Sunday 18 December 2016

Morgan (2016) - Movie Review
Among the many things that can affect the initial impressions we have when watching a film, from the marketing to word-of-mouth to just our mentality concerning what makes a good story, one of the bigger contributors ends up being other films. Once the realisation sets in that pretty much everything is a remix of everything else, and brand spanking new ideas aren’t as prevalent (or as important) as some of us may assume, the fact that we will end up seeing a lot of similar shit on screen is a little easier to swallow. Of course, when it comes to discussing what gets used and re-used, especially if it’s from more popular works, we end up drawing comparisons to the same works over and over again. Now, even though this runs the risk of limiting the overall conversation, just because it’s an easy point to make doesn’t mean it’s any less true. Tl;dr this is basically me covering my own arse because this film makes it impossible not to bring up comparisons to last year’s phenomenal sci-fi effort Ex Machina… even though pretty much every other critic already has. Ugh. Let’s just get this over and done with.

The plot: Lee (Kate Mara) a risk-assessment specialist from a government funding body, is tasked with investigating an incident at a laboratory where one of the company’s experiments, an artificially grown human hybrid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), has just attacked one of the scientists. While interviewing the resident scientists, and assessing whether or not this project is still worth being funded, it seems that Morgan’s outbursts have only just begun.

This is a really solid cast list, which makes it real shame that everyone seems to be on auto-pilot. Mara’s very cold and stiff performance as the troubleshooting lead makes for a very focal-point character, but then again, most of the characters are rather uninteresting. Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh; I’ve seen these actors do great things, so why the hell are they this dull? This is should not be possible. Probably doesn’t help that Jones’ fluctuating accent (it keeps slipping into Irish for some reason) makes him difficult to take seriously, and he ends up delivering most of the exposition dialogue.

However, even they aren’t as disappointing as Taylor-Joy as the titular experiment, and Paul Giamatti as a psychologist who has to evaluate her. After The Witch, I will admit that Taylor-Joy gives a bit of quiet power to her role, but it pales in comparison and ends up really being a let-down considering how badly I’ve wanted to see more from her. As for Giamatti, even considering his current niche of portraying various kinds of doctors and professors, he is one of the least convincing medical professionals I’ve ever seen full stop. For someone apparently trained in how the human mind works, he barely seems to have a grasp on how humans act, let alone think.

The film starts out well enough as a sort-of more pessimistic tint on the main conceit of Ex Machina, that being the main character determining the awareness and worth of an artificial lifeform. However, it is done here with far less intelligence and far less weight all things considered. After seeing how incredibly thoughtful and involved Alex Garland made the concept, this amount of rookie errors is incredibly annoying. The psych evaluation alone, helmed by Giamatti apparently leaving his humanity in a briefcase at home, shows a basic failure to understand how the human mind is meant to work, or common sense for that matter given how aggressively he tries to trigger her. By the way, considering how that’s the main thing that ends up making her go all kill-crazy, wouldn’t it just be easier to not bring up the whole "can’t go outside" thing around her since they already know that it flips her switch?

And then we completely shift gears into your standard experiment-gone-wrong sci-fi thriller setup where the experiment proceeds to exact revenge on its presiding doctors. Anyone who has seen Splice will get definite feelings of déjà vu from the second half of this thing. Admittedly, the fight scenes have a nice kick to them, but the fact still remains that we left a pretty underwhelming attempt at something more cerebral straight into fist-flying action, a combination that is as jarring as it is unimpressive. This is made worse by how Morgan’s aggression plays into her character, making her wildly inconsistent as to why she is angry or even if she herself is aware of her own anger. With how it plays out, I wouldn’t be surprised if this script was conceived of just because someone thought that Ex Machina was too boring and needed more action scenes. Now, unlike Walking With Dinosaurs, I couldn’t find any direct evidence of studio interference or even studio oversight involved here, but it sure does smell like a bunch of missing-the-point is going on here.

The ending, however, is a whole other story. Now, without getting into serious spoiler territory (though, once again, I fail to see why such a warning should matter because no-one should care that much about this movie), I’ll just say that the filmmakers put way too much effort into foreshadowing the big twist at the end, to the point where within minutes of the film starting, it’s fairly obvious what it’ll turn out to be. But even if it was set up properly and not brought down on the audience’s heads over and over, it’s still pretty weak as well as a twist that has been used by some of the bigger titles in sci-fi cinema; it’s hardly shocking no matter how you slice it. If this took a similar route to Kubo And The Two Strings, where the film is at least aware of its own plot, then that ending could have been derivative but serviceable. The problem starts when the film treats it like a Usual Suspects-level shock to the system, bringing it even further down in terms of being compelling because it's set up with the subtlety of a schlocky action B-movie.

All in all, this is a film that not only thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it actually is, it can’t even keep track of what it wants to be clever about in the first place. The acting is painfully sub-par, the writing is at once ill-thought out and tonally reckless, and the direction leaves a very derivative and unsatisfying stain on the entire production. It may be one of the more watchable dumb movies I’ve sat through, since the events aren’t so bad as to cause an urge to sleep, but it’s not even fun in how dumb it is so, really, there’s no reason to bother with this thing.

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