The idea of a genetically engineered weapon — a human being shaped from birth to be a deadly warrior — is nothing new. Morgan toys with that idea pretty effectively, raising some intriguing philosophical questions, but she's far from the first 'living weapon' we've seen on our screens. Today, I want to compare and contrast Morgan with another living weapon, Marvel's X-23 (to appear in the third Wolverine film, believed to be called Wolverine: Weapon X). The two characters are very similar - but also surprisingly different...
Beware: Spoilers for Morgan follow!
How Were Morgan and X-23 Created?
Morgan includes a quick scene explaining how the central character, played by Anya-Taylor Joy, was created. A normal human embryo was allowed to mature, and some sort of nanotechnology was introduced to shape it. There are subtle hints that the embryo was then implanted in the womb of Michelle Yeoh's Dr. Lui Cheng, and was presumably born in a natural fashion. It's clear that there's a strange tension in this, with Cheng allowing Morgan to think of her as a mother, but ultimately insisting otherwise.
Contrasting with this, Marvel's X-23 was genetically engineered from the cells of the X-Man named Wolverine. The DNA samples were damaged, and scientists Sarah Kinney could only successfully repair enough DNA to create a female clone. The DNA was spliced with a human embryo, and then implanted in Sarah Kinney's womb. Although the scientists around Kinney fought to ensure she didn't have a relationship with X-23, it's pretty clear that Kinney thought of X-23 as her daughter; she ultimately died to free her.
Are They People - or Just Weapons?
Both characters are faced with a single question: am I a person, or just a weapon? In Morgan, the scientists have previously succeeded in creating genetically engineered weapons. They're attempting to go one step further, though; by introducing "emotional complexity," they're trying to prove that one of these genetically engineered warriors can truly become a person in her own right.
X-23's life ran in the opposite direction. Her creators attempted to break down any semblance of humanity within her, brutally manipulating her to be a killer. They even programmed her body to react to what they called a 'trigger scent,' a pheromone that induces a berserker rage. Under the influence of this berserker rage, they had X-23 kill anyone who ever showed kindness to her, including the mentor who taught her how to fight.
The two approaches are signified by the names given to the characters. One group of scientists dub their creation 'Morgan,' attempting to give her a sense of identity. The other call their creation 'X-23,' a code-reference, not a name. She'd ultimately take up the name Laura Kinney, in honor of her 'mother'.
The Quest for Humanity
X-23 begins a quest to become more than just a weapon. Freed from the laboratory that created her, she seeks out community, and gradually learns to embrace relationships. Emotions don't come easy for her; unable to deal with what she's feeling, she self-harms rather than allowing herself to lash out at others in a jealous rage. A constant theme for X-23 is that she is striving to become more than just a weapon, and time and again she confronts her creators, proving to be greater than they could ever have hoped.
In contrast, Morgan learns that she was created to be a weapon; freed from the laboratory that created her, she kills anyone who she feels has ever slighted her. Only Rose Leslie's Amy Menser is safe, because she has consistently shown only kindness. She couldn't cope with seeing Morgan put down, and was sent out of the room, thus earning Morgan's trust. As with X-23, emotions don't come easy for Morgan; at first she represses them, but she's eventually pushed into revealing the anger that burns beneath the surface. This results in a devastating killing spree, as she embraces her own nature as a weapon.
The Different Philosophical Messages of X-23 and Morgan
As you can see, these characters contrast surprisingly well. Their stories are eerily similar, but opposite; one resolves to be more than just a weapon, while the other surrenders to her nature.
Beneath the surface of all this is an intriguing philosophical question: can we ever transcend our nature? Can an addict defeat their addiction, can a cheating spouse ever be trusted to be faithful, can a liar stop lying? Again, the two characters give different responses.
Morgan hints that we cannot transcend our nature. Created to be a weapon, Morgan can never be anything more than a weapon; the scientists who shaped her are delusional in believing she has truly become a person. The film's response to the issue is pessimistic, hinting that nature is an over-riding power that cannot be bested by well-intentioned humanity.
In contrast, X-23 offers the opposite message. Created to be a weapon, X-23 has become a person in her own right; over in the comics, she's the All-New Wolverine, having taken on Logan's mantle after his comic book death back in 2014! The comic book character's response to the issue is optimistic, declaring that nature can be defeated by force of will and strength of community.
- Exploring the Dark Themes of 'Morgan'
- Will the Next Wolverine Be Female? Bryan Singer Weighs In...
- So Just What Will X-23 Be Like in Fox's 'Wolverine III'?
At their best, both comics and science-fiction hold up a mirror against the human soul. The struggles of X-23 and Morgan are a fascinating parallel to our own quest for humanity, for our desire to change and transcend our weaknesses. One offers hope; the other suggests only doom. Ultimately, we all must choose for ourselves what view we take.
What's your view on this intriguing philosophical issue? Let me know in the comments!