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.


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)

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.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.