Morgan (2016)

OK, that was…interesting. And I’m not sure how I feel about it. For as long as I’ve loved movies, which is a VAST part of my life (take that however you want), I’ve been aware of the films of Ridley Scott. More than that…I LOVE his movies! Even if the subject matter is a little outside of my preferred field of taste, like 2006’s ‘A Good Year’, for instance. The man could take a romantic comedy (a genre I just can’t take seriously…you know what I mean), and actually do SOMETHING cool and charming with it, on top of giving it a gorgeous presentation. Even the most hum-drum titles in his filmography, like 1997’s unintentionally hilarious ‘GI Jane’ or 2012’s science fiction kick-in-the-head ‘Prometheus’, have the distinction of looking GREAT…while they suck. The same could also be said of Ridley’s equally talented brother, the late Tony Scott. Same thing there…Tony also had the ability to craft gorgeously-styled footage, so even a moderate snoozer like ‘Spy Game’ (2001) had THAT ‘Tony Scott’ flair to it, thus elevating it beyond the mediocrity of the weak and clumsy script. But tragically, that visual ‘voice’ was silenced when Tony, apparently losing a battle with some kind of inner demon, threw himself from a bridge in California a few years ago (we STILL don’t know why…and that irritates and saddens me!). Back to my point though, the combined filmographies and box office numbers for the Brothers Scott act as clear-cut evidence of the talent coursing through that particular British family. So I was naturally going to be curious to see how far the apple may have fallen from the tree with THIS film, which is the feature film directorial debut of Ridley’s 48 year old son, Luke Scott. Two of his other kids are also filmmakers, go figure. But in Luke’s case, I actually had seen something he’d done previously, which was the ‘Menage a Trois’ episode of Ridley and Tony’s supernatural erotica series, ‘The Hunger’, from the late 1990s. This weird and kinky episode starred a young Daniel Craig and Lena Headey as caretakers for an eccentric old pervert played by Karen Black, who uses the two of them, through some odd voodoo-type shit to astral project her perverted and violent longings upon them, with tragic consequences. Going on that one for reference, it was apparent that Luke wasn’t setting out to merely copy his dad and uncle in style. There was something…distinct…about that unsettling little story and it was refreshing, knowing the pedigree behind it. Since then, he’d directed a couple of other ‘shorts’, while honing his craft on several of his father’s movies as a 2nd Unit Director. For someone in that position, it’s only a matter of time before he gets handed the keys to a feature film.
‘Morgan’ opens with lab-environment surveillance footage of a woman having a conversation with a figure clad in baggy sweats. This person abruptly lashes out, brutally stabbing the woman 4 times in the eye. Soon after this incident, a ‘risk assessment consultant’ named ‘Lee Weathers’ (Kate Mara) arrives on “corporate”s orders, to evaluate and contain the situation. As she investigates, she meets the perpetrator of the attempted murder; an experimental being known as ‘Morgan’ (Anya Taylor-Joy). ‘Morgan’ is a hybrid of living, human material and nanobot technology, and is struggling with the concept of ’emotions’, as her A.I. becomes more and more advanced.This leads to some tough decisions that soon become serious problems as the situation spirals lethally out of control.
Right off the bat, I have to say that this flick definitely reminded me of some films that had come before it, namely ‘Splice’ (2009), ‘Hanna’ (2011), and ‘Ex Machina’ (2015)…along with the entire ‘Bourne’ franchise (especially in the 3rd Act). ‘Ex Machina’ is probably the closest in plot, in that it also explores the deadly mind-games of a sentient ‘artificial intelligence’, but in that one, it’s a full-blown robot that evolves, as opposed to a living being infused with microscopic robotic technology, on a molecular level, that struggles with the melding of human and technology.
So, let’s get into The Good. As I suspected, it would seem that Luke Scott wants to put his own style out there on the movie screen, not just be a parrot of his father’s trademark style. There was something almost…’clinical’, to the ‘Menage a Trois’ episode of his I saw SO long ago, that I can see is still lingering today. A certain visual coldness. While there were shots and edits where I could certainly see the ‘Scott’ style emerging (lots of ‘wide-angle lenses), he also did enough to differentiate from the work of his elder family members, especially in color scheme. Ridley and Tony both knew the value of light and color when they ‘painted’ their compositions, but here, Luke trades in the warmer shades for a cool and somewhat washed out aesthetic. It IS in keeping with the underlying theme of cold and uncaring technology, but it was also part of the ‘clinical’ aspect I just mentioned, that he’d used previously. Maybe that will emerge as his ‘thing’ if he continues in the Director’s Chair.
There was some pretty solid bursts of action, especially in the last half of the film, notably when it came to hand-to-hand combat; combat that I didn’t expect to turn up in this particular story, for some reason. Style-wise, that’s where my earlier comparison to the ‘Bourne’ franchise came from. Lots of lightning fast moves and edits, that at times came damn close to being ‘annoying shakey-cam bullshit’ but he usually managed to rein it in just in time. ‘Morgan’s increased combat and stealth proficiency was admittedly cool to watch progress, as more and more information about her purpose was revealed.
The Music was very cool and had a sinister under-tone that would’ve been at home on a film by either his dad or his late uncle. I was reminded of the awesome score for ‘Tron: Legacy’, by Daft Punk, and that’s always a good thing. In conjunction with this, some of the sound design was also pretty slick, especially gunfire (those rifle reports were epic!). So, on a technical front, this movie does a lot right.
But it also does it’s share of Wrong.
This script, by a writer named Seth W. Owen, whom I’ve never heard of, definitely needed some further work. If I could offer up some friendly advice to the fellow, I’d say…do another pass! There’s some dialogue in this film, delivered by proven thespians, that’s laughably bad and groan-worthy. SO on-the-nose that it’s painful. There’s also a VERY ‘Blade Runner’esque ‘twist’ to the ending that I found annoying because the potential for impact was there, it was just marred by some really clunky pacing. The film does not flow together very well and I found it distracting. Luke Scott definitely knows how to make a movie (damn, he better!), but I think he may need a bit more practice in recognizing narrative flow that pulls the audience effortlessly along, instead of the ‘start-stop-start’ herky jerkiness that I felt. There was also a section in Act 2 where I was actually fighting to keep my eyes open. There was interesting stuff onscreen…that just wasn’t engaging me, for some reason. The flick really did seem to find it’s stride in the 3rd Act, which is a bit of a shame.
Now this is neither a Good or a Bad, but the cast in here was a bit of a mixed bag…mostly in how they were used.  In the lead, we get Kate Mara, who had just come off of Ridley Scott’s awesome ‘The Martian’ last year to play this thinly-written ‘operative’ character who I had trouble seeing as this kick-ass bad-ass. Yes, things are revealed that lend credence to this portrayal as things go on, but it was still hard to swallow. It also probably didn’t help that I’ve never given her much thought as an actress. She was ok…I guess. We also get Rose Leslie (‘Game of Thrones’) as a character who’s actions eventually had me starting to loathe her as the story played out. I’m sure Leslie did what she could with the role…but the role just kinda sucked. I will say that Anya Taylor-Joy was effective as ‘Morgan’, a pale, silver-tinged chick with a bit of a Charlize Theron thing going on. It worked for me. We also get Jennifer Jason Leigh (‘The Hitcher’), Paul Giamatti (‘Shoot Em Up’), and Brian Cox (‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’) in questionable cameos that don’t lend a whole lot to the movie. And there’s some others that you may recognize too. Moving on.
All in all, ‘Morgan’ is a decent, non-embarrassing first-time feature from a member of a supremely talented family…that could use some touch-ups and improvements. Luke Scott certainly has potential, but I think he needs to avoid the mistake his old man has admitted to making in his early years ie spending an unfair amount of time and effort on the visuals, at the expense of the script and the performances. Learning how to tighten up the pacing would go a long way too. This film definitely has some good things working for it, especially on a technical level, but it also doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre. Just take the films that I compared this one to, earlier in this review, picture a mash-up of those…and you’ve probably got a good idea of what you’re going to get. That being said, there is no need whatsoever to hit the theatre for this one. This is one of those disposable flicks that I can easily recommend that you check out if you stumble upon it by accident one day on Netflix or Shomi, on some miserable and lazy afternoon. It’s definitely not a bad film…but it’s also not particularly memorable either. Take it…or leave it.


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