Silver Screen: Morgan **1/2
Before we talk about the overwhelming mediocrity of Luke Scott’s film Morgan, let’s talk about that awful title.
In a sly way, it’s as vague a moniker as you could possibly conjure, even more elusive than Nancy Meyers’s pronoun-wagging movies like Something’s Gotta Give or It’s Complicated. (What is this thing, Nancy Meyers, and why do you insist on keeping it a secret?)
What kind of movie does the title Morgan suggest to you: An indie drama, a romance, a comedy? Morgan is a name, but it could either be a first or a last name, and it’s not gender specific. Perhaps the movie is a documentary about beloved actor Morgan Freeman— but then, if they made a documentary about Freeman, who would narrate it?
In defense of the title, the vagueness of the name actually relates to a significant plot point of the movie.
On the other hand, you don’t know that until after you’ve seen the movie, which you probably didn’t because even if someone wanted to recommend it to you— which they probably wouldn’t— they likely couldn’t remember what it was called, exactly. On that same hand, they could have named the movie literally almost anything, and this is what they came up with?
Morgan turns out to be the name of a lab-created homo sapien, grown in a petri dish from synthesized genes. She’s not artificial intelligence, nor is she a human being with rights and a Social Security number. She has nominal gender traits— and thanks to the fascinating shape of winter-blonde costar Anya Taylor-Joy’s face, especially those oddly long, almost flat-looking eyes, a hint of the impossible about her. But though she may look like a girl, she’s officially classified as corporate property.
When Morgan’s sudden outburst of anger costs one of her handlers (Jennifer Jason Leigh) her right eye, the corporation sends risk-management assessor Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to the isolated compound to determine if the project should be terminated. The handful of scientists living in the old converted mansion have been working on the project together for several years, and have spent the last few witnessing Morgan’s accelerated aging process transform her from squalling infant to adolescent. The scientists may have lost their objectivity, Lee’s supervisor (Brian Cox) explains, and they may resist the necessary course of action.
Morgan first posits itself as a moral quandary tucked into a sci-fi thriller. Much time is spent establishing the scientists and the personalities— the softhearted supervisor (Toby Jones), the doomed maternal engineer (Michelle Yeoh), the hippie-ish behavior therapist (Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie), and the boozy skeptic (Narco’s Boyd Holbrook)— and their angles on the ethical debate at hand. But even as they spend so much time belaboring the pitfalls of gender-specific language or the intrinsic nature of humanity, the ominous mentions of “the incident in Helsinki” portends pulpier developments.
The thinky first act is mostly a ruse for director Scott to catch the audience off-guard with his mid-movie pivot. It’s a fairly effective manipulation, but at every turn in this twisty movie Scott and screenwriter Seth Owen seem unsure what to do with the new paradigm. Morgan exists to trick you, but it isn’t sure why. Like its artificial subject, it mostly understands humanity, but the missing elements render it almost totally alien.
Speaking of Alien, director Scott just happens to be the son of director Ridley Scott. That might remain just an interesting bit of trivia had his debut movie not ended exactly the same way as one of his father’s most famous films. That this has seemingly gone unmentioned is only indicative of how little Morgan is being mentioned itself.
Morgan has drawn understandable comparisons to last year’s Ex Machina, but it shares at least as much in common with Ridley Scott’s... well, I won’t say which movie, at the risk of giving away Morgan’s biggest plot twist, but suffice to say that Morgan has a habit of telegraphing its “surprise” pretty bluntly.
Despite its flaws, Morgan is passably entertaining. The fleet running time and solid cast keep it interesting. Mara is a perfect choice for Lee Weathers, for her gamine appeal and the pinch-faced tightness that keeps her beauty at a chilly distance. Taylor-Joy is so oddly haunting— a little less so here than in The Witch— it’s hard to imagine her playing an ordinary girl in more lighthearted fare. It’s the kind of movie you’re happy to stumble across on Netflix when you’re in bed with a cold... you just probably won’t remember the name when it’s done.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillerComedy.