Morgan (2016)

*. I wonder why, around about this time, there were so many movies dealing with the idea of humanity evolving to some post- and super-human state. Lucy and Transcendence both came out in 2014 and this film in 2016. Were we that impatient for the Next Big Thing? Was it just that the science of the Singularity, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering had gone mainstream and become a part of mass culture? Or had we become a little sick of ourselves and the hash we’d made of civilization and the environment, to the point where we were eager to be superseded?
*. Probably a combination of all of these fed into the cultural moment. In any event, Morgan is another kick at the can, with the eponymous girl being a genetically engineered “hybrid biological organism” of some sort. When this is how she was initially described I immediately wondered what exactly she was a hybrid of, but that may be looking into these matters too deeply. On the DVD commentary director Luke Scott hints that Morgan is connected to the Internet through some kind of nanotechnology (he calls it a “wi-fi gland”). I wasn’t sure how that worked, but I guess it explains how she knows so much about other people and can drive so well. It also makes her even more like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy and Johnny Depp in Transcendence.
*. At first blush Morgan might seem to buck the trend of the other films I mentioned because she returns to the more traditional idea of enhanced humanity as something malign: a threat to the rest of us. But at the end the message we’re left with is more in keeping with new ways of thinking about such things. Morgan is only what she’s been programmed to be, and has a good heart. No, the answer for tech that doesn’t live up to expectations is . . . better tech. There’s no questioning of our need to create superhumans in the first place. That much is inevitable.

*. Another movie that came out around the same time, Ex Machina, also bears more than a passing resemblance in terms of the basic theme. The scientific outpost/bunker set down in the middle of a beautiful green nowhere is an obvious echo, as is the New Eve, an experiment that predictably gets out of hand.
*. And why Eve instead of Adam? Why a female killing machine? Wouldn’t a genetically engineered male have a better combat chassis? Is there something else at work here? In Ex Machina Ava is a babe because what any wealthy, lonely nerd would want to build is a fantasy sexbot. But why make Morgan — and the earlier model, Lee — female? Is the company concerned that they might go out into the world and breed, opening Pandora’s genetic box?
*. For what it’s worth, Scott says on the commentary that there was a scene planned showing Morgan naked and revealing “her” to be androgynous, but they didn’t shoot it. I’m glad. It would have only confused things more. Sure “Morgan” and “Lee” are non-gender specific names, but both characters are clearly female.
*. I talked a little bit about “hoodie horror” in my notes on Citadel, but I’m not sure anything I said is germane to a discussion of this film. What I do want to register is the fact that hoodies are not practical combat gear. You have no peripheral vision. Then again, Lee’s stylish haircut isn’t very practical either. How many times does she have to toss her head to get her bangs out of her eyes?
*. Scott says he wanted a hoodie to hide Morgan away and leave her gender ambiguous. This seems weak to me, since everyone calls her “her” right from the beginning, and she looks like a perfectly normal girl under the hood (that is, there are no enhancements to conceal). I think she’s wearing a hoodie just because that’s what all the cool kids were wearing at the time.

*. I haven’t give any spoiler alerts here for the reveal that Lee is another modified human weapon because (1) I don’t do spoiler alerts, and (2) I’m not sure how big a secret it was supposed to be.
*. I’m not the quickest guy on the uptake, but by the halfway point I’d figured this out. I think the script, however, does a good job of leaving it ambiguous. Sure Kate Mara has the look of a replicant, but she might just be a suit sent out from corporate.
*. I initially felt some disappointment that Morgan and Lee didn’t get to spend more time together. But upon further consideration I think they handled it just right. The thing is, the two don’t have much to say to each other. They understand each other well enough without words, and it’s refreshing that when they fight they do so in silence. I think it’s also true that less can be more in such matters. The talking-through-glass may be meant to recall The Silence of the Lambs, and while everyone loves the interaction between Hannibal and Clarice in that film I think the fact that there’s really very little time spent between them makes the scenes they do have together stronger.

*. Just what is the psych evaluator Dr. Shapiro trying to do? He says his job is to build trust with the subject. He doesn’t even try. Does he want to provoke a violent reaction? He seems to be doing his best, but why the hell would he do that when he knows he’s locked in a room with a lethal weapon?

*. Much of the nuts and bolts of the plot is similarly hard to square. Things happen because they’re what’s needed to advance the plot, not because they make any sense. Why wait until Morgan regains consciousness and then re-sedate her only to kill her by lethal injection? Why not just give her a dose when she’s out? Wouldn’t that have been less cruel? And why doesn’t Lee do the honours? That’s what she’s there for, isn’t it? But she leaves the job to a bunch of people she knows are compromised and probably suspects are incompetent.
*. Or why does Morgan slip into these homicidal states? She seems self-controlled most of the time, but why does she stab Kathy in the eye? If Darren and the others are planning to escape with her, why does she kill them? Wouldn’t she be bettering her odds to let them take her away and then deal with them later? Shouldn’t she have figured that out? And why doesn’t she kill Skip? Why doesn’t she keep his rifle? The movie is full of questions like this.
*. I really like Jennifer Jason Leigh as an actress, but what function did her character have in the story here? And why wasn’t she taken to a hospital to have her eye treated? That dressing looks pretty dirty. It might be getting infected.
*. Morgan didn’t do well at the box office or with critics. I think that’s too bad, as this is a decent little movie. There’s an interesting cast and they’re all pretty good, with Kate Mara in particular being excellent. The story and the general look are familiar, but not quite to the point of cliché. I think there may have been some problem with the marketing, as it was promoted as a horror movie, which it isn’t since Morgan is too darn cute and we’re on her side almost right from the start.
*. Perhaps the ending is what hurt it the most, as it isn’t a big enough surprise to make up for being so depressing. As a general rule, if you want to make money with a genre film you have to leave the audience smiling or in a state of shock.
*. As for the corporation’s failed experiment, well, so much for empathy! Next time, stick with what you know. It’s the psychopaths who will inherit the earth.

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