What do the two films – one an action espionage thriller and the other about the realm of designer cloning – have to do with each other? Emad El-Din Aysha dishes the deets.
Jason Bourne (2016), the latest instalment in an elongated franchise, is an action espionage thriller, whereas Morgan (2016) is about the tyranny of good intentions in the realm of designer cloning. Not exactly two peas in a pod. So why have I lumped them together here? Because they're both creatures of these troubled times and have much more in common than either of them know, both good and bad – if you know where to look!
Morgan (2016) is a sci-fi thriller centred on a spruced-up genetic clone of the same name, played very effectively by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy, and directed very nicely indeed by newcomer Luke Scott. Things go awry, as is expected in this sub-genre, when the decision is made to terminate Morgan – she has fits of rage and kills a psychologist sent to evaluate her (Paul Giamatti). The person put in charge of the termination order, corporate 'risk' assessment manager Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), is prevented from doing her job by the team of idealistic scientists who have become overly attached to the girl over the five years of her growth. Things go downhill from then on, as Morgan becomes convinced that everybody is her enemy and the team, with Lee's unwitting help, struggles to survive up against this enraged teenager. (Don't we all know what that feels like?)
There are lots of problems with the film. It's predictable in several places – you know when someone is going to get killed, and exactly how – and there are lots of mistakes. Morgan has tremendous intuitive powers, almost bordering on telepathy – she figures out that the psychologist is an irresponsible father (hint, hint) – but for some reason she can't tell the scientists are trying to save her life. Lee gets locked into Morgan's bulletproof room at one point in the movie but can get out through the glass rooftop. You’d think Morgan, with her super intelligence, could have figured that out. There are also too many greys and greens in the movie, making it feel like it's happening in a cosy English countryside, not some futuristic American military corporate compound.
Nonetheless, the expert cinematics of the film – the narrative folding between past and present, the emotive and atmospheric music, the really good and natural performances, very nicely written dialogue – carry you through to an albeit predictable end. The other strong point is the casting. Kate Mara is the unassuming bad guy, with maternal hips (also on display in The Martian), but military-type haircut, broad shoulders, and an intellectually cold disposition and very convincing fighting skills. Anya – a.k.a Morgan – really looks like a genetic hybrid, with her blonde hair, dark brown eyes, and slightly Asiatic features.
According to imdb.com, Anya's mother is Spanish-English, her father Scottish-Argentinian, and she grew up between Argentina and England. (The scientists are a representative cross-section of society themselves). And then there's the cool themes.
Morgan, you later learn, is part of a military experiment to make heartless assassins and secret operatives – no doubt for the war on terror. The team of scientists, led by the experienced Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), were hoping to introduce some emotions into the fray to give the girl a sense of conscience, only to make her too emotional. The rebel in the pack, Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), is practically a hippie and wants to make Morgan into a nature lover. (The lake scene is hypnotic).
9/11 in Slow Motion
In likewise fashion, the scene with the ill-fated and ill-mannered psychologist is meant to be an interrogation scene, another hint at the world post-9/11. And it is 'these' thematic concerns that tie the movie to Jason Bourne. Here Matt Damon's character is pulled back into the fry when his old CIA flame Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) uncovers how the Treadstone assassination project is morphing into something bigger and nastier – non-stop 24-hour electronic surveillance, all under the mantra of fighting terrorism.
They pretty much tell you this, with reference to Julian Assange – there's an anarchist hacker in the movie – while Edward Snowdon is mentioned by name, and his revelations about Prism and cooperation between the CIA and Facebook and Google. (Now the Israelis are up to no good on the Internet). This takes place through the character of digital whiz kid billionaire Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) and his love-hate relationship with CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).
But there's more to it than that. Again, like Morgan, there's more to what's going on than meets the (untrained) eye. The CIA sets one of its most ruthless assassins after Jason, played to perfection by the grim-faced Vincent Cassel. He's got a grudge against Jason because he was imprisoned and tortured (hint, hint) in Syria thanks to Bourne's exposé of Treadstone. Then Jason has flashbacks of his youth and how he got involved with Treadstone, when his CIA analyst father gets killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut. But guess who actually bumped him off? The agency, using Vincent Cassel.
That's an example of 'false flag' terror attacks used to justify America's wars abroad. (I hope they're not 'hinting' at anything?!) Then Vincent Cassel is sent after Aaron when he decides to spill the beans. An Iraqi stooge is going to be framed, the quintessential 'patsy' lone gunman. (There's additional hints at the Kennedy assassination given that Cassel's character plans to escape through the sewer system – one theory about the fatal shot that killed JFK involves a shooter in the sewers). The CIA official that kills director Dewey, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), is supposedly trying to help Jason and defend democracy. In reality, she's ambitious and wants to take out the old guard. Fortunately, Jason uses a spycam from the private sector to expose her, meaning to say that technology today gives people the tools to spy on the spies themselves.
Sadly, these nicey, nicey themes fail to rescue the film. It feels like an unnecessary sequel with lots of flat acting from almost everybody, except Cassel (sadly). It's only the grand action sequence between Damon and Cassel that saves the day, and the cool cinematography. The music is blurred and generic, and yes, like Morgan, it's very predictable, and not nearly as emotive and moral. I like Alicia Vikander plenty – an Oscar winner – but she seems out of place here. What function does her Scandinavian accent serve, I wonder?
So, all in all, both movies are must-sees if you’re a conspiracy buff like me, but neither need to be seen in a movie theatre per se, and I lean more towards the Luke Scott movie. Can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us. The more conspiratorial, the better!