Morgan

...And to my son, a directing career.
★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2016
Director: 
Luke Scott
Starring: 
Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Setup: 
Ex Machina, but dumb.
Discussion: 

Don’t you wish you were Ridley Scott’s son? Don’t you wish you could make any movie you wanted and, no matter how bad it was, it would still get a major release? And you’d have access to a great cast and the best cinematographers? True, if his films are any indication, Dad’s a bit of a gasbag, but couldn’t you sit through anything if you could be virtually handed a successful directing career, yours to fuck up?

Well, Luke Scott went a long way toward fucking up his big chance with this stinker, although I’m sure he’ll survive and be back at us again real soon. It’s not that the direction is so bad [or it’s hard to tell because it all looks great, due to Dad’s cinematographers], the problem mostly comes down to that persistent problem—the shitty script—and the inability of anyone, including our nascent director, to realize that the script is shit. Or to care. I mean, like hello… the script? What does that matter?

I am drawn to these sci-fi movies like a moth to the flame, no matter how bad they are, and you know that a movie receiving awful reviews only makes me more intrigued, and then there came to be a time factor, as this one only made $2 million in 2,000 theaters its first weekend [okay, maybe his career will be short-lived], which qualifies as an uber-flop. Dad’s probably going to have to give a lot of gin-up-and-carry-on-old-boy talks in the coming weeks. Anyway, among the primary criticisms of the reviews was that it has a last-minute revelation that it treats like a shocker, although it is completely clear to everyone from the first five minutes. So, of course, I HAVE to know what it is, and I can’t just go read Wikipedia like everyone else.

Anyway, we see security cam footage of Jennifer Jason Leigh having a friendly chat with Morgan, the genetically-engineered super-human who is a young adult at five years old, when Morgan leaps across the table and stabs her in the eye. Kate Mara [did you know she’s the sister of Rooney Mara???] as Lee Weathers is dispatched as a “risk management consultant,” and arrives at the lab, which is an underground bunker where Morgan lives, and an above-ground creepy old mansion which looks so haunted and dingy you’d think some major action would happen there, but uh-uh no. Lee calls her boss, who tells her: “Above all, protect the asset.” That actually isn’t the major giveaway, but is about 50% of it, or at least the mindset that leads you to guess it. And this is in the first five minutes. Why, WHY would someone allow that line at the beginning of their film? The next hour or so is supposed to depend on whether the scientists, or Morgan, can trust Lee, and this tells us from the start: They can’t. So what should be a major source of intrigue in the film is killed before it begins. Okay, so what’s next?

So Lee has to meet all the scientists, who are all amazed and loving of Morgan, calling her “her,” while Lee insists on calling her “it.” Lee gives them all smug half-smiles and makes no attempt whatsoever to be warm and likeable. Her interview with Jennifer Jason Leigh finds Jennifer saying “There was joy in [Morgan’s] heart before we shoved her back in that box,” because they would let her out to play in nature, and later, about Lee: “Behind that smile you’re an assassin.” First of all, what smile? And secondly, thanks for the sledgehammer, but we already know that because of the poorly-dropped dialogue from the beginning. Where this becomes insulting is that young Mr. Scott the junior and screenwriter Seth W. Owen think that you are simply too dumb to register the obvious messages, which will serve as little more than tantalizing clues we will only decode in retrospect, after they have finally revealed their world-changing revelation. Hey guys? Fuck you.

So then Paul Giamatti shows up as an arrogant psychological tester, who is quite skeptical, to say the least, of Morgan and her abilities. There’s no good reason given why he’s such an arrogant prick—you’d think a psychologist confronting an artificial intelligence would at least be curious—but he goads Morgan further and further, and ends up losing his throat in the bargain. Then Morgan pretty much goes apeshit and escapes, gradually killing most of everyone else in the process. At least they didn’t put her back in the cage after the Giamatti attack and pretend like everything is going to be fine. This is also the point at which, gosh, I can barely remember anything more about this film. Gradually Morgan kills more and more people, including the ones that have cared for her all this time, since her birth.

During this time you might start asking WHY is Morgan killing everyone? And you don’t really have much by way of answer, except we know that robots in movies turn on humans. Other than that… we know she wants to be free, but she could accomplish that with very little carnage, and… well, we don’t know what she wants. And we never find out. And the people who care for her… you kind of wait for them to be developed, and after a certain point realize that they’re simply not going to be. And by the end they’re not, and we have only the thinnest pretext for why Morgan is attacking, and what the whole project was supposed to be, and what everyone is trying to accomplish… and that’s all about to be filled in with clichés.

SPOILERS > > >
So you know from the start that something is up with Lee, and not even just because of that line of dialogue that tells us it’s her against the rest of the team. If that line sounds a bit like the conspiracy of Dad’s Alien, well look at you with your cultural memory. So you know Lee’s there to keep Morgan and is fine with killing all the scientists [making her “bonding” scenes with them a waste of time], but what’s with her? And you start to suspect that Morgan is ye olde, tired, hoary “perfect killing machine” that the government is incessantly trying to develop [in movies], which would make sense of the “protect the asset” line, and which implies that “the crew is expendable” [which turns out to be exactly the case], one has to know that Lee is on the side of the company from the start. But then there are hints that maybe she’s an artificial life form as well. For one, she’s just so cold and unemotional. Then there’s the “Direction 101” shot below, which visually expresses that they’re THE SAME, get it? GET IT????? THEY'RE THE SAME. And then you start to see the retina reflection in Lee’s eyes, exactly the same way Mr. Scott senior expressed that the replicants were androids in Blade Runner, 35 years ago, and you’re like “No…. No. No? He wouldn’t just do the EXACT SAME THING, would he? The EXACT SAME THING his Dad did, all those decades ago, to signal that she’s an artificial life form? Would he? No. WOULD HE???” And guess what folks. He did.

So the problem is not so much that it’s treated as a revelation although you figured it out back in 1934, it’s that you suspected it and thought “Oh no, they wouldn’t, and please God don’t let it be THAT.” But it is, in fact, THAT. Brian Cox appears out of nowhere [Dad’s Famous Friends, part 34] and informs us that Lee is a previous model, and this whole thing was sort of a field test to see which one would win in a contest, and they decide to stick with the Lee model. He also says the “staff was, of course, expendable,” in such a way that it sounds like we’re supposed to go “Oooooh!” but, of course, Alien, every single science fiction film since then, etc.

And then the full weight of how pointless and lazy this all is hits you. If it’s just a field test, why did they have to put the scientists at risk at all? Because they’re NEFARIOUS. If Morgan is just the latest bioweapon, why does she have to have any socialization or walks in the woods at all? You also go in expecting at least something thoughtful about artificial intelligence or what it means to be human or anything, but you get nothing. Morgan likes nature, and euthanizes a deer [the old random impalement that happens so often in the wild]. We don’t ever find out why she likes nature, what she thinks about it, why she feels the way she does, what she thinks about being locked up, why she thinks she’s locked up, what she thinks about the scientists… nothing.
< < < SPOILERS END

So what you have is a collection of clichés and half-baked ideas from other movies assembled here without any connecting tissue. My only guess is that screenwriter Seth W. Owen, who I confess to having formed a low opinion of, is good friends with Scott junior, who is perhaps not the brightest bulb [he is 48 and this is his first feature] and certainly can’t tell a stinker of a script when he reads one. But, because of nepotism, their rookie mistakes get a major movie released for all the world to see. There’s no use in getting upset over it, just don’t see it.

Should you watch it: 

No! Not even on cable or an airplane.