Morgan and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Luke Scott
I think I actually managed to avoid every trailer for this movie (if I did catch one, then I quickly forgot it) because I know next to nothing about this movie other than there’s some woman who’s got powers or something. Frankly, it looks like something right up Fox’s alley to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if the big twist at the end is that Morgan gets enrolled in the Xavier School for Gifted Children, though there might be a bit of awkwardness considering where this movie looks like it’s gonna go. Then again, they gave Wolverine a pass and that dude’s only power is to kill people and not get hurt doing so. Anyway, will the latest Fox sci-fi thriller be something to keep the company relevant and afloat until they can rush out the Deadpool sequel, or does this science gone wrong escapade turn out to be just as bad as Fantastic Four? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about some sort of science project by THE CORPORATION (*COUGH* Tyrell Corp *COUGH*), that seems to have gone off the rails when one of the scientist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was stabbed in the face by their test subject known as Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is a… synthetic human I guess? After the incident, a Risk Assessment officer (Kate Mara) is sent by THE CORPORATION to find out what the hell happened and if the project should be terminated. I would have terminated the project when it turned out they were KEEPING HER IN A LOCKED CELL UNDERGROUND, but what the fuck do I know? Things seem to be going okay for the most part as the scientists are still very enthusiastic about keeping the project going (including Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Morgan seems to be no more harmful than anyone else who you’d keep under a microscope twenty four hours a day. Still, this wouldn’t be a movie if things didn’t go horribly wrong and needless to say that bringing Paul Giamatti into a situation never ends very well; especially when you get a guy that hammy to assess someone else’s current mental state. Will Morgan turn out to be the monster that Kate Mara thinks she is? Was she actually sent there to see if the project is on track, or were the more nefarious motivations at play? Most importantly, who the hell keeps dressing Morgan up in those awful hoodies!?
This movie is fucking stupid.
What, you need more? Alright, fine! This movie is full of contradictions at every turn. Whether it’s the scripting, characters, tone, and plot points, it always feels like this movie is wandering aimlessly while still putting on an arrogant front and assuring it’s that it knows exactly where it’s going and that it doesn’t need a map. I could think of a few ways this movie could have gone that would have made this movie great, yet this movie deftly avoids all of those as well as any idea that would have made this interesting or satisfying. What was the ultimate goal here? What was the point of this story and myriad of twists and inexplicable plot points that took any good elements and turned them into utter garbage? What were the filmmakers trying to convey from scene to scene, and what emotions were we suppose to feel as the story kept developing? I felt anger towards the scientist, sympathy for Morgan, and bafflement at where this story ultimately went, and while I’m guessing that’s what the filmmakers wanted me to feel in a general sense, I doubt they wanted me to think this was an awful film because of that.
There are several movies that I feel this takes inspiration from (or rips off depending on your point of view), but it emulates their influences rather than understand them. It wants to be Splice in many ways (I’d say the aesthetic feels like a less ambitions version of that movie), but mostly in the way that the scientists are getting emotionally attached to their own creation. It doesn’t work in the last here though, but why? Well Splice worked because the POV character throughout are the two scientist played by Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody, so we get a solid understanding of their characters as well as the circumstances that lead them to make the odd decisions that they do. You don’t agree with everything choice they make, and it’s clear that these are HEAVILY flawed people who probably can’t handle the situation, but there’s a connection there between the audience and these characters that keeps them from becoming annoying or unrelatable. Here though? There are too many freaking scientist milling about which makes it hard to pin down any of their motivations other than two or three (out of seven I think) and I’m certain the only reason this is the case is to… let’s say PUMP UP, the easily predictable and completely awful third act. There are collective decisions made by the scientist (before the movie begins and during it) that go without any real explanation yet are vital for the crappy plot to get where it needs to, and all that does is make it even harder to care about what happens to any of these people despite the movie’s instance that we should.
So the movie fails to make the scientists relatable and gives little to no explanation for the actions they spontaneously take throughout this. Still, they aren’t really the POV character, so maybe the script was saving all that likability and believable motivation for them! For the most part, the POV here is Kate Mara as the Risk Management Officer (who clearly isn’t a Risk Management Officer). Unfortunately, she’s’ not much better than the scientist, though at least she isn’t as wishy washy about everything. She’s got clear motivations that work for the character she’s playing, but she does nothing to garner sympathy and her actions aren’t justifiable to the audience. This is where it gets a bit tricky as the choices with her character are completely intentional and do work for the goal they’re trying to achieve (the ending makes this all startlingly clear with a twist that isn’t hard to figure out), but it goes back to what are we supposed to take away from this as an audience. What is the point of spending so much time with someone who is essentially the villain and then have nothing to say about that character? The reason why Walter White works as the go to POV villain character is because he has strong motivations and can be related to, at least to some extent, by the audience. No matter how bad things get or how compromised he has to get, the creators always left just enough of those good qualities to him that the audience still has just a smidgen of hope for him (at least that’s the intent and it’s up to the viewer to decide if it works). With Kate Mara’s character, it’s like rooting for the T-1000 in Terminator 2. His motivations make sense because of what he is, but that’s not very compelling to watch on screen if he was the POV character.
There is one other character that we do spend a good amount of time with, and here’s where I can start to say some positive things about the movie. Morgan is a really interesting character and is WILDLY sympathetic which does seem to have been the intent of the filmmakers, so in this one aspect they do succeed. That said, maybe they went a bit too far with that? The thing is that she’s SO human that you never understand what these scientist are trying to accomplish with her and why they choose to keep her locked in a cage. It’s not like she can fly or shoot laser beams out of her eyes (something that is made very clear in the movie), and while she’s physically capable, I wouldn’t say she’s any more so than say Jason Borne or Jackie Chan in his prime. Does she have problems that make her dangerous? Sure, but I’m willing to guess that most of them can be pinned on her being LOCKED IN A GOD DAMN CAGE, and all of them could be fixed with proper therapy from someone OTHER Than Paul Giamati as probably the dumbest psychologist in the world.
Maybe it was the intent of the filmmakers for us to side ONE HUNDRED percent with Morgan, but if that’s the case then they made a really frustrating movie for no reason. This set up could have worked better if there was SOMETHING before the third act to give us a reason to fear Morgan or to feel that any of the precautions taken are in any way necessary, but the meager attempts at trying to do that (and some of the ways she gets treated in response to some of her actions) makes it impossible to think anyone in here is in the right except for Morgan. That third act by the way tries to turn this into a horror movie and basically becomes the movie they advertise in the trailers, and I guess the intent was to get us to like Morgan and then have those feelings reversed in the third act. For me, that didn’t work in the slightest because it literally is a do or die situation. She didn’t snap or go rouge, or even doing this for fun. She was betrayed to such a startling degree by those who care about her that I didn’t have any “mixed” feelings about what happened during that part of the movie. If this had been any other situation, the filmmakers would have made this a triumphant prison escape type movie, but it wants to be something more nuanced and absolutely fails to do that.
There are other good aspects to this. Despite Paul Giamati’s character being an unbelievable idiot, he’s at least an ENTERTAINING idiot, and it’s always fun to watch the guy go off the deep end for no reason. While I HATED where the movie went in the third act (completely destroying everything that was even slightly good about this movie), it was shot competently and had some moments that would have worked in a better movie with a different set of characters. In fact, another movie I was reminded of towards the end was Hanna, only if that movie was trying (and failing) to convince us that Cate Blanchett was the good guy. Hell, I even liked the performances of some of the scientists, particularly Toby Jones who really should have been the one scientist in here as he captures a lot of the conflicting emotions. Pride in the creation they’ve made, an attachment to Morgan, probably a bit of obsession as well, and also a sort of forced distance as this ultimately is an experiment that will be out of his hands at some point.
The movie isn’t without merit and it could have worked if the filmmakers knew what the hell they were doing. Unfortunately, it feels like there were too many hands on this project, and too many influences from other successful films for this to be its own thing. There’s none of the raw humanity and pulpy aesthetic of Splice, the filmmaking isn’t narrow enough in its focus to make an adrenaline fueled ride like Hanna, and it’s scientific procedures and safety precautions are far less convincing and believable than in The Fly 2; a movie EVERYONE likes to shit on but is actually pretty good! It could have been a creepy horror film, it could have been an insightful hard sci-fi movie, hell; it could have been a REALLY good comedy if someone realized how ridiculous all of this was! Instead, it’s an aimless mess that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is. Go watch ANY of the movies that I just mentioned instead of this one. At least they knew what the hell they wanted to be!
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