Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Not even a stellar ensemble cast can save a film like MORGAN. Directed by Luke (son of Ridley) Scott and written by Seth W. Owen, its cinematics are chic and sleek, performances are solid, and the narrative is mind-numbingly simple. And yet the filmmakers infuriatingly manage to mess it up at almost every turn. MORGAN plays like a factory-refurbished model of the Frankenstein myth meeting BLADE RUNNER, HANNA, LUCY and EX-MACHINA – only there’s very little Scott adds to the conversation.
Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s dressed as the poster child for the before part of a teen tampon commercial, has a not-so-fresh-feeling lived most of her short life in a concrete prison – an underground lab where she’s examined and evaluated 24/7. She’s a human/artificial intelligence hybrid who ages almost in dog years. Slowly but surely, she’s been given tiny steps towards freedom – until at an unruly five-years-old, she lashes out at Dr. Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Her possible ticket out? Corporate risk assessor Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), who’s been called by her boss (Brian Cox) to investigate the corporation’s latest kerfluffle. But when the other doctors – including Dr. Amy (Rose Leslie), Dr. Liu (Michelle Yeoh), Dr. Simon (Toby Jones), Dr. Darren (Chris Sullivan), and Dr. Brenda (Vinette Robinson) – and staff members (Michael Yare, Boyd Holbrook) begin exhibiting strong parental feelings towards their charge, and Lee learns of Morgan’s violent history, she discovers the assignment is gonna be much more difficult than expected.
At first glance, it would seem that Scott, along with Owen’s script, would have a lot to say about the female psyche, otherwise why else would they make the AI female? Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that they never fully address this, nor do anything with the concept. They stop short of any intelligent and engaging commentary. Is she a daughter substitute for them? A surrogate girlfriend? Yes. Possibly both. And? Morgan’s never totally duplicitous, playing her captors like instruments to get what she wants, nor are her actions totally sociopathic. Whatever the situation is (killing an injured, dying deer, for instance), she’s showing a predictable response – with the exception of that time she stabbed Kathy in the eye. Even attacking the cavalier psychologist evaluator (Paul Giamatti), who screams at her like a lunatic, feels justified. Screw that cocky jerk! Should we be rooting for her at that point? All the people around her simply make poor decisions – like PROMETHEUS-level bad decisions – and then are shocked by the outcome.
While there’s some strikingly elegant and subtle foreshadowing with the visuals that complement the narrative (like when we see Lee’s image superimposed on Morgan’s when they first chat – a cinematic “AHEM!”), they don’t push much further by the time they utilize it a second time (like when we see the ping-ponging, back and forth between Amy’s and Morgan’s reflections ). Tom McCullagh’s production design also earns high marks, demonstrative of the two schools of design and science – old (the tattered, creepy outside of the house) versus the contemporary (the concrete underground lab). Cinematographer (and long-time Ridley Scott collaborator) Mark Patten’s muted-blue-gray color palette adds a cold sterility necessary for atmosphere. Plus, it’s interesting that Scott bats around BLADE RUNNER-esque ideas of robot sentience.
Nevertheless, the third act collapses completely under the weight of ludicrous contrivances and confusing motivations. It’s like being back in PROMETHEUS’ audience again, screaming, “run to the left and you won’t get crushed!” Morgan’s intent on killing her protectors doesn’t make sense. The doctors have ample time to tell her they rescued her and yet they don’t say a word. Amy, a behavioral psychologist, has plenty of time to flee on her own – and yet she goes with Morgan?! I guess it’s ironically fitting I’m analyzing her behavior though she never does. Why would a hunter ever give their location away by firing a warning shot, alerting the prey – who’s also a predator – that they are around? Finally, by the time the Shyamalanian twist rolls around – one that is so cheap it makes the sounds of two coins hitting a table – most viewers will have already bailed.
MORGAN is now playing.