Director Luke Scott/2016
Morgan is not only a fun science-fiction film, but it is the feature film debut of Ridley Scott’s son Luke. Flying under the family Scott Free Film banner, Luke carries on the family tradition of crafting solid science fiction tales with small set pieces to create a simple, straight-forward story of familiar tropes of the dangers of artificial intelligence, the capabilities of science, and mankind’s lust for death.
Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy-The Witch) is a humanoid being that has been created with a synthetic DNA introduced into a real cell. In just a few days after being “born”, she was walking and talking, and shortly after that she is a young woman in terms of development and processing, even though she is still just past her 1st birthday in terms of years. The opening scene with Morgan tells us immediately that all is not going well with this corporate program. After Morgan repeatedly stabs Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh-The Hateful Eight) in the eye, corporate sends in risk-management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara-The Martian) to assess the program and make determinations of whether it should continue.
Morgan examines the danger of mankind acting as creator and creating something in our own image. While we seek to better ourselves through science, science still reflects the darkness of our own human nature.
The compound where Morgan is kept contains Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Dr. Darren Finch (Chris Sullivan-The Drop), Dr. Brenda Finch (Vinette Robinson-Sherlock), Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones-Capt. America: The First Avenger), Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie-Honeymoon), Ted Brenner (Michael Yare-Game of Thrones), and their cook Skip (Boyd Holbrook-Run All Night).
This small fenced-in compound in the forest consisting of a house and the bunker where Morgan is housed is where the majority of the film takes place, reminiscent of the small ship setting of director Luke Scott’s fathers classic film Alien. The scenes outside featuring the forest and the sky keep Morgan from feeling as claustrophobic as Alien’s enclosed ship, but the small setting helps focus the tension as the film’s plot is made more clear.
Kate Mara plays her part purposefully with little emotion as she is seemingly sizing up each of the team members in order to make her recommendations to corporate. Not only must they be worried about the condition of Morgan, but each must also be trying to cover their bases professionally so that they can keep their jobs. Eventually a psyche evaluation is ordered by Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti-Straight Outta Compton) which make the final determination on Morgan and the entire program. Brian Cox (X-Men 2, The Bourne Supremacy) even makes a great appearance as corporate head Jim Bryce.
Following Anya Taylor-Joy’s turn as Thomasin in this year’s subtly frightening film The Witch, she follows that film up with another role that requires her to show both a naive and dangerous side to her character. Her take on Morgan must capture the wonder of being a young artificial being who is captivated by all that she is learning, such as the beauty of nature all around her, and contrast that with dangerous human nature that lurks in her human-created DNA. Taylor-Joy demonstrates an ability to turn on this dangerous side to her character at the drop of a hat, which helps create some fun tension at times in the story when there appears to be no apparent need for alarm.
This film takes the time to examine the various relationships of the team that have spent years working not just with Morgan, but on previous attempts of the same goal of creating a humanoid being. The aims of the company are not totally clear at first, but it is obvious that this team of doctors and scientists believe in what they are doing and have the desire to do something beneficial for humanity. With Morgan they function as a family unit to this artificial being, and do not just see it as artificial entity. Morgan looks like any other girl, and they refer to “it” and “she” to the chagrin of Lee Weathers who prefers to keep such references clinically sterile so as to not let feelings get in the way of clear cut science and corporate aims.
When the film’s setting finally opens up beyond the compound and kicks into a higher gear, Luke Scott keeps the action from being over-the-top and instead opts for realism as the action progresses. He shows a steady hand allowing the narrative to drive home the points of the film at a proper pace rather rushing to reveal everything before it would have its intended impact. This is a skill that obviously lost on many of this summer’s disappointments.
Much like last year’s excellent Ex Machina, artificial intelligence and what it means to be human are clearly dealt with here. While not diminishing Morgan, it is not Ex Machina. That being said, Morgan was much more fun than the majority of films released this summer, and should be an indicator to Hollywood that stacking the summer with tent-pole films that are all pomp with little circumstance only weakens the properties and the movie going experience they are hoping to expand. Having so many such films keeps the box office lower for all as well. Smaller films like Morgan, by contrast, are able to be shot on a much smaller budget, but provide so much more of a cinematic experience when done right, which will result in a better box office.
Unfortunately, Morgan is being released at the tail-end of a summer that saw massive disappointment with the audiences towards the majority of the releases and it could keep people away from this film, as a result. With this being the doldrums between big and loud summer fare and more Oscar-calibrated films in the fall, we will have to see if Morgan can generate any interest.
While being a good, though not great, film, Morgan is fun and compelling and better than most anything else released this summer. Morgan examines the danger of mankind acting as creator and creating something in our own image. While we seek to better ourselves through science, science still reflects the darkness of our own human nature. Luke Scott is a director to watch and certainly does an able job carrying on the family name, with his famous father even producing this film. Hopefully his first feature length film can find an audience, as Morgan is worth a trip to the theater.