Morgan review: It’s all in the details
Morgan is probably going to be remembered one of two ways – either as the first film of director Luke Scott, son of Ridley, or as a pale imitation of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. That’s assuming it is remembered at all.
Morgan is an interesting film, but interesting doesn’t always mean good. It just means it is… well, interesting. It’s more in the vein of Duncan Jones’ Moon or Rian Johnson’s Looper than, say, Warcraft or Independence Day: Resurgence, but only in the sense of scale, not quality. Morgan is a film defined by a small budget, which puts the emphasis on the story and the acting. That forces the filmmakers to bring their A game, but it also can expose a movie like this, leaving it bare to the audience. There are no visuals to fall back on or wisecracking, charismatic leads to smooth over missing elements. So when something works, it draws your attention. When it doesn’t, it can sour the whole film.
With Morgan, on paper everything should work. The story is original. The cast is exceptional, filled with so much talent that even the lesser known performers don’t seem out of place standing next to multiple award winners. It even features a young girl as the film’s focal point who is almost certainly destined for a long and memorable career. And yet, there’s something missing. It’s lacking in details.
The film begins with a disturbing and violent confrontation between a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a young girl named Morgan (Ana Taylor-Joy). This triggers an investigation by a mysterious and powerful company, who send in a special representative named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara).
Lee makes her way to a remote mansion and laboratory, where she interviews a group of scientists and caretakers, all of which have dedicated their lives to raising Morgan, an unnatural girl with superhuman abilities and the attitude of a child. When Morgan is pushed though, the secret of her birth – and the consequences of it – kick off a series of events that change everything.
There isn’t a lot of fat on Morgan, so going into more detail would spoil the film.
In some ways, Morgan’s greatest success is also its greatest failure. The movie is economical in its storytelling. It speeds along, carrying audiences with it. That stops it from stagnating, something it could easily have done given how much of the movie is buildup. On the flipside though, it never really stops to let you invest in what you are seeing or the people you meet. That’s where the cast comes in, but there’s only so much they can do.
The characters have little to no development. You know almost nothing about them beyond their immediate purpose. With names like Toby Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Michelle Yeoh, however, you can almost get away with that. They take one-dimensional characters and breathe life into them – sort of. They have quirks and compulsions that are given to them through the performances rather than the story, and there is a lot that is hinted at but never described.
There’s only so much a cast can do though. A weaker cast performing this material would be a train wreck, but even actors and actresses with a shelf full of awards can’t overcome the cog-in-a-machine characters. They have a role to fill and that’s it. There are even moments where the performers outshine the role they are playing. Their characters will do something monumentally stupid that has to happen to further the weak points in the plot, but you’ll think there is something deeper going on, some trick to explain why they are acting in such an obviously dumb way. But then the movie reasserts itself and you realize that nope, the character just sucks.
Morgan seems to deliberately stamp down the talent. There are scenes where you have a performer hint at depth, maybe by drinking a bit too much, or by flirting with a character, but it never goes anywhere. The movie lacks any real detail, despite the best efforts of the cast.
You also have an enigmatic and potentially compelling focal point in Morgan relegated to the background. Her personality is meant to be a huge part of the movie. The filmmakers just seem to have forgotten to give her one.
To put Morgan in terms of sports, the film plays not to lose rather than playing to win. It checks all the boxes of a good indie sci-fi film, including the obvious twists that would never happen to anyone with an ounce of common sense, but it doesn’t go one inch further. It is a technically proficient film devoid of personality.
The single biggest issue with Morgan, however, is that it doesn’t respect its audience. There is a mystery at the core of the movie, but everyone in the film is privy to the secret, and most audiences will fully understand what is happening right from the start – so much so that you may not even realize that the film is set up like a mystery. There’s nothing to really solve, but the filmmakers don’t seem to really care.
Morgan review conclusion
Although Morgan doesn’t quite deliver, it deserves credit for trying something new. It didn’t stray too far out of the familiar and the surprises aren’t really all that surprising or powerful, but gold star for trying. In a year where the summer movies are basically all bloated rebuilds of other franchises, Morgan at least attempts to stand out. It fails, but bless its little heart for trying.
Morgan is a good idea done averagely. It would make for a fairly interesting episode of The X-Files or something similar, but as a feature film it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself. But hey, at least it isn’t another reboot. Yay?
Morgan is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 32 minutes.