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‘Morbius’ Is the Good Version of Insufferable Jared Leto

The Oscar-winner has recently delivered a string of mannered, annoying performances. But in this Spider-Man spinoff film, he doesn’t change his ways as much as he finds the right outlet for his showboating tendencies

When did Jared Leto officially become insufferable? When did we decide we’d had enough? Thousands of celebrities come into our world, most of them barely registering a response, but every once in a while, something shifts and a star’s very presence suddenly incenses us. God, not him again. It can be because of overexposure, a dumb thing he said or a string of terrible films. But often, it’s something a little more ephemeral. Seemingly overnight, we decide we’re done with him — and after that, there’s no way back into our good graces.

There are a few different moments that you could pinpoint as to when Leto entered into that celebrity twilight zone — the point of no return where any new role is greeted with automatic disdain. Whenever the breaking point occurred, though, we’re clearly past it judging by people’s reaction to the arrival of Morbius, a long-delayed villain origin story that stars Leto as Dr. Morbius, a bad guy who shows up in Spider-Man comics but, to this point, has never appeared on the big screen. Most everyone is suffering from superhero-movie overkill, but add Leto to the mix and the prospect of Morbius is unbearable. 

If you’re in that group, I’m sorry to say I have bad news: I actually like Morbius, and I actually like Leto in it. He’s been part of several recent films in which his showy acting style has been actively irritating, but in this story of a man suffering from a rare blood disease whose quest for a cure turns him into a vampire, he’s actually strangely compelling. Jared Leto may be insufferable, but in Morbius he’s the good version of his insufferable self.

People used to like Leto. He was Jordan on My So-Called Life. He was the scarred drug addict in Requiem for a Dream. He was in a string of cult films like Fight Club and American Psycho. But somewhere along the way, fans got tired of him. Maybe it was because he turned his back on acting to focus on his overly earnest and pretentious alt-rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars. Maybe it was the fact that he played a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club, winning an Oscar but prompting plenty of criticism, as well as accusations of trans-misogyny. Or perhaps the animosity started around the time he started going full-Method for roles, reportedly sending used condoms to his Suicide Squad costars — Leto later said he was joking about that — and being sightless on the set of Blade Runner 2049 to prepare to play his blind character. 

The fact that the performances got increasingly hammier — his Joker in Suicide Squad is aggressively awful — didn’t help matters. By the time of last year’s House of Gucci, where his pathetic Paolo is actually kinda mesmerizing, you sensed his eccentric, mannered turns were getting to be a bit much. Denzel Washington, who appeared opposite him in the serial-killer thriller The Little Things, was asked if Leto engaged in any Method-y nonsense around him. “He didn’t do any of that with me. Nah,” Washington replied. “He’d have been paid a visit. That wouldn’t happen.”

Leto is up to some of his old tricks with Morbius, with director Daniel Espinosa recently telling Variety about how intense the actor would get during certain scenes. “I got scared for Jared. He really commits,” Espinosa said. “You have to watch out for it.” And if you are at all allergic to Leto’s brand of demonstrative emoting, Morbius will probably send you up the wall. Walking with crutches, his stringy long black hair framing his gaunt, pale face, Dr. Morbius comes across as a series of tics and bits of business, the sort of things actors love to indulge in so that their characters can be more “interesting.” And when Morbius takes a serum he believes will save his life, Leto gets to morph into a buff, shirtless Adonis. After his flagrant Joker, Leto’s Morbius performance is practically minimalist. For anyone else, it would be shameless.

The film tells a Jekyll-and-Hyde story, with Morbius trying to control his Hyde side — the one that craves blood and finally gets to feel powerful after a lifetime of being weak and expected to die at any moment. Leto’s rock-star period may have been forgettable, but his charisma and ability to command a room pay off here as Morbius battles himself — not to mention his old friend Milo (Matt Smith), who suffers from the same condition and, against his pal’s advice, takes the serum as well, becoming a ravenous, blood-sucking monster. 

I have yet to see Leto’s new Apple TV+ series WeCrashed, where he plays the company’s eccentric leader Adam Neumann, but in Morbius he demonstrates the same quality that, in his terrible performances, is also present: an almost shamanic zeal, an uncanny-valley variation on normal human behavior. The film is somewhat generic and predictable, but you can’t take your eyes off of what Leto’s doing on screen. 

Morbius isn’t nearly as prestigious a picture as many of the ones he’s been in (and often diminished by his very presence) in recent years. Oddly, I think that helps the performance: In this unapologetic B-movie, which is one part superhero saga and one part horror flick, he taps into the story’s genre-y vibe, turning his character into a cautionary tale about feeling different and realizing that sometimes we should be careful what we wish for. Morbius is filled with the usual spectacle, not to mention the tie-ins to other Spider-Man characters to please fanboys, but not unlike Tom Hardy in the Venom films, Jared Leto is really going for it, elevating Morbius into something genuinely weird and captivating. 

I’m not sure it’s a “great” performance, but it’s frequently beguiling. For a couple hours, I mostly forgot I find him insufferable these days. That’s a transformation even more impressive than the one Dr. Morbius pulls off.