Morgan (dir. Luke Scott, 2016) – An artificially-created humanoid lashes out on its creator, sparking off an investigation at the secluded research facility.
Initial intrigue falls away as Morgan trades moral conundrums for derivative action.
Morgan (Anya Taylor Joy), a bio-engineered child, blinds Dr Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in a sudden vicious attack. Sent to investigate the unprovoked act of violence, risk consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) arrives with psychiatrist Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) at the remote research facility to determine Morgan’s viability – and fate.
An inanimate object may be disposable but a life is not, which makes creation a dangerous game. With his directorial debut, Luke Scott echoes the fascinating themes of his father’s sci-fi masterwork that in turn, takes cue from Greek legend Prometheus.
In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, man maintained dominance over replicants by limiting their lifespans in an act of hubris, as Zeus did to mankind when he withheld fire. Similarly, the creators’ control over Morgan enfolds the moral implications behind the enslavement and termination of artificial lives, for fear of their potential superiority.
This ethical dilemma of playing God confounds when it relates to a subject of flesh and bone, rather than metal and wires. Her synthetic nature indiscernible, Morgan elicits sympathy with her demonstrated compassion and distinct intellect.
When pressed in a pivotal interrogation, Morgan shows her human survival instinct through submissiveness. Still, Shapiro continues to see Morgan as an ‘it’ and a subhuman experiment, his distrust meeting her enmity. Never considering the child’s humanity, Shapiro and Weathers quickly determine Morgan as a threat.
Antithetical to their all-business decision, the team of scientists ignores Morgan’s propensity to violence, out of love for their creation. Their collective voice wastes a solid cast (Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare and more) in either negligible or interchangeable roles. The underwritten characters leave little room for ambiguity as their categorical stances come off heavy-handed and stilted.
In his anticipated Black List script, screenwriter Seth W. Owen takes but a cursory look at the moral conundrums he poses. The embryonic ethical debate falls short of expectations and soon devolves into a shallow archetypal conflict. Lacking necessary depth and subtlety, intriguing motifs fade away when Morgan turns into a vengeful killing machine.
Phenomenal newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy keeps a potentially one-note performance compelling. The movie may squander most of the talented line-up, but not her. As with her previous role in The Witch, her presence commands the screen, this time with reasoned menace and calculated nuances.
It is the inelegant genre switch that lets her strong act down. Upon third act, movies like Sunshine and Event Horizon come to mind, their organic sci-fi/horror shift owing to atmospheric build-up and subtle portent. Both of which feel lacking in Morgan that instead stumbles into unrestrained b-movie territory.
The perfunctory body count rouses little excitement for its remaining moments. Derivative action takes over and trudges towards a predictable end, a plot twist impossible to miss with its generous foreshadowing.