Morgan Review: Mo Morgan Mo Problems
Review by Daniel Rester
Morgan, the latest case of nepotism in filmmaking (with first-time director Luke Scott being the son of Ridley), is a new entry in the scientists-play-God-and-then-pay-for-it genre. This time the playing of God takes place in the creation of “Morgan,” a five-year-old specimen who looks like a teenage girl and has remarkable qualities.
One day Morgan (Anya-Taylor Joy from The Witch) snaps and attacks a scientist named Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stabbing her in the eye. Soon after a corporate troubleshooter, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), is sent in to the isolated scientific location in order to determine if Morgan should be terminated or not. After that the film follows a predictable route and of course all hell breaks loose as Morgan battles against scientists who make only-in-a-movie bad decisions.
A lot of Morgan is just fine, which also makes it pretty forgettable since nothing really rises above that level. But that’s not to say it’s terrible. Things must have just looked better on paper in Seth Owen’s script, which made the 2014 Black List of excellent unproduced screenplays. That factor surprises me even more since I found a lot of the dialogue here to be bland, a few of the characters one-note, and some violent story turns generic. Owen’s writing does present a couple of interesting ideas, but not much of the rest feels fresh if you’ve ever seen a science fiction film like this before.
The cast here is serviceable and tries to elevate the scenes. Joy proves once again she is a fine young talent, letting us feel for Morgan even as she starts getting nutty; I’d like to see her keep taking on complex roles like this. Boyd Holbrook (Narcos on Netflix) and Paul Giamatti also get strong moments in despite their minimum screen time. Mara, Leigh, Toby Jones, Brian Cox and other terrific actors are less fortunate, with most of them looking pretty bored during their time onscreen.
Scott does and okay job at directing here, though he doesn’t have the master touch his father possesses. A lot of the shot compositions do look really good, with uses of shadows and silhouettes especially beautiful. Scott also paces the film fairly well, and he gets a lot of effective use out of Max Richter’s elegant piano music in the score. But just because a movie looks good and sounds good doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Morgan has both of those qualities, but the characters and storytelling throughout just aren’t up to par.
Morgan isn’t a mess of a sci-fi film. It’s a polished package on the surface, but there’s just not enough that feels new in the package to make it very worthwhile. When compared to recent projects like Ex Machina and Stranger Things that have similar “female” characters and situations, Morgan just isn’t as memorable.
I do look forward to Luke Scott approaching other work though, and hopefully he’ll be able to escape his father’s shadow and prove himself with future material. His first outing here shows he has some promise as a director (despite his overreliance on shaky cam during action scenes). Hopefully that promise can register into stronger films down the road.
My Grade: C+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for brutal violence, and some language).