A genetic experiment to create a weapons-grade individual starts to go wrong when it is determined that the weapon, named Morgan, cannot be adequately controlled. The prospect of the experiment being terminated, however, is not appealing to Morgan herself and it is up to a young risk management executive from corporate to see if she can get the job done.
September 2, 2016 (U.S. Theatrical)
Seth W. Owen
Kate Mara as Lee Weathers
Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan
Rose Leslie as Dr. Amy Menser
Michael Yare as Ted Brenner
Toby Jones as Sr. Simon Siegler
Chris Sullivan as Dr. Darren Finch
Boyd Holbrook as Skip Vronsky
Vinette Robinson as Dr. Brenda Finch
Michelle Yeoh as Dr. Lui Cheng
Brian Cox as Jim Bryce
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Kathy Grieff
The problem with creating human-type genetic mutations for the purposes of ushering in a new type of super weapon is that those who create the abomination are bound to fall in love with it as it grows and progresses, removing any ability for a rational decision as to whether or not that being is a danger to society. Well, that could be a danger I guess, and it is definitely the danger in Morgan, a film from 20th Century Fox produced by the legendary Ridley Scott and directed by his offspring Luke Scott.
Morgan is the result of a combination of engineered DNA and normal human DNA, born in a lab and raised as normally as any test tube child with no actual parent could be. Aside from the fact that Morgan grows and matures at a rate roughly three times that of a normal human, she seems pretty normal as a tiny tike, playfully running around and laughing like any sweet little girl. As she gets a little older, though, Morgan starts to display some disturbing behavior. When upset, she is subject to violent outbursts that leave one wild deer dead in the forest and a doctor (Kathy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) with her eye poked out with a ballpoint pen. These troubling developments prompt the company funding the project to dispatch their “risk management” specialist (Lee Weathers, played by Kate Mara) to assess the situation and determine whether the project should be terminated.
Lee Weathers is an “all business” type of woman, no emotion and all about a frank review of Morgan and the project’s viability. What she didn’t anticipate is the level of emotional attachment the doctors and project heads have with the Morgan project, seeing her as a little girl who maybe just needs some understanding. Everyone has the opportunity to rethink their positions when Morgan feels a bit threatened, and goes into full survival mode.
Morgan is a beautifully shot film with cinematography led by Mark Patten (The Martian, Blood Orange, Exodus: Gods and Kings). It is difficult to tell what the budget is for this film, but whether large or small Patten created a visual experience that is a joy to watch. Even though the sets and locations are limited the visual effects are lush and incredible.
The acting performances are generally good in Morgan, particularly that of Morgan herself played by Anya Taylor-Joy. The combination of innocence, lack of true emotion, under the surface rage and singular focus on survival is a complex set of feelings to convey, and Taylor-Joy made me a believer. Truly, I believed her performance and it made sense that she was who she was. Another standout is a relatively minor character, the cook Skip (Boyd Holbrook). Though his screentime is short, the character seemed very human and relatable, and therefore ironically the most developed. Great job. The rest of the performances are credible, if not spectacular. Nobody stood out as a detractor, which is always a major win. Overall very good performances.
In terms of downside, there are a couple of detractors in Morgan that don’t make the film unwatchable, but definitely represent some missed opportunities. The first is the pacing. Slow building films with ample character development are definitely a favorite of mine, but the attempts to achieve that in Morgan fall a bit flat. The time is put in to develop the characters to be sure, but at the end of it all the only characters we feel like we know at all are Morgan and the cook Skip. The rest of them could pretty much be anyone, and considering the effort invested in character development this is a big fail. The other downside is a bit more systemic, and it has to do with the storytelling prowess of director Luke Scott. The screenwriter sets the plot, and the director tells the story, and in the case of Morgan Scott has a few things to learn before he reaches the pinnacle of dear old dad. For example, in spite of a great performance by Anya Taylor-Joy and the script making it clear that the other doctors involved in the experiment have love feelings for Morgan, we the audience don’t really share those feelings. We don’t feel the weight of her plight as a captive child, and we don’t really feel her justification as much as we should when she rebels to being terminated.
There is another missed opportunity in terms of storytelling, one that is difficult to communicate without giving away too much of the story. Let’s just say that the opportunity exists for a true Shakespearean tragedy wrought with misunderstood intentions and wrongful vengeance. Unfortunately, though we can see the beginnings of this laid out in the script we don’t feel the weight of it emotionally. This could have been an extremely power film, and at the end of it the power just kind of peters out.
Morgan is definitely entertaining, though a bit slow. With beautiful camera work and credible performances the film lays out a nice Sci-Fi thriller drama, and is a good early attempt from Luke Scott. I hope that over time Scott gains the confidence to tell the story the way he feels it, and can translate that to an experience for the rest of us.
Morgan is beautifully shot and acted, and the storyline of a genetically altered being for military and private purposes is a good one.
Morgan really takes a long time to get it's point across, and there are some significant missed opportunities. Considering there is significant time spent on character development, those characters are not really all that developed and the effect is that there are four or five "things" that happen in this film spaced out over the 92 minute runtime.