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Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Morgan’ Shows Promise, But Doesn’t Quite Satisfy

Anya Taylor-Joy plays an artificially created being named Morgan who is being...

Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Above: Anya Taylor-Joy plays an artificially created being named Morgan who is being assessed by a risk management consultant played by Kate Mara in the feature directing debut of Luke Scott, "Morgan."

Companion viewing

"Hanna" (2011)

"Antiviral" (2012)

"Ex Machina" (2015)

Filmmaker Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner," "Alien") produced the sci-fi film "Morgan," which opens Sept. 2 throughout San Diego. It's the feature film debut of his son, Luke Scott.

Being the child of a famous parent can be a blessing and a curse. In Luke's case, I'm sure that having Ridley Scott as a dad made it a whole lot easier getting his first film made and getting top-notch talent on board like actors Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Toby Jones, Brian Cox and Michelle Yeoh. But on the downside, there's a lot to live up to. Even tougher: if the offspring decides to work in a genre similar to daddy.

The storyline of "Morgan" involves the use of synthetic DNA by a corporation to create a hybrid biological organism, which then struggles with identity issues as it tries to figure out what being human is all about. That's definitely a page from dad's playbook, most notably in films such as "Blade Runner" (see: Sean Young's Rachel) and "Alien" (Ian Holm's Ash).

In "Morgan," Anya Taylor-Joy (the excellent actress from "The Witch") plays the title character. We first her Morgan through a security camera video of her violently attacking one of her creators. This brings Lee Weathers, a risk management consultant, to the remote laboratory facility to — as Morgan says so bluntly — "assess my viability as a potential product stream in light of recent events."

Morgan appears to be a young woman but she is emotionally more like a child, and she has little understanding of those emotions, which seem to exist in only the extremes of happiness and sadness. Nuance is not something Morgan really comprehends.

Dr. Alan Shapiro (Giamatti) comes in to give her a psychological evaluation and deliberately tries to push Morgan's buttons by asking how she would "feel" if he were to terminate her. That's when all hell breaks out.

Luke Scott shows some promise in the set up and certain elements of his film. The subtle makeup and look of Morgan is great. She looks human but slightly off, especially in her pallor and eyes. It's a bit like that uncanny valley phenomena where a near human being arouses a sense of unease. Scott and writer Seth W. Owen give us a few early scenes that pique our interest and tease us with a mystery.

Unfortunately, neither one has any idea how to develop the story into something satisfying. Plus, the few ideas they toy with are developed in predictable ways that are telegraphed early on.

In addition to tapping into Ridley Scott's themes, the film echoes ideas tackled in the recent films "Hanna" and "Ex Machina." From "Hanna," it takes the notions of a young character with lethal skills but underdeveloped emotions set loose on the world. Like "Ex Machina," it wrestles with ideas about what makes us human. But "Morgan" lacks the action flair of "Hanna" and has none of the intellectual or emotional complexity of "Ex Machina."

"Morgan" (rated R for brutal violence and some language — infrequent portrayals of gun, weapons, and hand-to-hand violence, with corpses, blood and some detail shown) is frustrating because it does exhibit some early promise.

But Luke Scott doesn't seem to know why he's making the film. Is it meant to be a cerebral sci-fi drama, or an action thriller? And what exactly does he want to say about science creating humanoid beings? Are we meant to feel sorry for Morgan or just scared of corporations messing around with this kind of science?

Luke Scott's directorial debut stands in stark contrast to that of another famous offspring, Brandon Cronenberg's "Antiviral." Brandon, the son of director David Cronenberg, made a film that touched on ideas that his father toyed with but did it with such confidence and originality that the film stood completely on its own.

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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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