man and his own criminal past looms large. The tension between the villain Spider-Man thinks Morbius is and the relatively good guy we know him to be makes him interesting. Without that contrast, he's just another Wolverine-style misanthropic crime-fighter. That's fine in comic books, but as a marquee hero for general audiences? We're not sure if that's going to work.

Vamping for press

Despite how much Jared Leto cares about method acting, it seems exceedingly unlikely that he'd be able to disappear into this role. Anyone familiar with the press surrounding Suicide Squad remembers how we started getting inundated with stories about Leto's involved method acting process. We learned that he's the type of actor who would, say, claim to have not met his castmates until he dropped character after production had wrapped. You know the spiel we're talking about. He's not an actor, he's an artist. He suffers for his roles. The messaging around him has become self-aggrandizing and ego-fueled. It's all a little bit... much.

As a result, the news of Leto's casting was met in many corners as a piece of dreadful information, with Collider essentially saying "Jared Leto sucks" right in their headline. Many outlets reported the news with undisguised weariness. How many tiresome stories of Leto drinking real blood cocktails on the set are we going to hear from this production? What tortured artist narrative is going to get pushed on us now? With so many people actively rooting against Leto, and his divisive performance in Suicide Squad still feeling fresh, is it possible that viewers who might otherwise like this movie just wouldn't show up? 

The cheese potential

For all that talk of Jared Leto staying in character as the Joker, perfecting his laugh in public and terrorizing his castmates with live rats and condom deliveries, his actual performance as the character turned out to be one of the campiest things this side of Batman and Robin. His Joker isn't an unpredictable force of nature — he's a peacocking pimp narcissist, who hangs out getting bottle service at the club when he's not spinning out in the streets of Gotham in his Infiniti G35.

With this kind of history in the recent past, many fans and critics are having a real, real hard time imagining how modern-day Leto could possibly bring this character to life without it reeking of cheese and parody. Morbius is not a vamping, flamboyant, cool vampire with attitude — he's a pitiful figure, dressed in rags, who looks like a destitute meth addict (which sounds like "method actor," but, y'know, it isn't Jared). 

So while it's possible to bring the character to life in an affecting way, Leto just doesn't feel like the guy to do it. If he develops Morbius the way he developed the Joker, with self-aware style and performative flair, he might come off less as the character and more like, well, himself. We're at risk of not seeing Morbius because all we can see is rock star Jared Leto, meaning this movie may feel less like Nosferatu and more like Queen of the Damned

Camp Mars

Jared Leto's driven performances used to be about making great movies. But in recent years, the prevailing impression has been that his showy performances are just in service to himself.

As Leto's rock band ascended in popularity, the actor took a step away from Hollywood, sitting out of acting for a span of about six years. Since coming back, he's been professionally ascendant, winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of a transgender, HIV-positive woman in Dallas Buyers Club. But while that performance was decorated by the industry, it was far from universally beloved. There was, in fact, a strong backlash against his performance from the very community his character was supposed to represent. 

Leto's roles since returning to the spotlight have all been somewhat divisive, and ultimately distracting. While your mileage may vary, some felt he was the worst part of the otherwise fantastic Blade Runner 2049, with his ostentatious, method performance as a blind mad genius pulling focus from the story. His Netflix movie The Outsider was a massive critical misfire, in part because his casting as a white member of the Japanese Yakuza came off as, to paraphrase Variety's review, the cinematic equivalent of a kanji arm tattoo. And we've already discussed Suicide Squad, of courseIn the court of public opinion, Leto has kinda become the worst part of every movie that he's in. For a property as obscure as Morbius, that's a potentially fatal handicap.

Who cares?

No, seriously — who cares about a Jared Leto Morbius movie? It sounds like a glib point, but it's important. 

By the time Marvel Studios got around to producing Guardians of the GalaxyAnt-Man, and Black Panther, they had already notched unprecedented success with their movies, creating a formidable amount of brand loyalty. People weren't showing up because they wanted to see a Guardians movie — they came because they wanted to see a Marvel movie. For huge sections of the viewing public, these characters were completely unknown — but they trusted the series with the proven track record, and came out for a good time anyway.

With Morbius, there is no such brand recognition. No matter how much Sony leans on its "association with Marvel," Marvel's magic touch will be nowhere near this film. This is something that will inform the movie's messaging, and something that people will know. This won't be a movie coming from the creators of The Avengers. It'll be coming from the studio that brought you Grown-Ups 2.

This is partly why Venom's performance is so important for setting expectations. Without any sort of brand recognition for Sony's superhero series or Morbius himself, this movie may be in real trouble. The best case scenario involves Venom winning audiences over in a major way, single-handedly proving the viability of the Spider-Verse. Without that, this movie's got an uphill battle ahead of it — Leto or no Leto.