Like any fan base, I don’t think liking Firefly or Serenity requires any real explanation. Anyone that asks you to justify loving something wasn’t worth your time to begin with, but it’s still fun to talk about from time-to-time. My favourite moment from Serenity surprises a lot of people. Despite the film’s many show-stopping moments, the one that hits me the hardest is almost a passing comment. It’s during Mal’s big “I aim to misbehave” speech where he talks about bad people trying again to make people better, and he briefly pauses as he looks at River Tam, the personification of irresponsible meddling into human biology. It’s such a personal moment that really speaks of the relationship between the two characters and how they’ve come to affect each other. The idea of experimentation subjects spawning emotional relationships is often a recipe for success within science fiction. It’s a topic that’s explored heavily in the directorial debut of Luke “Ridley’s son/Tony’s nephew” Scott as we encounter a group of scientists that struggle to keep their personal attachments towards their titular subject, Morgan, out of their professional work.
Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch) is genetic experiment human hybrid grown in a secluded facility by a very tight knit project team. When violent accident puts in the project in jeopardy, a corporate risk assessment specialist, Lee (Kate Mara –The Martian), is sent to evaluate its continuation much to the concern of all involved.
The warning signs are in Morgan’s genre labeling, being penned as, “science fiction horror action thriller”. That’s like trying to make a volcano with the entire condiment shelf instead of sticking to vinegar and baking soda. Morgan tries to be too much, and that is its key failure but the poison pill in the mix is the action. It’s ineffective and all too often needless. Throughout the first two-thirds of the film, there’s a lot of effective slow building work by focusing on the human characters and what Morgan means to them. Yet once the inevitable subject escape takes place, suddenly every encounter turns into a pointless kung fu fight with repetition and very little stakes. Once Morgan is quickly established as an unstoppable killing machine, every fight develops a John Cena level feeling of predetermination (Morgan wins!) and often with minimal character investment over her red shirt scientist opponents, making the outcome feel rather meaningless. Now that could still be okay if the fights themselves were still a decent spectacle but instead, that’s another systems failure. It must be fairly said that a lot of the film is superbly shot by cinematographer Mark Patten. The exterior forest shots in particular really capture the beauty of the natural locations as Morgan experiences them for the first time. Yet when it comes to filming these action sequences, it’s like he took off early and left his work experience kid to finish up. It’s so fast framed and close shot that half the time you’ve no idea where the various thrown blows are going making it all look and feel like a muddled mess.
The most frustrating thing is that for everything that falls apart in the final ac,t I really liked a lot the first half establishing work as the film builds around the idea of this small isolated group of scientists forming a deeply emotional and even maternal connection to Morgan against Lee’s colder clinical approach. Seth Owen’s script packs some good dialogue that allows the talented likes of Toby Jones (MCU’s Zola), Rose Leslie (GoT’s Ygritte), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and more to really sell the bond they all share with each other and Morgan.
The early scenes slowly build this up nicely as each member is introduced and there’s some nice tension and animosity as they reluctantly host Lee amidst nervous fears that she’ll pull their plug. Yet, there’s still a big problem here, and that’s the girl herself once we meet her. Morgan just has no personality or really any likeable qualities to justify everything we’re being pledged other than some notions of innocence. The idea that she’s still a child (aged 5) despite her accelerated physical and mental growth comes across but her personality is as bland as her hoodie orientated wardrobe. Imagine River Tam with everything you like about her removed, and that’s what we have with Morgan. While we can clearly see that Scott was aiming to make her cold and almost robotic, we still need a reason to care for other than merely the notion that killing a living thing is wrong. As such, it removes much of the stakes over Morgan’s fate. The entire third act completely falls into chaos, littered with signposted plot twists and clichéd horror movie staples (a climax on wooden lake jetty.... seriously!).
Morgan is a decent science fiction based psychological thriller that’s been gene spliced with a poor action horror movie for a result that’s leaning the wrong side of average. Its strengths could lift a tank but its weaknesses smash in cracks that bring it all shattering down. It does have some smarts, a great cast and if you can forgive enough of its flaws, you will come away from it feeling entertained but anyone that’s enticed by its concept maybe better off just staying in and re-watching Ex Machina. This is not the next generation of great Scott’s finding his Blade Runner, it's merely a lukewarm effort.