Released in early September, Morgan (2016) was billed as a promising new sci-fi horror/mystery movie, but quickly falls flat.  It stars Kate Mara as Lee Weathers, a “corporate consultant,” Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, and Rose Leslie as a behavior specialist. Paul Giamatti makes a notable appearance as the only character with emotional depth.

Going into the film, I thought it was going to explore the ethical issue of genetic manipulation and cybernetic enhancement. I thought it would pose an interesting dilemma to the audience about whether research of this nature should be pursued, like Ex Machina (2015) did for artificial intelligence. Boy, was I disappointed.

First, the film was deceptively marketed. It’s not a mystery and it barely passes for horror. Its IMDB summery is, “A corporate risk-management consultant must decide whether or not to terminate an artificially created humanoid being,” but that’s not actually the plot.

Spoiler alert: the end of the film reveals that the corporate consultant was actually a genetically-enhanced assassin, and the whole exercise was an excuse to see whether her version could defeat the newer version, Morgan. So, in the end, there’s never a question about whether Morgan should be terminated, and the protagonist never solves a mystery–she knew what Morgan was the whole time. The result was a boilerplate chase/assassin thriller.

In one of the best scenes, Paul Giamatti’s character, Dr. Alan Shapiro, attempts to evaluate Morgan’s emotional development and ends up inciting her to violence, kicking off the second half of the film. In the context of the first half of the film, this scene makes no sense. Morgan had already demonstrated a propensity for violence.

Why did Dr. Shapiro insist on entering the room with her? Why did he provoke her when he knew she was likely to assault him? Also, when they first met she demonstrated the ability to read his mind–why did he still believe he could manipulate her? It only makes sense as a plot device to set up a battle between Morgan and Lee Weathers.

Of course, this raises a huge question. If Morgan was a genetically engineered assassin, why was the corporation and her project supervisor, Dr. Lui Cheng, so concerned when she exhibited violent behavior? Why did they consider more emotional assassins to be worthy of development in the first place? Lee Weathers’ cold, impersonal demeanor didn’t seem to inhibit her in any way. She still accomplished her mission. If you were a multinational corporation spending billions of dollars on genetic research, would investing all those resources into making a more emotional assassin make any sense? And, would it make sense to terminate her at the first sign your research had succeeded?

There were little things that bothered me too. In one scene, Lee Weathers was locked in Morgan’s enclosure and escaped by climbing up a shaft and breaking out the skylight. Why couldn’t Morgan have figured that out and made a similar escape? Later, she is shown effortlessly driving and executing maneuvers in a high speed chase and besting Lee Weathers in hand to hand combat. Where did she learn these skills? If the research team was kept in the dark about her ultimate purpose, I doubt they were teaching her martial arts on the side. I also find it hard to believe Morgan could quickly pick up these skills, but then not be able to figure out how to escape through the skylight.

Morgan was a promising concept with a decent cast. I actually like the actors and actresses in this movie, especially Kate Mara and Rose Leslie. It’s almost worth seeing just for Paul Giamatti’s performance. The movie as a whole, however, was poorly executed. The entire assassin angle seemed contrived and unbelievable.

If Morgan was actually as advertised–a dilemma over the fate of a genetically enhanced child who displays violent tendencies–it would have been an interesting film. Instead, that plot is undermined by boring car chases and a prolonged duel between two sociopathic, superhuman characters. Finally, the revelation at the end made everything that came before it completely meaningless.  It’s unfortunate the writers took it in that direction.


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