Every now and then in Hollywood, an apple falls far from the tree. Really far. Like, different planet far. Such is the case of Luke Scott, son of Ridley, who's made his directorial debut with a film that highlights his ineptitude by boringly touching on themes that his father long ago touched on brilliantly.
Blade Runner (1982) is an indisputable masterpiece about the perils of playing God and creating artificial intelligence, beings that appear to be human but are not. Morgan is about exactly the same things, only it's an indisputable mess. The problem isn't that it has nothing new to say. The problem is that it has nothing to say at all.
A shadowy corporation (yup, like the one in Blade Runner) has set up a bunch of scientists and researchers in a remote facility, where we find them conducting yet another experiment in genetic engineering. Talented actors like Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh and Jennifer Jason Leigh play smart people who do some of the dumbest things you'll ever see on-screen. If there were a basement in this concrete and glass lab, they'd elbow past one another to be the first into it.
Anya Taylor-Joy is Morgan, the subject of the experiment being conducted for reasons never quite made clear. The shadowy corporation has developed a synthetic DNA, and she's the walking, talking prototype of the breakthrough. Initially, things look promising to her handlers (who take pains to refer to her as "it," as though their choice of pronoun matters a whit). She impresses them as extraordinarily precocious.
A few years later, though, things take a turn for the troubling. Morgan may be a chronological toddler, but physically, she's a young woman with — you guessed it — superhuman intelligence and strength. You know she's a threat to humankind because she always wears a hoodie. Accordingly, she's kept behind a glass wall like Hannibal Lecter's long-lost niece.
The time arrives to determine whether the increasingly violent hybrid should be terminated. This decision is left to a pair of rather ridiculous characters. Paul Giamatti is squandered as a psychologist with a death wish. His aggressive interview of Morgan is one of the silliest sequences in science-fiction history. Kate Mara plays a risk-management expert employed by the shadowy corporation. She packs a gun and wears her hair like Suze Orman, so you know something's up with her.
Not surprisingly — well, except to the scientists, psychologist and risk-management pro — Morgan doesn't take to the idea of being terminated and — you guessed it — goes into superhuman butt-kicking, lab-trashing mode. Incredibly, the last third of the film is one long fight scene. Except when it's one long car chase. Both of these can be entertaining when executed with imagination, of course, but neither Scott nor writer Seth W. Owen displays an iota.
One of the picture's countless shortcomings is its failure to explore any of the ethical or philosophical questions that "man playing God" movies explore when they're created by talented, thoughtful filmmakers. The makers of Morgan are far more interested in gun fights and grisly slayings than in the implications of for-profit genetic monkey business. The film with which critics tend to compare this is last year's gorgeous and provocative Ex Machina, but the movie it really should be measured against is 2011's masterfully conceived Hanna. Morgan is virtually the same story. Only without the masterful writing, acting and direction.
Scott's debut flopped big-time on its opening weekend. Ironically, though, having made Morgan may prove beneficial to him on his next project, a retelling of the Donner Party saga. It probably won't hurt to have had firsthand experience of a disaster.