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Morgan REVIEW: Forgettable sci-fi pulp

by Brandon Russell | August 30, 2016August 30, 2016 11:00 am PDT

When humans play God, the end game is never good. In 1993’s Jurassic Park, poor John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) just wanted to delight children with a prehistoric theme park. As it turns out, dinosaurs eat people, leading to the obvious realization that they shouldn’t be recreated for our amusement.

The idea of controlling nature collides with Hollywood’s rising obsession of combining artificial intelligence and the “best” of humanity, a topic we recently saw explored by Her and Ex Machina. Even Marvel explored similar themes in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It should go without saying that tampering with the natural order never ends well.

In Morgan, director Luke Scott explores a number of these themes—man vs. nature, what makes a person human—without having anything of real importance to say; and before you get the wrong impression, Morgan is not a horror film, despite what the recent wave of marketing suggests. It has elements of different genres, including mystery and thriller, but it doesn’t excel at one in particular.

The movie begins with an unprovoked attack by Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) on scientist Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Following the attack, a corporate troubleshooter named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to find out what went wrong, and also to determine if the Morgan project should be terminated. (Yes, please, terminate it.)

Grieff is one of many scientists working at the remote lab who have little to do and even less to say throughout the movie’s 90-minute runtime. Once Grieff gets attacked, she only pops up when it’s convenient for the plot, and once (spoiler alert) she dies, it makes little difference. That more or less describes the entire cast, save for Taylor-Joy and Mara.

The first hour of Morgan is used primarily as setup as Scott builds toward a psych evaluation Weathers is there to oversee. This is where, as the characters interact, the movie provides backstory and depth. Only, backstory and depth are sorely lacking.

We quickly learn that Weathers, working on behalf of a mysterious corporation, is only interested in whether or not Morgan is dangerous. You can probably guess what happens just by watching the trailers.

Weathers’ unwavering commitment to her job causes tension between her and the lab’s scientists, who, as you might have guessed, become emotionally attached to Morgan. Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) acts as her surrogate mother, while Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) considers Morgan the culmination of his life’s work. There are other characters, too, like Boyd Holbrook’s Skip Vronsky, the resident chef. It’s a paint-by-numbers routine. There’s even a pair of scientists who fall in love but I forgot their names because they don’t do much.

The only character who has any real meaningful impact is the lab’s behaviorist, Rose Leslie’s (Game of Thrones) Amy Menser, who bonds with Morgan over the beauty of nature. You see, Morgan just wants to explore the world, but the mean scientists won’t let her because people just aren’t ready for lab-created humans.

Morgan has such a tantalizing cast, yet Scott has no idea what to do with them. The beginning portion is full of exposition, meant to peel back layers of a tight-knit group who have devoted their lives to creating a living, breathing synthetic human, but they’re all so frustratingly flat. And when Morgan’s becomes more unstable—beyond her initial attack of Dr. Grieff—their reaction to her lacks emotional nuance.

Morgan, for that matter, isn’t particularly complex. In a weird way, she reminds me of Marvel’s Vision. Although she’s highly intelligent and self-sustaining, she has the mind of a small child and doesn’t understand how the world works.

Once Giamatti’s character proceeds with his psych evaluation, things take a turn for the worst. Mainly, because his character is a raving lunatic. At first, he tries to understand why Morgan lashed out. Then, he suddenly starts berating her, ostensibly to rile her up into lashing out again so the plot will proceed.

Her reaction to the evaluation is supposed to be shocking, but Morgan’s behavior up to that point makes her tendency toward violence unsurprising. There’s a moment early on between her and Leslie’s Mesner that’s very telling, so when she finally does descend into madness, it isn’t unexpected. Scott tries to make Morgan a sympathetic character, and Taylor-Joy, who was fantastic in The Witch, plays Morgan with a tender vulnerability. But Scott is unable to create an emotional connection between her and the viewer. It becomes like watching The Terminator.

In the film’s third act, Morgan turns into an all-out action flick, complete with Bourne-style fight scenes and a showdown between Weathers and Morgan that ends entirely how you’d expect. And when the twist comes at the very end, it feels completely perfunctory.

If the question is whether or not the Morgan project should be terminated, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Morgan hits theaters on Sept. 2.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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