Review by C.J. Bunce
Jurassic Park. Blade Runner. Ex Machina. Frankenstein. Hollow Man. Morgan isn’t as good as any of these, but it uses elements from all of them in an interesting, exciting way. The 2016 sci-fi horror movie is about the creation of a synthetic human that can’t be controlled, the latest cautionary tale that continues the legacy of mad scientists like Mary Shelley’s famous doctor with a God complex and H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau, continuing through a century of comic book madmen, scientists who lose sight of ethics and morality along their paths.
The cast is an impressive assemblage of genre stars: Anya Taylor-Joy is Morgan the Creation with synthetic nano-DNA, and the movie co-stars Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, Shooter), Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Star Trek Discovery), Paul Giamatti (Lodge 49, Paycheck), Toby Jones (Captain America, Capote), Boyd Holbrook (Logan, The Predator), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, Case Histories), and Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful 8, Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
Kate Mara is Lee Weathers, a risk management analyst from Corporate. Or is she an efficiency expert with a gun? Morgan, a five-year-old escalated-growth cyborg, has begun acting unstable. She got angry, and poked out the eye of the scientist played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, prompting Corporate to send Weathers, and a psychiatrist played by Giamatti, to review the situation. After all, we’re told, “Nobody wants another Helsinki.” But on site, all the scientists treat the subject more like their daughter than a robot. Morgan calls Yeoh’s character Mother. She is close to Rose Leslie’s character as if she’s her big sister. What’s really going on here?
Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting prowess is clearly evident in this, only her second film role, and Kata Mara makes a strong, even fierce, protagonist. Directed by Luke Scott (The Martian, Alien: Covenant) and written by Seth W. Owen (Peepers), the film has a script with much in common with Jurassic Park’s set-up. Morgan is the latest Frankenstein’s monster. We feel sympathy for the creation like the cyborg female of Ex Machina. It has Giamatti delivering a kind of Voight-Kampff test out of Blade Runner. The cold experimental laboratory mimics the setting of Hollow Man. And Toby Jones brings the Wellsian mad scientist creepiness he’s brought to similar roles.
It’s all disturbing in the way of Orbiter 9. The plot is fairly thin, a good classic sci-fi short story idea. But it’s stretched just right into something good, and the ending has a payoff worthy of your time. You also get the feeling that with a little more effort the film could have been something more substantial. The costume budget must have been nothing–Taylor-Joy wears that hoodie in all her key scenes. The movie has all the right elements, but it settles for simplicity instead of something more grand.
Keep an eye out for Brian Cox (RED, Anna, Doctor Who, Shetland) in a cameo role. Taylor-Joy playing chess is a nice, unintended telegraph to her popular series four years later, The Queen’s Gambit, in which she plays a chess prodigy.
If you love classic science fiction stories or are a fan of any of these genre actors, you’ll want to give Morgan a try. It’s streaming free now on Freevie via Prime Video.