Director Luke Scott appears to owe a lot to his father, Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”) with his debut picture, “Morgan.” In the movie, he carries over Ridley’s interest in grim futures where callous corporations sacrifice their employees for profit. But he’s not quite there yet when it comes to executing his ideas, as “Morgan” is a promising film that doesn’t go to the places it could have.
Its main character, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), is a corporate risk-management consultant sent to assess the viability of an artificially-created human being. The girl (Anya Taylor-Joy) — officially designated as “it,” but known to her creators as Morgan — has superior strength and psychic abilities, but lifelong imprisonment has left her emotionally unstable. At the start of the movie, she stabs a scientist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye, and as shown in the trailers, the body count will only rise from there.
Lee meets the scientists in charge of Morgan and finds it odd that they have grown attached to their creation as parents would to a daughter. One of the doctors, Amy (Rose Leslie), tries to convince Lee that Morgan deserves a better life. Lee couldn’t care less.
At the film’s midpoint, Morgan undergoes a psychiatric evaluation. In a highly contrived turn of events, Paul Giamatti’s psychiatrist character decides to berate his patient for no reason, yelling at her until she snaps and attacks him. The company subsequently orders Morgan to be put down, but she refuses to die without a fight, and Lee is forced to end Morgan’s rampage.
As the titular character, Taylor-Joy brings an unnatural wisdom to the young Morgan while maintaining an air of naivety and gentleness. On the other hand, Mara’s Lee is cold and calculating. She’s a rather unlikable protagonist, defined not by her desires but by the wills of those controlling her. Her own identity, or lack of one, does factor into the film’s closing minutes, though, in a pleasantly surprising way.
Both actresses give good physical performances, too. Mara and Taylor-Joy don’t look like your classic action heroine stars, but they sure sell their punches. It’s fun to watch them go toe-to-toe, even when the script doesn’t give them much to do.
“Morgan” discusses the ethics of biological engineering and how we treat the inhuman. Morgan has much in common with the Replicants of “Blade Runner:” She’s an artificial creation with feelings. She will do anything to cling to life, and her strongest desire is to visit the beautiful lake Amy once promised to show her. When she turns on her creators, it’s because they, in spite of their love for her, have failed to treat her as a person.
Unfortunately, most of what we learn about Morgan is delivered through a heavy exposition dump when Lee first visits the scientists’ facility, and we don’t see how Morgan interacts with most of her caretakers. Her few happy moments with the scientists are reduced to video logs and flashbacks, with Amy featuring prominently in the majority of them. We don’t get a feel for Morgan’s friendships, so when those bonds are broken violently, there’s little tragedy to be felt.
“Morgan” also doesn’t thoroughly explore the nuances of creating a genetically-augmented human being, instead devoting time to preachy, shallow speeches about Morgan’s innocence and indulging in a useless romantic triangle between Lee, Amy and the charming Skip (Boyd Holbrook). It doesn’t match the brilliance of a similar picture, last year’s “Ex Machina,” settling instead on being a less thoughtful imitation.
Running Time: 92 minutes
Score: 3/5 stars