Yes, you read that right, Morgan is Anya Taylor-Joy’s role of the year. While her actual acting chops are probably better displayed in the critically acclaimed period piece and dread inducing horror film, The Witch, the film that is more enjoyable and entertaining is Morgan.
Morgan is not the film of the year. It’s not even in my top 25. However, it has a strong conceit, some solid action sequences, and a nice twist at the end. The reviews of the film were very mixed, but generally very middle of the road. A few reviewers lambasted the film, but the general consensus was that the film was simply “okay”. The biggest mistake made by reviewers was allowing the comparisons to last year’s phenomenal sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina. Comparing a film to one of the best science fiction films in decades is setting it up for failure. So, let’s step away from that discussion completely, as well as the aforementioned comparison to The Witch, and look at the film on it’s own merits and letdowns.
A few things truly jump out about Morgan. First, the premise of the film is very intriguing. While bearing similarities to many other films, there is still an originality to the film’s take on the use of AI and genetically created humanity. In a year that has seen the HBO series based on Michael Crichton’s Westworld gain a ton of buzz and praise (and rightfully so), it’s easy to write off other, somewhat less successful takes on the relationship between man and machine (or genetically rendered woman, as it were). Yet, something about this film is different. Different is good, in this case, until it’s not so good, but we’ll get to that soon.
Besides the conceit, the film also features some strong performances from strong actors. The titular role, of course, is played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Her look, her actions, her mannerisms… all feel almost human, but not quite. Yet, she is not the only one presenting in such a way. Other characters also seem to have a little something off about themselves at times, leading some questions to arise about whether or not anyone else in the story is like her, meaning that they are also created in a lab by scientists to be a form of pseudo-human. The second lead of the film is Kate Mara as Lee Weathers, a risk analyst for the company funding the Morgan project, who comes to assess the situation there. Mara, the great granddaughter of two NFL founding fathers, Art Rooney Sr. (founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Tim Mara (found of the New York Giants), and older sister of Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is also fantastic in her role. While no one in the film drags it down with a poor performance, the other standouts are probably Paul Giamatti as the arrogant asshole, Dr. Alan Shapiro, and Toby Jones as the ever ethical and determined, Dr. Simon Ziegler. The cast also features Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rose Leslie, and brief uncredited performance from Brian Cox. Where there are some holes and concerns with the script, the cast makes most of the flaws wholly watchable and far less distracting than a lesser cast could pull off.
There is also some solid action in this film, which is where we can still compliment, but also begin to express disappointment and criticism with the direction of the story. Enjoyable as good action sequences are, the film falls prey to moving from a strong and dramatic conceit to an action film devoid of the emotional strength and psychological depth the film could and should have had in its climax. This is likely where most of the criticisms come from; for films like the aforementioned gem, Ex Machina, the story goes beyond just the initial conceit by building in action and suspense without ever losing the core relational themes of the film. While comparing the film to other films is something I suggested we avoid at the start of this film, using the comparison to illustrate the missing elements of Morgan best illustrates the shortcomings of the film.
The film’s insistence on becoming an straight ahead action film in its third act is the biggest weakness, but the script, as a whole, isn’t always strong in the previous acts either. While the characters are developed pretty well, for the most part, there are some backstory elements that could have been flushed out to further connect the characters to their audience. And, while there is a interesting final twist with another interesting revelation just prior, these plot elements could have been utilized more effectively.
This all culminates in my overall sense of the film being that it is worth seeing, but not necessarily something you should expect to blow you away. It’s better than many would lead you to believe, but “better” means that I consider more of a three and a half star (out of five) film, rather than a four or five star film. If you have a hankering for some science fiction and a bit of time to kill, it’s worth a rental.
The Blu-ray has mostly the standard features but one feature stands out. Luke Scott’s short film Loom, shows how Ridley’s son first tackled the themes he expanded upon in Morgan. While Morgan was a project presented to him, which he fell for (due in large part to the scene that ultimately became Paul Giamatti’s cementing of Dr. Alan Shapiro’s hubris), Loom was written, produced, and directed by the young Scott. Due to a great Giovanni Ribisi performance and a tight little script, the short film shows that Luke has the chops to follow in his father’s footsteps. So, while Morgan is not a phenomenal debut, the stronger moments in it and the strength of Loom point towards a promising career.
I close by admitting that my title was mostly clickbait, a way to troll the huge fans of The Witch that share their voices to the articles on this website (as soon as he read the title, Ed fired me… he does this at least once every two weeks, so no big deal). However, if given a Blu-ray of this film and The Witch, I’d reach for this one much quicker. Where The Witch does very little for me, this does at least that much more. Undeniable, however, is the rise of a young actress with a ton of talent and the foundation for a strong career in genre work and beyond.