Typically the month of August is when summer movies that can’t hack it earlier are dumped to studios can try to earn their money back. In recent years with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad and most recently Don’t Breathe proved that August has become a hot month for summer sleepers. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the new sci-fi “thriller” Morgan by Luke Scott (son of renowned director Ridley Scott) that unfortunately doesn’t quite land the way it intended.
The film takes place in a remote rural scientific outpost of a sinister corporation where Man once again tries to play God in regards to creating artificial life. Much like in films like the much more superior Ex Machina from last year, Man should just leave well enough alone. The opening of the film focuses on the titular character Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), who after she brutally injures one of the scientists by repeatedly stabbing her in the eye. After the incident, the corporation sends a “risk management consultant” (Kate Mara) to come to the location and evaluate Morgan to determine if the experiment should continue or if Morgan should be terminated.
Much of the film helps fill in the blanks to the audience for Morgan. Although Morgan looks like an almost twenty-something, she really is a 5-year-old who has grown exponentially due to the experiment. She’s not completely human as she was created as a result of some weird nanotechnology fertilizing an egg to create her. The scientists care for her as she was their own child, even to the point where the previously mentioned scientists said it was her own fault. Morgan is also attached to her “family” even though they have her live in a de facto jail cell they deemed her room. Morgan is first seen as “misunderstood.” After all, she technically is 5 years old and raised in isolation, she might not know that what she does in wrong. As the film progresses, she goes from “misunderstood kid,” to raging homicidal maniac and there really is no character progression towards the latter. It could be that the director was trying to liken her to raising a chimpanzee or some other feral creature: no matter how domesticated you make her, she’s on breath away from dismembering you.
One problem with the film is that the extent of what Morgan can do is never realized. She is described as having some empathic powers, but then there are a few moments where telekinesis magically shows up without explanation as if it was necessary for just that scene. Also, how is a 5-year-old, raised in captivity a kung-fu master? This might be nit-picking, but it throws the movie into chaos when it happens all of a sudden. Overall the actress playing Morgan does fine with what she is given to do. For most of the film, she has a hoodie on, seemingly to almost make her genderless, and spends most of her time brooding in her cell. There are a few moments that show a bright side to the characters, like when she is given the privilege of going outside as well as her bonding with Amy (Rose Leslie) one of the scientists on the Morgan project.
The film also has a great deal of star talent as well. I guess if your dad is Ridley Scott, you are able to get a lot of favors called in for your directorial debut. The supporting cast of the film includes Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, and Michelle Yeoh (who continues not to age). Jennifer Jason Leigh is in the movie to get the crap kicked out of her much like she was in The Hateful Eight. Paul Giamatti comes in late and literally eats the scenery as an arrogant psychologist trying to diagnose Morgan for the corporation to very unique results. Last but not least, Brian Cox is in the film as one of the big baddies from the corporation. It pays to have Ridley Scott as your dad!
Even with all that star power in the film, it comes across very flat. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a thriller, an action movie, or drag us on with a lot of technobabble that goes nowhere. The final act of the movie seemingly comes out of nowhere and rushes to a high-octane battle filled with car chases, shootouts, and kung-fu fights. Like many summer movies, the final act is rushed negating everything built up in the previous two-thirds, and the twist could be seen from a mile away.
Is the movie completely terrible? Well, sort of. Luke Scott is not a bad director as evidence by his second unit work on his father’s films Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Martian. The film’s cinematography is also excellent. The scenes showing the countryside when they are outside the complex are brilliantly shot. Many of the scenes within Morgan’s cell also have a great claustrophobic feel as well. Kate Mara continues to rebound from Fantastic Four well. Her portrayal as the risk management consultant for the corporation had the right amount of pragmatism and icy demeanor as well. The supporting cast also does a pretty good job, especially Rose Leslie as she is given the most to do in her one on one scenes with Morgan. However, all the pretty shots and good performances don’t outweigh the bloated plot, poor writing, and terrible ending.
If you want to see a film about the existential debate about creating life and showcasing how bad the outcome could be, go and rent Ex Machina.