You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Morgan’

A humanoid girl bred from synthetic DNA is the fatal attraction of a derivative sci-fi movie that doesn't know what to do with her.

Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox.
Release Date:
Aug 26, 2016

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4520364/

Robots, supercomputers, automatons: The history of sci-fi can be boiled down to a laundry list of humanoid machines whose very existence raises the question, “Yes, but do they have feelings?” The title character of “Morgan” is, in many ways, a successor to all those spooky-chilly faux-human techno marvels. Except that Morgan does have feelings. She’s not a replicant built out of diodes and synthetic skin; she was bred — and born — in a lab out of synthetic DNA. She’s a not-so-far-fetched version of a “human” being who emerges out of the era of cloning and the corporate obsession with genetic modification.

Anya Taylor-Joy, the actress who plays her, was 19 when “Morgan” was shot, but she looks much younger, and though she does have eyebrows, they barely register. All you notice, under Morgan’s gray hoodie, is her luminous ghostly pallor, her upper lip cut like an “M,” and the startling intensity of her oversized dark almond eyes, which recall the image of extraterrestrials from the ’70s. She may on some level be human, but she is every inch a creature.

The movie is a sci-fi potboiler that starts off by fostering some genuine interest in a character who seems to express something of her moment. Morgan, who’s technically just 5 years old (though far smarter and stronger than her years), is a corporate experiment who has grown up in a glassed-in concrete bunker. The film opens with an explosive scene in which she’s told, by one of her guardians (Jennifer Jason Leigh), that they’re going to have to cut back on the time she spends outdoors — time that Morgan values with so much emotion that she reacts to the news by leaping out of her chair and trying to claw the guardian’s eye out. So here’s the rub: Morgan has feelings, but she also has a highly overdeveloped (or maybe just uncontrolled) id. She’ll stare down an interviewer across the table with a look to kill, and then she’ll attempt to make good on it; she can glare into a surveillance camera and let the person watching feel as if she’s looking right back at them. In her cell, she sits in her sweatshirt, listening to classical music, a sulky figure of hovering brilliance and menace, like Dr. Lecter crossed with Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

The person who’s been assigned to determine Morgan’s fate is Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a risk-management consultant with a mysterious agenda. It’s part of the way the movie works that as soon as we see Mara, with her fastidious slick clipped hair and steely eyes, as well as a manner so professionally cold and rigid that she makes her sister Rooney look like Sarah Silverman, it’s hard not to notice that Lee seems to share a certain spirit with Morgan, even though she’s basically been brought in to shut her down.

The others are a team of hipster scientists who have been secluded, for seven years, in a top-secret mansion headquarters that resembles a bombed-out Wayne Manor, located on the edge of a woods that looks like it could be the setting for a remote summer camp. There, they’ve raised Morgan and become her wary family. They tend to think of her as a real person, whereas Lee hews to the company line that Morgan should be referred to as “it” (which seems a bit extreme, given that even ocean liners are called “she”). The hang-loose team, the members of which live like drunken bohemians in Portland, include Toby Jones as the head scientist, Michelle Yeoh as Morgan’s stern lab-coated “mother,” and Rose Leslie as her vivacious behaviorist BFF. All of them remain loyal to her, even after Morgan gets interviewed by a smug psychiatric evaluator (Paul Giamatti) whose driving motivation seems to be to prove that he’s superior to her. By the time he’s done goading her, she has made mincemeat of him.

“Morgan” is linked, in theme and design, to last year’s “Ex Machina,” which also told the story of an eerie lifelike humanoid experiment locked away inside a corporate woodland bunker. But the highly creepy originality of that film, apart from its eye-popping flesh-meets-metallurgic-skeleton effects, is that it wasn’t just about whether the robot in question had feelings or not. It was about the compulsive need of everyone around her, especially the men, to believe that she had feelings. “Morgan” is the first feature directed by Luke Scott, the son of Ridley Scott (who serves as one of the producers), and it’s little more than a schlock replay of “Ex Machina.” It toys around with some of the same situations, but it doesn’t know where to take them. Instead of developing its themes, it uses them as grist for an overload of “commercial” action.

“Morgan” isn’t a movie that should be climaxing with fistfights, yet by the time Morgan gets out in the woods again, trying to escape Lee, the efficiency expert-turned-company assassin, she’s become the tween Hannibal Lecter meets Jason Bourne. It’s all to set up the film’s big kicker of a twist (in a scene that features the original big-screen Lecter, Brian Cox). “Morgan,” in the end, takes enough overwrought and even ridiculous turns to seriously compromise its chance of finding an audience. Yet there are a few moments when something in the movie strikes a chord. All science fiction is metaphor, and a thriller about a hellion ingenue with a dead stare who is really a thing but has feelings anyway, and will kill you if you threaten to take them away, is expressing something about the state of girlhood today. If only it could figure out what.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Morgan'

Reviewed at the Regal E-Walk, New York, August 24, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production: A 20th Century Fox release of a Scott Free production. Produced by Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Mark Huffam. Executive producers: Aidan Elliott, George F. Heller, Elishia Holmes.

Crew: Directed by Luke Scott. Written by Seth Owen. Camera (color, widescreen): Mark Patten. Editor: Laura Jennings.

With: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox.

More Film

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Introducing On-Demand Movie Service

    AMC Entertainment will introduce an online video store in the United States on Tuesday. Adam Aron, AMC’s president and chief executive, said that the AMC Theaters On Demand will offer about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs — much like Amazon or iTunes. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have [...]

  • Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon

    Scarlett Johansson 'Pushing' for All-Women Marvel Movie

    After the epic battle scene in “Avengers: Endgame” depicted the female superheroes uniting to protect Spider-Man from Thanos, Marvel fans started wondering if they’ll ever see the women unite for a standalone movie. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson generated even more buzz when she told Variety that she and other female co-stars have approached Marvel [...]

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. Pre-production on the Warner Bros.-DC Comics pic is expected to start this summer. No official start date has been [...]

  • Hadley Robinson Amy Poehler

    'Little Women' Actress Hadley Robinson to Star in Amy Poehler's 'Moxie'

    “Utopia” and “Little Women” actress Hadley Robinson has been tapped to star in Amy Poehler’s next directorial effort “Moxie.” Lauren Tsai is also on board to co-star in the Netflix movie. “Moxie” follows a teenage girl (Robinson) from a small town who is inspired by her mother’s Riot Girl past and starts a feminist revolution [...]

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content