Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 05, 2016 2:31 pm 
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Bad seed

Morgan, like Alex Garland's glossier and better received recent movie Ex Machina, is a technically updated variation on the Frankenstein story. Another group of overzealous scientists have created a humanoid they don't know how to handle, and their emotional involvement in their work proves a serious liability. In this version the focus eventually is more on body count than philosophical or psychological issues. In the classic mold, the doomed creation is a tragic misfit that earns our pity as well as our repugnance, but we don't get much time to dwell on that thought. Written by Seth W. Owen, this film is the directorial debut of Luke Scott, the son of Ridley. It's basically an entertaining B picture, with a ridiculously overqualified cast. They all get to say some lines. But mood and meaning are shredded in the interests of violent action and a final surprise many viewers will have guessed well in advance.

Out in the Pacific Northwest among giant redwoods is a big funky Victorian mansion with a bunker in the backyard. (The setting and situation rather tend to recall, in fact, Ex Machina's basic setup.) There's a quick review of Morgan's history for the benefit of a cool customer called Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a representative of Corporate sent in as a "risk-management consultant." That phrase is the film's best and perhaps only irony.

Morgan, who or which (pronoun questions abound) seems to be the result of transplanting artificial DNA into a fetus, is a human-like creature that grows at lightening speed. In a mere five years she (as I'll call her, because I'm a softie) has become a powerful, brilliant personoid with blistering learning skills. As played by the pleasingly extra-planetary Anya Taylor-Joy, she's a pale, haunted, alert young adult, lonely in her bunker cell. She'd be pleasing to watch if she only had more interesting things to say or do.

The specialized team members, Ted (Michael Yare), Darren (Chris Sullivan), Brenda (Vinette Robinson), Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Dr. Ziegler (Toby Jones), all seem to have a warm spot for Morgan - except for the cook, Skip (Boyd Holbrook) who calls her a "thing." Not surprising then that Skip mildly bonds with Lee Weathers and kisses her over a glass of wine that first and only evening.

The aim has been to develop one of these critters that is more humane and sensitive than has been the norm, something more human, let's say. Only recent doubts have occurred that led to confining Morgan for observation, which has so angered her she has attacked one of her strong advocates on the team, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who we'll call Kathy, and stabbed her in the eye. Nearly everybody on the team but a black guy called Ted (Michael Yare) and Skip the cook (Boyd Holbrook) is a "Dr.," so we'll dispense with titles. We meet Kathy recuperating exhausted in bed with a bloody eyepatch, but has she anything bad to say about Morgan? No way. Morgan has an even worse effect on the guy from Corporate sent in for a psychological evaluation after the Kathy incident.

Paul Giamatti is the guy called in for this thankless job. Giamatti is a pro, who delivers the goods. There is also occasionally something both smarmy and formulaic about his work, and his character, Dr. Alan Shapiro, is a dead setup from the screenwriter. He goes into Morgan's area of confinement and sits across a table from her and viciously baits her. No surprise that things don't go at all well for Dr. Shapiro.

Morgan is everybody else's baby as well as their pet project. They utterly lack professional detachment. Morgan turns out to have a special fondness for Amy (Rose Leslie), who's taken her to "the most beautiful lake in the world," and as she languishes in the cell, she dreams of returning to the lake again with Amy, which prepares us for the final sequence.

Morgan fits the classic cliche about Chinese food: it's tasty going down, but you're soon hungry. There is not much to remember about the movie. In fact there's a Chinese lady doctor, Dr. Lui Cheng (the classy Michelle Yeoh), who may be in charge of the while thing, though the first supervisor we meet is Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), who is deeply confident of Morgan's emotional sensitivity and humanness.

After a while you realize why there are so many team members. They are targets.

Morgan ends in a chase-kill mode out of George Romero. In the coda conversation between a Corporate honcho and his toadies straightens us out on what it's all been about. Since the honcho is played by Brian Cox, we may reflect that Lee Weathers displayed some martial arts techniques out of the Bourne franchise. Thankfully, it's al over in 93 minutes. Fast enough perhaps to keep us from noticing how many plot details don't stand up well to scrutiny.

Morgan, 93 mins., is released in many countries in September 2016. In the US it entered theaters 2 September.

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