New Review: Morgan (2016)
Director: Luke Scott
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michelle Yeoh, Boyd Holbrook, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Paul Giamatti, Vinette Robinson, Chris Sullivan
Morgan feels like a poor man’s version of last year’s stellar Ex Machina. It tackles many of the same ideas as that film, but without 1/10th of its focus, complexity, or conviction. The movie marks the feature film debut of Luke Scott, son of Ridley Scott (who serves as a producer here), and while he certainly has a strong sense of style, he completely loses his grip on his story, which gets buried under a series of generic and poorly shot action scenes.
The movie is a cautionary fable that we’ve heard many times before. Whenever scientists try to play God and create a human-like life-form in their labs, it usually backfires on them in catastrophic ways. The very first scene in Morgan, in which we see, via surveillance footage, the titular artificial human throw a tantrum and attacks her handler Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stabbing her in the eye repeatedly, only confirms this. What was the cause of the tantrum? Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) was told that she wouldn’t be taking a trip through the woods like she was promised.
She acknowledges that what she did was a mistake, and that she didn’t mean to hurt the good doctor because she loves her. The scientists who helped create her, and who have watched her grow since her “birth,” try to rationalize the incident in order to stop the companies which are funding the project from terminating her. Of course, if something as simple as a postponed trip through the woods is enough to turn Morgan violent, what else can set her off?
This is what Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate risk management consultant, intends to find out. She’s sent to the lab, which is located near a shabby looking mansion in the woods, to not only interview Dr. Grieff, but also Morgan herself. Morgan is technically only five years old, but the experiment has caused her to grow rapidly, so she now has the body of a teenager. The staff members at the facility show Lee videos of Morgan’s upbringing, and they all watch the video like proud parents reminiscing on the good ol’ days.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see why the scientists are wary of seeing their creation terminated. In a way, she has been like their child. They’ve nurtured her and have been with her every step of the way. Lee is not so sympathetic to their situation. While the others refer to Morgan as “she” and “her,” Lee calls her an “it.” She believes that Morgan has no rights at all, and means to see “it” terminated should she deem it necessary after conducting her investigation.
With her pale skin and dark, eerie eyes, Taylor-Joy manages to make Morgan a haunting and surprisingly sympathetic figure. In what is basically a walk-on role, Paul Giamatti plays the cocky Dr. Alan Shapiro, who’s called in to do a psyche analysis on Morgan. The dialogue and performances from both Giamatti and Taylor-Joy make this scene the highlight of the film. Alan tries to push her to have another tantrum, and Morgan manages to turn the tables on him (if only briefly) by mentioning his teenage daughter. It’s really effective stuff.
So, does Morgan have the same rights as her human creators, or should she be treated as nothing more than a mere lab experiment? She shows many human characteristics, including fear, anger, love, and joy. There comes a point where Morgan is strapped to a slab, and she begins squirming, crying, and screaming “I don’t want to die! I want to live!” Even she resorts to violence in the end, her motivations are more survival based than the simple thrill of the kill.
These are not uninteresting ideas, but they’re ones screenwriter Seth W. Owen has no intention of exploring. Once the crap predictably hits the fan, we’re treated to a series of gun fights, car chases, and ludicrous fist fights, all handled by Scott with choppy edits and shaky camera shots. What’s more, the tone of the film completely changes, going from moody and deliberately paced to hyperkinetic and downright goofy. The trailers may have promised something scary, but there’s not a moment of the movie that is.
Then, there is the film’s big twist, which anyone who pays attention to the way a particular character is written and performed can figure out with no trouble at all. With a cast that includes Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, and Boyd Holbrook, it should come as no surprise that Morgan is a well-acted film. Yet it’s frustrating to no end to watch filmmakers work with potentially compelling material that they don’t seem to know how to handle.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
Rated R for violence and profanity