Reviews

While the Film Thinks She's Special, 'Morgan' Is Not

A tired almost-trainwreck which borrows so heavily from the past that it's practically an antique.


Morgan

Director: Luke Scott
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones
Rated: R
Studio: Fox
US date: 2016-09-02 (General release)
Release date: 2016-09-02
UK date: 2016-09-02 (General release)
Website

It's a trope so old that it struggles to stay relevant, especially in today's technologically savvy society. Sci-fi and horror have long loved the idea of 'Man Playing God', be it a mad scientist trying some otherwise unethical experiment, or a doctor doing something outside the normal medical protocol. Decades ago, these ideas had real resonance, back when many illnesses were considered death sentences and treatments were often much deadlier than the disease.

But now, we are living in the future that so many genre titles speculated about, so a movie which wants to take on the Man Playing God concept better be good. Frankenstein good. Blade Runner good. Ex Machina good. The ideas mentioned here were helmed by individuals blessed with real imagination. Morgan, directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke, however, lacks dad's cinematic panache. Instead, it borrows too heavily from his father's previous film while finding itself trapped in the tired ideas that the plot keeps pointing out.

What we have here is an experiment gone awry, a subject -- the title creation played by Anya Taylor-Joy of The Witch -- that has gone gonzo, and a corporate fixer who seems to have as many secrets as her high tech company. When Morgan attacks Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a member of the research staff, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent in to clean up the mess.

What she quickly learns is that her manmade subject is a psychotic with significant superhero powers and that the group who made her, including Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) among others, have something to hide. A psychiatrist (Paul Giamiatti) is called in, but that doesn't stop this movie from becoming a silly slasher where the final act finds Morgan and Lee going toe-to-toe like gladiators in an arena.

Morgan has a lot of problems, problems that will be ignored by filmgoers who weren't even born when Luke's dad pitted the robot police against rebellious replicants in one of the best movies the sci-fi genre has to offer. This is one of those stories that the makers hope you haven't read or seen before, or if you have, you don't mind participating in this latest incarnation of it. Who every character is becomes less important over time, and the victim fodder is given just enough personality to play the role potential target for our crazed creation.

Morgan herself, a genetically manipulated time bomb constantly ticking away the moments until she turns monstrous is nothing new. We already know she's not "right", so there's no big reveal or twist involved in who she is or what she wants. The moment she takes her angst out on Jennifer Jason Leigh's eye socket, however, her story is done. She's manmade. She's angry. And she wants out.

The scientists are another dead end. They're given relationship links and minimal backstory, but for the most part, these are just false sympathies, sketches struggling to find relevance in a narrative which will never really give them one. They are the bricks in Mario's path, preventing him from rescuing the Princess. They are the food carts seemingly omnipresent in every movie chase scene's path.

And then there is Lee Weathers. Is she the twist? Is her situation more compelling than Morgan's, or anyone else's? The film sure thinks so. Mara's performance barely passes muster, since it gives away too much of the third act's meat to be subtle. It's as if the screenplay by Seth Owen didn't realize that a surprise only comes when you hide a concept, not hint at it for 88-minutes. But perhaps the biggest bummer here is Scott. He served time on Daddy's desperate Exodus: Gods and Kings and his most recent hit, The Martian.

But here, he's given a chance to move from the second unit and direct via his own aesthetic and it's a mistake. It's not that Scott can't command the screen, it's just that he can't do it without cribbing, excessively, from those that came before. Morgan offers nothing new except setting and character names. The beats come from the past, as do most of the production designs and science speak. Borrowing this heavily from Dad does Morgan no favors at all.

For those who are still learning their way around the cinematic artform, Morgan may seem like a revelation. What it is, however, is a collection of moldy old motion picture ideas dressed up for another grasp of the brass ring. It misses it by a mile.

3


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