Morgan

Luke Scott, the 48 year old first time feature director behind Morgan, works for his Dad. Scott has made a number of commercials, did second unit work on Exodus: Gods & Kings and The Martian and directed a short film called Loom that showcased new camera technology all for his father Ridley’s production company Scott Free. Scott Free clearly isn’t giving Luke Scott a free ride though because on the evidence of this film he has a real talent and could soon be emerging from beneath his famous papa’s shadow.

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Not yet though because while Morgan is clearly the work of a talented director what it mostly shows is promise. The big problem with the movie is that is generic and totally unsurprising. (There is a moment near the end that is clearly supposed to be a twist but is the least revolutionary plot revelation since Senator Palpatine turned out to be The Emperor.) The story is about a group of scientists who create a powerful synthetic life form in a lab only for the creature to, wait for it, go bad and turn on them. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina showed that it is still possible to do something innovative with Mary Shelley’s old plot line but unfortunately Morgan is a fairly standard interpretation. 

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While the tale is one that has been spun many times before though the movie is very well executed and stylish. Luke Scott is obviously good with the visuals and, like his pops and his late uncle Tony, with the right material and only with the right material, he could do something great.

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Right from the start everything in Morgan is beautifully framed and shot. As was the case with Ex Machina the isolated lab, house and surrounding woods are brilliantly captured on screen. Like his director, cinematographer Mark Patten has only really done second unit work before (judging by the similarities in their filmographies they have done this supporting work together) but is likely to be taking a celebrated lead in this area in the future. Imagery is clearly something these two men like too and there is one simple but particularly clever shot that overlays the reflection of one character over the face of another as they stare at each other through glass. It is possibly a little laboured when you eventually learn its significance to the plot but a more delicious piece of mise-en-scène you’d struggle to find in contemporary mainstream cinema.

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The film also has a very strong cast. Morgan, the ‘monster’, is played in captivating fashion by Anya Taylor-Joy who was similarly impressive in The Witch earlier this year. Expect big things in the future from her as well. The hubristic science team is headed up by Toby Jones and Michelle Yeoh who both give subtle variations on the creator/parent figure full of passion, compassion, confusion and regret. Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey‘s Rose Leslie plays a significant role with conviction and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Giamatti give memorable turns in what are essentially cameos. Giamatti in particular has a great moment that is right up there with Christopher Walken’s turn in Tony Scott’s True Romance for minimum screen time to maximum impact.

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Best of all the players though is Kate Mara as the clinical and impartial risk assessor from corporate who has come to make the tricky decision about the potential termination of the project and the lifeform’s it has produced (not that is it a tricky decision by the end). Mara displays just the right balance of humanity and business mindedness that the character needs to keep the audience with her all the way. She too may soon be standing apart from more famous family members some time soon.

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Despite its flaws I really liked Morgan. It is a tightly paced and tense sci-fi thriller with much to admire. It is certainly a lot better than almost all of the big budget, high profile Summer movies we’ve seen over the last few months. 

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Is this one for the kids?
Morgan is rated 15 and has just the right levels of uncompromising but non-salacious violence for the story it is telling, even if that story is ultimately a little too schlocky.

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The Ripley Factor:
Well of course it was Dad that gave us the original Ripley (and GI Jane and Thelma and Louise) and son Luke has not let family standards slip. The principle cast of Morgan is six females to five males which is a good balance. Certainly both of the leads could easily have been played by men but they’re not which is great.

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Both Taylor-Joy’s Morgan and Mara’s Lee Weathers are strong women in their own way even though one of them is supposedly genderless. There is also no objectification of either of them. In fact Morgan is dressed particularly unsexy throughout and even when she goes a bit psycho she is not playing up to the convention of the kick ass femme fatale at all. When you think about other films with similar themes, films like Ghost in the Shell, Terminator 3, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Splice, Metropolis and yes Ex Machina, then you realise how exceptional that is. 

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