Following in the footsteps of dad Ridley and uncle Tony, Luke Scott is the latest member of this revered cinematic family to take a shot at the director’s chair. His debut feature Morgan is a well acted, good looking sci-fi thriller. Unfortunately, it’s also tepid, overly generic and poorly paced, hindered by a routine, predictable plot which lacks originality or inventive ideas.
Anya Taylor Joy follows up her startling role in The Witch as the title character here. Morgan is a genetically engineered humanoid experiment, manufactured by a shady top secret organisation. While only 5 years old, she has advanced rapidly and resembles a teenager. She also has a very bad temper. We’re kept in the dark about the exact purpose of her existence (at least for the early part of the film), but it becomes quickly apparent that the scientists tasked with looking after her have a major dilemma on their hands. After a brutal attack on behavioural psychologist Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Morgan is locked up in solitary confinement. Risk assessment agent Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is deployed by the corporation to a rural location where Morgan has been raised. She must establish whether the severity of the assault is enough to warrant termination of the experiment. It soon becomes glaringly obvious that the group who have spent years fully invested in Morgan have formed a strong emotional connection with the girl and now exist as a family unit. Any attempts to end Morgan’s life are going to be met with stern resistance. After a second outburst of shocking violence though, Lee is forced to make an inevitable and unpopular decision. Chaos ensues.
While the set up has plenty of promise, the execution is less than compelling. Scott seems intent in building a sense of atmosphere and foreboding but the curious early stages of the film lack any real dramatic momentum. Anya Taylor Joy and Kate Mara are both excellent in their respective roles, but the film just doesn’t get under the skin of the characters or scratch beneath the surface of it’s thematic complexities. There’s an obvious tension in the dynamic between Lee and the other scientists but there are far too many dull and redundant scenes that don’t drive the narrative forward with enough conviction. The cast are uniformly good but aren’t utilised to their full potential. Jennifer Jason Leigh barely registers while the likes of Toby Jones and Michelle Yeoh bring assured performances to roles which are woefully underdeveloped. Paul Giamatti as obnoxious psychologist Dr. Alan Shapiro has a brief cameo and is integral to the most effective scene in the film. When he pushes Morgan’s buttons, all hell breaks loose and the film finally threatens to break a sweat. Even when the mayhem kicks in and the well choreographed action scenes take things in a more visceral direction, the tension never really rises to a noteworthy level. The film is also overly reliant on a plot twist which most discerning viewers will see coming from a mile away.
Ridley Scott is credited as producer on Morgan. The film certainly shares some traits with the likes of Blade Runner and Alien but it is nowhere near as effective as either of these genre classics or other notable sci-fi flicks with similar concerns such as Gattaca or Ex Machina. It’s well shot and visually dynamic but lacks substance. Luke Scott certainly displays plenty of technical potential. He just doesn’t manage to bring any of soul or personality. The result is a film which is dull, hollow and instantly forgettable.