MORGAN is a high-minded film that wants us all to ponder what it means to be human. Alas, the most ponder-worthy thing in this film, which once again shows the result of humankind playing God, is wondering how Kate Mara managed to do all that running through the piney woods in those very high heels. The second most ponder-worthy thing is wondering how a film that is so very violent can also be so very bland.
The titular character (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the product of a top-secret experiment run by a large corporation that is attempting to combine nanotechnology and human DNA. Or something like that. The corporation is understandably concerned when Morgan takes a pencil and stabs one of scientists conducting the experiment in the eye. Hence the arrival of risk-management consultant, Lee Weathers (Mara), dispatched to the remote location to assess whether or not the experiment should continue and to determine if the scientists who have labored together for seven years may have gotten off track.
Lee is no-nonsense. You can tell by the abbreviated and boyish bob, as well as the wardrobe that is the sartorial equivalent of a buzz-kill, severely tailored and drab as a raincloud. Except for those heels, three inches if they’re a centimeter, and probably more. Professionally correct, emotionally detached but with an air of undisputed authority, she dispassionately listens to the scientists explain that it wasn’t Morgan’s fault about the pencil stabbing. One (Toby Jones), shows off pictures of Morgan as a baby, newly emerged from the faux womb, two others (Vinette Robinson and Chris Sullivan) beam about her being their surrogate child, and another (Rose Leslie) wants nothing more than to take Morgan to a local lake. Even the newly one-eyed scientist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) insists that she loves Morgan and, instead, blames herself for the bloody bandage where her eye used to be. Morgan is, after all, only five, though the engineering has allowed her to age at an accelerated rate so that she has the appearance of an adolescent, and a sulky one at that with her dark hoodie and usually blank expression. More enigmatic is the lead scientist (Michelle Yeoh), who weathered a disaster in a previous experiment about which she does not like to talk, and keeps to herself. The only one who doesn’t like Morgan is the cook (Boyd Holbrook), who drinks and complains about the loneliness of being stuck in the middle of nowhere without a girlfriend.
Director Luke Scott does some interesting work with the glass cage in which Morgan is confined, using reflection to superimpose Morgan’s face onto that of whomever is talking to her. Visually, that’s about as interesting as it gets. Moments of suspense and surprise just aren’t, with everything telegraphed before it happens and not in a good way. Nor does it make much sense for the doctor brought in for the psych evaluation (Paul Giamatti at his supercilious best) to insist upon being alone in the cage with Morgan.
To be fair, Taylor-Joy does a serviceable job as the almost human longing to be a real girl, despite the club kid cast of disconcerting gray and vaguely metallic makeup that is foisted upon her. As in THE WITCH, she is a compelling, even formidable presence and one whose tears may or may not be of the crocodile variety. The story, though, fails to gel beyond its morass of stock situations that unfold with tedious familiarity.
MORGAN takes the endlessly fascinating question of what it means to be human and reduces it to a slap-dash action flick putatively driven by a sublimated fear of aimless millennials as inheritors of our society. Do yourself a favor, re-watch EX MACHINA instead.