MORGAN (2016) Emphasizes Action Over Science Fiction

morgan

Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara in MORGAN (2016).

MORGAN (2016), the latest movie about an artificially intelligent humanoid, relies more on action than science fiction.  As such, there’s more BOURNE than EX MACHINA in this sci fi adventure tale.

MORGAN begins with scientist Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) speaking to an artificially intelligent humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy).  Morgan suddenly flips out and in a jarring opening scene viciously stabs Dr. Grieff in the eye.

The company which financed the creation of Morgan sends a young consultant named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to investigate the incident to decide whether or not Morgan should be terminated.  Lee gets to know all the scientists involved, and it’s clear from the outset that these scientists are emotionally tied to Morgan and extremely protective of her.  They do not want to see anything happen to her.

When psychologist Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) arrives to perform his evaluation of Morgan, he purposely pushes her buttons to a get a reaction from her.  When she overreacts and escapes, all hell breaks loose and it’s up to Lee to stop her.

For a film about artificial intelligence, MORGAN is a pretty straightforward and simple flick.  It’s not really much of a science fiction movie at all.  The recent EX MACHINA (2015) was a much more thought-provoking take on the subject.  That being said, MORGAN is still a very entertaining movie. It’s an action thriller rather than a contemplative science fiction film, but this doesn’t take away from the fun.

Kate Mara is excellent in the lead role as Lee Weathers.  It’s one of the best roles I’ve seen Mara play.  She’s nearly perfect for this part.  She’s smart, sexy, and sleek, and she’s a formidable force who does not back down to the scientists around her or to Morgan.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Morgan, and she’s okay, but strangely  she didn’t have a lot to do. It’s not really Taylor-Joy’s fault but the way the character is written.  Most of the time she just stares ahead and looks artificial or ominous.  We don’t get inside her head enough to know what it’s like to be artificially created.  We never really feel what it’s like to be Morgan, and this is one of the weakest parts of the movie.

MORGAN is actually more about Kate Mara’s character.  Early on the film focuses on her investigation, and later on it follows her pursuit of the escaped Morgan, when the film turns into an action thriller.

The confrontation between Lee and Morgan near the end of the film is one of the more riveting female fight sequences I’ve seen in a while.  It was really intense.  I loved the way it was edited.  A great job here by director Luke Scott, in what might be the best scene in the movie.

Anya Taylor-Joy also played Thomasin in THE WITCH (2015), and she was better in that movie.  Of course, she also had more to do, and it was a better written part.

The rest of the cast is very good.

Rose Leslie from TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY and GAME OF THRONES plays Dr. Amy Menser, a behaviorist, who probably is closest to Morgan.  Toby Jones, the son of Hammer Films’ character actor Freddie Jones, plays Dr. Simon Ziegler, a man who is clearly proud of Morgan and does not want the company interfering with his prized project, which he continually tells people took years and years of hard work to perfect.

Boyd Holbrook plays the likable and easy going chef Skip.  Holbrook was memorable in the Liam Neeson thriller A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014), and he was also in GONE GIRL (2014).  Chris Sullivan, who appeared in the first episode of STRANGER THINGS as Benny, the man who lost his life befriending young Eleven, plays Dr. Darren Finch, and Michelle Yeoh, who also just co-starred with Jason Statham in MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION (2016) plays the lead scientist of the group, Dr. Lui Cheng.

Paul Giamatti shows up for one scene as Dr. Alan Shapiro, the guy brought in to perform Morgan’s psychological evaluation.  It’s one of the better scenes in the movie, one I would have liked even more had I not seen most of it in the movie’s trailers.  Giamatti is always fun to watch, and he makes the most of this one sequence, which is pretty much all him.  Again, Morgan herself has little depth other than to show anger when pushed.

And even Brian Cox shows up for a brief second as the head of the company responsible for Morgan.

Director Luke Scott does a nice job with this one.  The fight scene between Lee and Morgan is a keeper, and the other action sequences are also done well.

The biggest knock on this one is the screenplay by Seth W.Owen. I really expected this one to be a thought-provoking science fiction tale, but it’s not.  We never get inside Morgan’s head.  The concept of what it’s like to be an artificially intelligent being is hardly explored.  It’s covered very briefly when the scientists speak of Morgan’s rights, and Lee flatly denounces, “She has no rights.”  That’s it.  No debate, no wonder.

Later, in what is supposed to be a defining moment, Morgan declares “I feel alive.”  She says this, but she never acts it.  She only acts like an assassin out of a Bourne movie.

And that’s because MORGAN isn’t really a science fiction movie at all.  It’s a Bourne-style thriller featuring a humanoid in the lead rather than Jason Bourne.  But as such, it works.  While I was disappointed the film didn’t have more ambition in terms of its artificial intelligence story,  I definitely enjoyed the thriller aspects to this one, and the Lee -in pursuit of-Morgan story I found compelling and very watchable.  In fact, I would argue that the best part of MORGAN isn’t Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, but Kate Mara as Lee.  Mara is the driving force behind this movie.

There is a twist in this movie, one that I sniffed out from the get-go due to some obvious hints that perhaps shouldn’t have been placed there so prominently.  I for one wasn’t surprised in the least by the revelation at the end.

All in all, for what it was, I liked MORGAN and found it a fun way to spend 90 minutes at the movies.

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