Sometimes the best way to walk into a film is without any preconceived notions. While having seen the release of trailers and TV spots for the new thriller Morgan, it still managed to slip under my radar. Man, what a breath of fresh air this was after a so-so 2016 summer. Packed with a game cast, a director bred from royalty: Sir Ridley Scott (Luke Scott), and a twist you can see coming a mile away but won’t care. Morgan is one of the year’s funnest action thrillers. It is kind of a shame the big twist isn’t more of a surprise, but sometimes it’s not about the destination, but the journey.
Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) has been called out to the middle of nowhere to investigate an incident. Something has gone wrong with Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) and she’s attacked one of the scientists on duty, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Kathy’s fellow doctors/scientists aren’t keen on Lee’s appearance. Turns out, Morgan is part of a line of experimental prototypes creating human hybrids. While they may not be machines, they still function like AI and have to be taught how to live in the real world. Morgan may look 20 years old, but she’s really only five and still has some growing up to do. The next day, Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) arrives to provide a psyche evaluation on Morgan when all hell breaks loose.
The best thing about not knowing anything about Morgan is finding out it bears a striking similarity to another one of my favorite underseen action films, The Guest. That too played with conventions, but while The Guest never really answers the questions behind the characters’ motives or abilities, he could also be part of the experiment here. The cast may feel like some of them are going through the motions — especially Toby Jones as the lead doctor — but they play these parts so well, you never care that they’re all basically playing caricatures.
Rose Leslie and Boyd Holbrook manage to steal the scenes they’re in, but Taylor-Joy gives a fantastic performance as a girl who isn’t quite sure who she really is or what she may ultimately be engineered for. It’s a shame Leigh feels pretty much wasted. Considering she’s all banged up after getting stabbed in the eye by Morgan, she almost looks like she got called off the Hateful Eight set to film her scenes. Michelle Yeoh also manages to almost bring some pathos to the shenanigans, but still seems almost out of place. She almost seems to only serve as a means to the end’s twist, but it’s always a pleasure to watch her on screen.
It may be venturing into spoiler territory to mention that the real gist of Morgan is that screenwriter Seth W. Owen loved last year’s Ex Machina as much as the rest of us, but wondered what it would be like starring Jason Bourne. This is exactly how the film plays out and the scant runtime never wastes a minute. Scott makes sure that the film plows full speed ahead to the end credits, this is all killer, no filler. Same as The Shallows, this one is lean and mean — especially when it comes to watching knock down drag out fights between women. While Scott may rely a little too much on jump cuts, the brawls are gnarly.
Movies like these need to be seen so that Hollywood will know that it’s ok to take a chance once in awhile. Don’t let Morgan slip under your radar the way it did mine, this is one that’s a whole lot of fun, and doesn’t spend too much time on its setup only to make it feel like you were shortchanged by the end.