Film Review: Morgan

morgan (2016) sci-fi thriller movie one sheet posterThere’s precious little that’s new and provocative in the sci-fi thriller Morgan, but its still sufficiently well-assembled that it’s worth a watch, albeit on HBO, Netflix or Redbox. The production team tried to deliver a dark commentary on humanity and genetic engineering, but the big reveal was so obvious that it might as well have been explicitly stated in the first reel.

The story has a nameless corporation sponsoring the creation and nurturing of genetically modified humans, proto-humans who appear just like us but mature much faster. Oh, and are designed to be killing machines too. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an engineered human and while she’s being raised in a lovely home in the middle of nowhere, Oregon by a team of scientists, things aren’t going very well.

The scientific team is led by Dr Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), who treats Morgan as her daughter, Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), earnest as usual, Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) and Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones). The staff has one job and one job only: monitor, track and teach Morgan how to be human. In particular, it’s Morgan and Dr. Menser who have established the closest bond, though that’s not enough to stop Morgan reacting aggressively when confronted early in the movie in a scene reminiscent of La Femme Nikita.

Corporate responds by sending troubleshooter Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to visit the facility and assess what’s going on. Is continuing work with Morgan a go or a no go? For the research team, the stakes are high: if Morgan is determined not to be worth salvaging, Weathers has permission to terminate it, and shut down the project.

That’s enough that I bet you, my savvy reader, can figure out the rest of the storyline, how things transpire, and the “big twist” at the end. In fact, the tagline for the film really focuses on the wrong person and, at the risk of a slight spoiler, while Morgan is the titular character, it was Weathers (Mara) who is the most interesting character, and I wanted to see more of her on screen. What moral qualms must she wrestle with as she assess the creature Morgan and has to decide whether to recommend it lives or dies?

Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Weathers (Kate Mara) talk, from "Morgan"
Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Weathers (Kate Mara) talk, from “Morgan”

But don’t let my snark dissuade you from seeing this movie. It’s well assembled, has a very good cast (though they’re not used to their fullest, particularly the talented Michelle Yeoh), and has some solid cinematography. There are lots of ideas cribbed from other sci-fi films too, including the use of The Lake as a sort of Macguffin that could have been an interesting variation of the island in The Island, for example.

It’s not fair to expect every movie to be profound or to have a twist that makes you immediately want to watch the film a second time to see what clues were left by the filmmaker, but it’s also not unreasonable to expect a smartly written thriller that has at least a few surprises. Morgan is watchable, and there are definitely worse science fiction films out there, but it could have been much more with a better script. Perhaps that’s for the sequel, though. If there is one.

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