Movie Review: “Morgan” – A Half-Baked, Artificial Mess

Written by Jeremiah Greville September 07, 2016

Morgan (2016) Kate Mara

If you’re not interested in pumping them out the old-fashioned way, science fiction has got you covered when it comes to making artificial humans. From Frankenstein to Her, movies about clones, replicants, robots, monsters, and artificial intelligence have covered the subject ad nauseam. Perhaps you’re looking for something different in this summer’s newest genre entry, Morgan. Well—too bad, because Morgan is something you’ve already seen before, mixing elements of other, better, sci-fi movies to make something considerably less than the sum of its parts.

Morgan is the story of a group of scientists playing host to an outside observer sent to evaluate their newest creation: the titular Morgan, a genetically-engineered artificial young woman. After a violent setback in their remote facility, the scientists—and Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy—are desperate to convince the newcomer not to shut them down. However, as things at the facility start to deteriorate, it becomes clear that there’s more to Morgan, and to the newcomer (Kate Mara), than any of them might suspect. Yes, there’s a twist ending, but you’ll probably see it coming, and you’ll probably feel cheated by the time it passes you by.

“You’re nowhere near as scary as I imagined.”

Here’s the thing: Morgan isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great. Like so many movies lately, it ends up being a waste of time by neither being awful enough to insult nor innovative enough to praise. The movie opens methodically and is well shot throughout, but by the end takes us nowhere new and doesn’t provide any reward for when we get there. This whole movie seems like a sequel set-up for the Lee Weathers character played by Kate Mara, who might feel more at home in another movie–or even another movie universe. Constant references to ‘the Company’ evoke a lot of other early Ridley Scott films, whose production company, Scott Free Productions, bought the rights to this script, and whose son, Luke Scott, directed. Morgan could easily be yet another Alien or Prometheus not-a-prequel, and may even fit in the neon-technicolor realm of Blade Runner. Too bad it lacks the vision and daring of any of those films as it limps ahead to its stale action-heavy conclusion.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The real tragedy of Morgan isn’t that it’s a mediocre original film in a time when moviegoers desperately need innovative ideas to excel, but that it has all of the ingredients of a genuinely thought-provoking and original story, yet does nothing with them. A talented cast, supported director, a Black List script, and an original idea were not enough to make anything more than an average thriller. Morgan touts itself as a science fiction exploration of artificial life but spends most of its time as an examination of non-traditional family units. That itself might be interesting to watch, but just when you think Morgan has something to say about human and non-human relationships, it switches back to being a thriller and abandons deep ideas for gruesome, yet watered-down, violence. A more concrete example of this lack of focus is in Morgan’s telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which are subtly introduced in the first act and completely abandoned by the film’s end. Meticulous set-up and sloppy resolution; great foreplay and terrible sex.

“You’re not well Morgan. You’re sick.”

Morgan finally starts to pick up with the introduction of Paul Giamatti as Dr. Alan Shapiro, a psychologist sent to perform advanced testing on the title character. Though he’s not in the film for long, his scene is the first to breathe some life into the proceedings and raise it above the humdrum sci-fi trappings it’s mired in. Unfortunately, while that same scene starts out tense and absorbing, it soon spirals into melodrama and silly character decisions. It’s almost fascinating to watch it unfold, and I can see a fun future drinking game built around finding the exact moment the whole thing jumps the shark. Giamatti’s scene is worth mentioning not just because it elevates the material, but because it’s the the turning point of the entire film, where the tension and build-up finally starts to give way to action and resolution. The clumsy conclusion of the scene itself is a small metaphor for the film as a whole—lots of promise, little-to-no follow-through.

Paul Giamatti

Apart from Giamatti, the only notable performances belong to Kate Mara and Anya Taylor-Joy. Both actresses play cold, stoic characters with different levels of maturity and experience, and both are forced to filter complex emotion through subtle restraint. While they could certainly be accused of wooden acting, their characters demand a bit of emotional aloofness, and I feel it unfair to judge them too harshly in this regard. That same character demand was no excuse for the rest of the cast, most of which you’ll forget just as soon as you meet them. Rose Leslie and Boyd Holbrook fair best in this regard as the two most likeable people in the film, but neither leaves a lasting impression beyond their brief and sometimes baffling interactions with the two main characters.

“I’m starting to feel like myself.”

Looking back on Morgan was a more enjoyable experience than actually watching it. There are a lot of big ideas and interesting concepts to parse, but you’ll be the one doing the heavy lifting as the film contents itself with mild thrills and a weak ending. Despite all of the promise of the AI-infused ad campaign and the Scott sci-fi pedigree, Morgan isn’t anything more than a middling action thriller with horror overtones and more ambition than ability. What should have been a tense psychological nail-biter like last year’s excellent Ex Machina turns out to be a lukewarm case-study in how to blow a terrific premise. Like a frozen dinner in a broken microwave, Morgan is a half-baked artificial mess.

My Rating: 5/10

Morgan (2016) Poster

 

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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