Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Morgan

Morgan was written by Seth Owen and directed by Luke Scott.

Owen previously wrote Seriously Weird and Peepers, whatever the hell those are. This is Scott's first time in the director's chair (theatrically, at least).

Luke Scott is also the son of Ridley Scott, the famed director of ALIEN, Blade Runner, Gladiator and The Martian, among many, many others. Yeah, that Ridley Scott. Gosh, I wonder how his son got this gig?

Actually I'm fine with that. I've never quite understood why the general public frowns on nepotism in the entertainment field. If Will Smith was a plumber and pulled some strings to get his kid a job fixing leaky sinks, no one would bat an eye. But he uses his influence to get his son an acting job, and suddenly the whole world clucks their tongues in disapproval. Why? Why shouldn't a celebrity help out their kid if they have the means?

Morgan is yet another entry in the already crowded "A.I. Goes Wrong" genre.

The problem is every A.I. movie I've ever seen has had the exact same plot. Scientists invent an artificial intelligence, it starts learning at an exponential rate, it becomes smarter than those who created it and instantly decides to kill them. It's like the Frankenstein story for the computer age.

Plot-wise, Morgan is somewhat similar to 2015's Ex Machina, which was a thoughtful and intelligent look at artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. Morgan desperately wants to follow that same path, but unfortunately it trips and falls flat on its face. There just aren't any ideas or substance present in Morgan, leaving it as hollow as the title character's blank-eyed stare. Heck, it even devolves into a standard action film in the third act!

There's a big plot twist near the end of the film that you'll likely see coming a mile off. Once you know the twist, you'll see the clues were there all along, and were pretty darned obvious. I'm ashamed of myself for not figuring it out earlier than I did. Like in the first reel.

So far the movie's tanking at the box office, managing to scrape up just a measly $2.5 million in its opening weekend. I can't say I'm surprised. I go to the cineplex every weekend, and I didn't see a single trailer or even a poster for the film before it came out. In fact I had no idea it even existed until the day I went to see it! If the movie ends up being a huge bomb, Fox has no one to blame but themselves. If you want people to see your movie, you've got to spend some cash to let them know about it!


The Plot:
Deep in an underground lab, Dr. Kathy Grieff (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) enters a secured glass cell housing Morgan (played by Anna Taylor-Joy), a young girl who's some sort of artificial human. They chat for a bit about how the artificial life form is feeling. Suddenly Morgan lashes out, violently stabbing Dr. Grieff in the eye before being sedated.

The next day Lee Weathers (played by Kate Mara of Fant4Stic fame) arrives at the lab. Lee is a stoic, Vulcan-like (Hmmm…) risk-assessment specialist, who works for the shadowy Corporation funding the Morgan experiment. She's basically an insurance adjuster, there to determine whether the Morgan project should be shut down or salvaged.

Lee meets the various scientists working on the project. Among them is Amy Menser (played by Rose Leslie of Game Of Thrones), who's been placed in a time out from the project for taking Morgan on an unauthorized trip to the woods. She also meets Skip, the lab's nutritionist, who takes an unrequited shine to Lee.

Dr. Simon Ziegler (played by Toby Jones) speaks with Lee and explains the genesis of the "L-9" project and how Morgan was created. Morgan is a synthetic human, who grew to adolescence in the space of only six months. Lee cuts him off, saying she's familiar with the process (Hmmm...). She also says the scientists shouldn't refer to Morgan as "she," but rather "It."

Dr. Grieff tells Lee that the attack was her fault, as she accidentally "provoked" Morgan. In fact all the scientists in the facility seem to bend over backward trying to excuse and justify Morgan's behavior. Are they genuinely concerned for her welfare, or just trying to protect their meal ticket project?

Lee demands to meet Morgan, and is taken to her glass cell. Morgan already knows who Lee is, as she seems to have mild telepathic powers. Morgan seems upset by her recent behavior, and says she knows what she did was wrong.

That night at dinner, Lee meets Dr. Lui Cheng (played by Michelle Yeoh). Lee speaks to Cheng in fluent Mandarin, which the others don't understand. She brings up a similar experiment in Helsinki, involving both Dr. Cheng and Dr. Ziegler, in which most of the science team was killed. Cheng excuses herself and leaves.

After dinner Skip tries to put the moves on Lee, who shows no reaction whatsoever (Hmmm...). He awkwardly apologizes and leaves. Amy goes down to Morgan's cell and turns off the cameras so they can chat without being recorded. Cut to a flashback of Amy taking Morgan into the woods. Morgan's amazed at everything she sees. She then spots a wounded deer and calmly breaks its neck, putting it out of its misery. Holy crap!

The next day Lee brings in psychiatrist Dr. Alan Shapiro (briefly played by Paul Giamatti) to evaluate Morgan. Shapiro 
insists he needs to be inside the cell with Morgan with her to properly do his job, in what may be the most blatant and obvious plot contrivance I've ever seen in a film. The scientists reluctantly unlock the door and let him in. He begins grilling Morgan, deliberately trying to push her buttons to see how she reacts. He even asks her what she'd do if he recommended she be terminated. To absolutely no one's surprise, she leaps across the table and rips out his throat with her teeth.

The scientists are horrified, and rush in to sedate Morgan and try to save Shapiro. Naturally Morgan escapes the second they open the door to her cell. Lee grabs a tranquilizer gun and follows. Morgan runs outside and sees Amy, which distracts her long enough for Lee to shoot her. Morgan's then strapped to a table as Lee orders her to be terminated. Morgan comes to and tearfully pleads with Dr. Cheng, who she calls "Mother." Cheng coldly says she's not her mother, and orders the scientists to give Morgan a lethal injection. Cheng then leaves the l
ab and goes to her room (another plot contrivance!) instead of watching the procedure.

The other scientists are too attached to Morgan, and refuse to kill her. Lee says, "Oh for f*ck's sake!" and enters the cell to do it herself. One of the scientists shoots her with a tranq gun to stop her, and Lee beats the living crap out of him, which seems beyond the job requirements for an insurance adjuster (Hmmm....). Lee passes out from the tranq dart and is locked in Morgan's cell.

The other scientists try to take Morgan to safety, but she escapes her restraints and kills them all (natch!). She then goes to Dr. Grieff's room and finishes her off, hangs Dr. Ziegler in his closet (?) and kills her "mother," Dr. Cheng. Morgan tells Amy, who she considers her friend, to get in an SUV, and the two drive off.

Lee wakes up and breaks out of the cell. She runs into Skip, who Morgan apparently overlooked. He tells Lee he knows where Morgan's going to the lake where Amy promised to take her some day. Lee tells Skip to stay there and drives off after Morgan and Amy. Lee catches up and tries to run them off the road, but Morgan forces her into a tree. Skip drives up, and Lee shakes off the impact (Hmmm...), takes the car and speeds off yet again..

Lee finds Morgan's abandoned car and heads into the woods after her. Morgan attacks and the two engage in an epic battle, full of powerful punches and impressive back flips. Seriously, are all insurance agents trained in hand-to-hand combat like this? Morgan finally ends the fight by shoving Lee onto a sharp, jagged tree root that impales her in the gut. 
Lee grimaces a bit, but otherwise seems unaffected (Hmmm...). 

Morgan leaves Lee for dead, which is another plot contrivance, and joins Amy at the lake. Morgan gazes at the scenery in wonder. Just then the Terminator Lee suddenly appears, and throws Morgan into the lake and holds her underwater until she drowns. Lee climbs out of the water and casually shoots Amy in the head. She heads back to the car and Skip runs up, asking what the heck's going on. She shoots him as well. I guess that's that then! Everyone in the movie's dead except for Lee!

Cut to the Corporate boardroom, in which an executive pronounces the L-9 project a failure. Another executive asks, "What about Lee Weathers?" The first executive says, "What about her? She's perfect."

We then see Lee sitting in a diner, staring at her hands just like Morgan did. Gasp! Get it? Eh, did you get it yet? Hey, did you get the shocking twist ending?

• One of the film's biggest problems is we're never quite sure just what Morgan is, or why she goes nutty and starts killing. 

She's definitely not a simple robot like Ava in Ex Machina, because we're told she grew from infant to tween in the space of six months. One of the scientists calls Morgan a synthetic life form, but then Dr. Ziegler claims they created her by fusing nanites with human embryos or some such. I guess she's like a test tube baby or a lab-grown, enhanced human? But then wouldn't she have her own consciousness? Why do they talk about her "programming" and artificial intelligence. It's all very vague and confusing.

We definitely needed some clarification here as to just what the hell she's supposed to be.

We also never find out just why she likes to kill so much. Is there something wrong with her programming? Does she kill because she doesn't have a soul? Is it because she grew up too fast and hasn't had time to learn morality and the rules of society? Your guess is as good as mine.

• "Don't Let It Out" may be one of the worst tag lines I've seen on a poster. Every time I see it I think of someone trying to hold in a fart. Or worse yet, it's a warning to the studio— "Don't let this movie out to theaters!"

• Kate Mara was the perfect choice to play an artificial human killing machine. With her mask-like, immobile face and emotionless demeanor, it's the role she was born to play. Zing!

• The short-haired, superpowered, lab-grown Morgan is incredibly similar to the short-haired, superpowered, lab-grown Eleven from Netflix's Stranger Things series. About the only thing missing from Morgan is Eggos!

Stranger Things came out just a month or two before Morgan premiered. That means they were probably both in production at the same time, so I doubt either would have been able to copy from the other. But man, that is one huge coincidence.

• Speaking of Stranger Things and coincidences:

Chris Sullivan plays Dr. Darren Finch in the film, and despite the fact that he considers Morgan his friend, she ruthlessly kills him.

Oddly enough, Sullivan (very briefly) played diner-owner Benny in Stranger Things, befriending the enigmatic Eleven right before meeting a similar fate.

This Sullivan guy definitely needs to stay away from doe-eyed little supergirls.

• Poor Jennifer Jason-Leigh. She tries to be Morgan's friend, and gets beaten up, stabbed in the eye and later on has her head crushed for her trouble.

Earlier this year she played Daisy Domergue in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, and spent the majority of the run time being severely beaten by Kurt Russell.

Apparently Jason-Leigh's agent has it in for her, and only casts her in films which call for her to be violently brutalized. I don't know what she did to piss him off, but she needs to apologize to him, stat.

• It's always nice to see Michelle Yeoh onscreen. Too bad she's not in more films here in the States.

• As I said earlier, the big plot twist is telegraphed well in advance. One of the biggest and most obvious clues comes when Lee first meets Morgan. As Lee stands outside her cell, Morgan's face is perfectly reflected in the glass over her own, visually indicating their secret kinship.

It's not exactly subtle, but I thought it was pretty well done. The film could have used more cool little touches like that.

Oddly enough, later on this scene is duplicated almost exactly, as Morgan's face is reflected over Amy's. Is that supposed to be another clue? Is Amy another synthetic human, just like Morgan? Amy never shows any signs that she's anything more than human, so I honestly don't know what that little scene meant.

• After Lee is locked in Morgan's underground holding area, she notices a skylight at the top of a tall shaft. She then shinnys up the shaft, smashes the skylight and climbs to the surface.

I guess in all the time Morgan was held in the cell, it never occurred to her that she could have escaped the exact same way.

• Once Morgan escapes, Lee springs into action, becoming a female Terminator as she relentlessly tracks her down. As she kicked multiple asses I was thinking, "Damn, this is one tough insurance investigator! Do NOT attempt insurance fraud when she's around!"

When she was impaled by the tree root and just shook it off, it finally hit me that she was much more than just a pencil pusher.

• All through the movie I was convinced that the filmmakers used CGI to subtly alter Anna Taylor-Joy's eyes. They seemed a little too far apart, and something about them just seemed... off somehow.

Welp, apparently they didn't, and that's just the way she looks! Earlier this year Taylor-Joy starred in The V V Itch, and she had the same wide-set, otherworldly eyes there as well.

Morgan would love nothing more than to be a thinking man's sci-fi film, but it's far too vapid and empty to qualify. It degenerates into a standard action movie in the third act, and you'll likely see the big twist coming a mile off. Skip it and re-watch Ex Machina again to get your A.I. fix. I give it a C.

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