MORGAN. Science fiction debut of Ridley Scott’s son

Luke Scott, son of Ridley, begins his directorial adventure somewhat in the style of Coppola, Howard, and the whole brigade of creators originating from Roger Corman’s micro-budget stable.

Radosław Pisula

9 December 2023

MORGAN. Science fiction debut of Ridley Scott's son

Because it’s hard to describe the making of a science fiction film for eight million dollars in any other way in today’s times. Additionally, similar to the crazy B-movie years of the sixties, the young artist received assistance from recognizable faces in episodic roles (probably negotiated over a glass of whiskey at his father’s estate; just like pieces of tape with Vincent Price were once pasted everywhere at Corman’s), and the main cast was a mishmash of TV stars, perennial aspirants (I still like you, Kate Mara), and one rising star. Unfortunately, the young Scott stumbled quite a bit at the start of his career.

The script of Morgan, written by Seth Owen, landed on the so-called Black List a few years ago, gathering the best unrealized texts circulating in Hollywood studios. The starting point is simple but requires creative development: there’s a secret complex somewhere in the forest wilderness; artificial intelligence in the form of a genetically modified girl; a bunch of scientists fixated on her; a corporate bureaucrat (Kate Mara) entering this world with the task of assessing the feasibility of further project funding and investigating the first sign of aggression from the titular entity. At first glance, it’s the perfect material for a low-budget production, immersed in humanity’s biotechnological fascinations. However, in Scott’s rendition, it works to a limited extent.

MORGAN Kate Mara Anya Taylor-Joy Rose Leslie

The starting point is genuinely enjoyable as it focuses on the timeless fascination with various fiction – the creation of artificial life. However, interesting ideas end with the announcements. The first thirty minutes are a constant expository overload, aiming to explain what Morgan is and why we should care about her story. Unfortunately, the declamation of successive clichéd lines by demigods in lab coats is unimpressive and, worst of all, leads nowhere – the film tries to raise some questions at the beginning but is not willing to answer them. Characters wander through a limited location, attempts to enrich their characters end with disjointed dialogues, and Morgan herself is just utterly uninteresting, resembling weak characters in films like Splice and the aged Species. Scott moves among a group of paper figures, clumsily trying to breathe some life into the whole spectacle, losing touch with the potential “meat” of the script, which is the problem of playing God. There are glimpses of deeper thoughts (Paul Giamatti’s episode, who is the only one given a moment to play with the role), but everything shatters due to the barrier of mediocrity.

MORGAN Anya Taylor-Joy Rose Leslie

It seems that the creators themselves noticed that biotechnological philosophizing doesn’t suit them, so halfway through, the story suddenly turns into a dynamic slasher, subservient to the simplest solutions. It was supposed to be spectacular and surprising but turned out exceptionally bizarre and boring – to the extent that one of the chase scenes would easily benefit from the Benny Hill melody underneath. Young Scott lacks the sense of building cinematic tension and weaving a sensible narrative. The film is not surprising (unless the expected plot twist announced throughout the film causes a smile of pity), does not keep in suspense, does not try to care about budding ideas. It looks more like a product prepared straight for home cinema. It’s not toxic or egregiously bad, but it presents itself even worse because it is painfully bland, and there’s no real reason to watch it, not even for beer with friends. It’s unfortunately much closer to the mentioned bizarre Splice (although it is a much more conventional thriller without contortions within the framework of body horror) than the excellent Ex Machina, which deals with similar issues. There are no technical fireworks either – the cinematography falls into typical American mediocrity, often resembling a budget TV series; the music is a compilation of thriller hits, pointing out to the viewer exactly when to be scared and when to fall into contemplation; everything is additionally coated with a dull filter to emphasize the weight of the pseudo-scientific speculations. The film holds together, is watchable, but above all, it gives the impression of a band-aid on all celluloid cretinism hunters.

MORGAN Kate Mara

Acting-wise, there’s nothing special in Morgan either. The fantastic Anya Taylor-Joy, who shone in The Witch, is visibly forced here to play a typical super-intelligent loner – perpetually hooded, speaking in a subdued voice. She doesn’t leave a lasting impression, doesn’t give anything of herself – because making soulful eyes is not acting. And she has the credentials for a great performance; it’s a shame for the wasted opportunity. Kate Mara, with her physique, does quite well with hastily written scientists – eternally hooded, speaking in a subdued voice. It doesn’t go beyond the role of a cold intellect with a turned-up nose – although this is a significant plus because her role is largely playing a female version of the T-1000. The rest of the cast serves as a not very distinctive background – which is most painful in the case of the completely unused Toby Jones, the rambling Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the painfully bland role of Michelle Yeoh. Only the aforementioned Giamatti had a bit of fun when he came in to shout on set. Oh, Brian Cox also appears for about six seconds, recorded probably in the Scotts’ living room, perfectly summarizing the lack of order and composition in arranging pawns on the board. It’s an interesting collection of very good and decent actors, which is simply ineptly directed, stifled by significant script shortcomings.

MORGAN Kate Mara Anya Taylor-Joy

Luke Scott’s debut production is a festival of the simplest solutions (which other creators have shown much better dozens of times), lost opportunities, and actor’s bullying. Surely it won’t taste as good as Ridley’s The Duel years later. But there are a few sparks of hope here (quite a good introduction, a few interesting shots), and I believe that young Scott, perhaps already in the next production, will positively surprise the audience. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hide that Morgan is just a tape of directorial exercises, for which the viewer has to pay. And a big bucket of cold water needs to be poured on the director’s head because a low budget and inexperience associated with the debut don’t excuse creators today – at least since Duncan Jones, another son of a great father, made a fantastic Moon for even less money.