Morgan is the diet version of every science fiction film ever made. It’s Diet Splice. It’s Diet Alien. It’s Diet Species. It’s really Diet Ex Machina. And it’s especially Diet Blade Runner. It seems that all those years watching his father make movies has clearly influenced Luke Scott, for better or worse, and while he doesn’t quite have the distinct flair that made Ridley such a marvel, he does have a certain level of technical know-how to put together a competent picture. It’s a shame that he has to waste it on such a dud script.
The film follows Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a risk management specialist for an unnamed company. It’s not quite clear what the company does, or why it does it, but never mind that, understanding the plot is just an extraneous detail. What we do know is that their work involves lab work and scientific breakthrough. Recently, they have made progress in developing super-humans by combining A.I. software with a human host. The successful test subject is a young woman named Morgan (her age is impossible to determine-sometimes they say two years, sometimes seven, but refer to her as “five,” which I guess is in the middle). The tests were going hunky-dory until Morgan snapped and attacked one of the scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Now Lee must meet with Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) to determine if Morgan should be terminated, if she is a human and, perhaps most important of all, if she is dangerous.
The problems with this film can be determined within the first fifteen minutes. For starters, the “plot” is barely visible, designed solely to get from one action scene to the next. It’s clear that screenwriter Seth Owen had watched a lot of sci-fi over the years, and simply wanted to make an amalgamation of its greatest hits. Essentially, he made a jukebox musical of the genre. The problem with that is each of the details and intricacies of these plot points are lost when jumbled together for no reason. Take the previously mentioned business angle. We know there’s some sort of big business-type looming over the scientists, but we never understand why. This is essentially a take on the Weyland-Yutani angle in Alien, but in that film, we understand they are intergalactic miners that wish to study the alien to expand their market, thus sacrificing humanity for the sake of greed. It makes sense in that context. Here…the business is exploring the science of super-humans for no apparent reason. It can’t be the interest of scientific exploration, because they keep talking about the importance of money. But they never explain the market for Morgan. So why are they doing this? Having a big business bad guy is not only unoriginal, it makes absolutely no sense here without context.
And don’t get me started on “the twist.” Yes, like many sci-fi films, Morgan is attempting to stay one step ahead of you the entire time, building up to what they think is a major reveal. Except I had figured it out, and thus figured out 75% of the movie, by the end of the opening credits. And the person I saw the movie with figured it out about five minutes later. If your twist is so basic and so obvious that it can be figured out within the first three minutes of a movie, it doesn’t bode well for the overall product. I won’t spoil it here, despite the fact that the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz could figure this one out with ease, but if you’ve seen any of Luke’s father’s works, you can make an educated guess (literally, it’s the exact same twist. I’m starting to think a computer wrote this script).
Most egregiously, however, is how the film tries to explain the character of Morgan. It starts with the fact the film literally explains exposition to the viewer. How do I know it is solely for the viewer? Because after the doctors explain the entire scientific process to Lee, she responds, “You can skip ahead, doctor, I’ve read the briefing.” This is one of the laziest, most telegraphed deliveries of scientific know-how I have ever seen in any film. In fact, it’s a little infuriating the film takes such a patronizing take on the information. Especially because it never even makes this explanation clear. That’s right. Not only does the film force-feed us the information, it doesn’t even have the common courtesy to get the food into our mouths. On top of this, it’s never really explained what Morgan does. We know that she is highly intelligent, and they make a few references to psychic abilities, but…that’s it. They just say she does these things. We never seen any of them in action, we never see any proof of these abilities, we’re just told she has them. The closest we ever come to seeing how smart she is the fact that she listens to opera. Excuse me, I just gagged on that sentence. I’m just going to go vomit in the corner, I’ll be back in a second.
For what it’s worth, most of the cast does the best they can with the material. Kate Mara’s character is pretty difficult to ever like, but she does everything she can with the role. Jason Leigh makes the most of her borderline cameo, as does Michelle Yeoh. Toby Jones’s “mad scientist” is the only character with any discernable arc or understandable character traits, making it easier to like him the most out of the entire cast. On the other hand, I can’t tell if I hated Rose Leslie’s performance or her character, but something was always off there. But this is far and away Anya Taylor-Joy’s movie. Taylor-Joy is making herself something of a niche actress-she possesses a cold, calculating style that she somehow blends perfectly with emotional outbursts. Combined with an attractive-yet-eerie quality, and she’s the perfect lead for the new generation of horror films, starring this year alone in not only Morgan, but January’s The Witch. She brings a quality to Morgan that makes you both empathize with and fear her, putting you on your toes throughout.
In fact, she shares the best scene of the film with Paul Giamatti. I have enough problems with Giamatti’s character to fill an entire review, as his character’s motivations and decisions are borderline indecipherable. However, none of these issues have anything to do with Giamatti’s performance, which helps to further my theory that he should be in everything. He only has one major scene, in which he performs a psych evaluation of Morgan, and watching the two of them go at it is truly fantastic to watch. It demonstrates a clear understanding of tension and filmmaking on Scott’s part, and the second of the half suffers in comparison due to never living up.
As mentioned multiple times here, Scott does a completely competent job directing this film. In fact, in many ways, it was probably the best first project for him. But when it comes down to it, there’s only so much you can do with a script this bland, and while the film excites me for the future possibilities, if you’re asking me if the film is worth a viewing, I would have to say just rent any other sci-fi film for a better written version.