Synopsis – A corporate risk-management consultant must decide whether or not to terminate an artificially created humanoid being.
My Take – Just like any other film industry, a popular surname (in the case here – Scott) is good enough to get your proposed project enough financial backing to see the light of the day. Director Ridley Scott is a huge name among filmgoers, with films like Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and The Martian to name a few, so its natural when his son, Luke Scott, decides to make his debut with a science fiction thriller, expectations were high. But unfortunately, this film is the latest in a long tradition of sci-fi cyber-creature films, and it so strongly resembles last year’s Ex Machina that you wonder if at any point the filmmakers felt even a twinge of misgiving about what they were up to. Having seen the trailer, I had high hopes for this one. The ideas looked interesting, and the film does start off pretty strongly. There’s an eerie ambiance, and a peculiar mystery being set up without the usual amount of exposition, which is a bonus! But the film doesn’t do as good a job of exploring the philosophical question or examining the humanity of the being. The question is sort of posed, and then quickly falls aside as the film suddenly turns into more of a blood and guts action flick. While I appreciate the attempts at being a true science fiction film and preaching the importance of morals in discovery, it certainly failed to deliver the promised thrills. Such a shame considering they had a decent cast and setting to bring those horrors to life.
The story follows Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a risk management consultant for a large corporation, who is sent to a secluded farm to investigate an accident involving a secretive A.I. experiment team. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a part biological, part technological lab grown experiment has been locked away following an attack on one of her handlers, Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Overseeing the project is Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), whose team runs from the stoic, no-nonsense Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) to the naïve Amy Menser (Rose Lesie), who has a strong bond with Morgan. Now, Weathers must conclude if the continued experiment is both viable and safe while navigating the complex interpersonal relationships of the staff of researchers who’ve grown to love Morgan. The first half of the film presents an intriguing analysis of emotion and whether they can be truly emulated by an AI. Paul Giamatti enters as a psychoanalyst Dr. Alan Shapiro who is tasked to determine Morgan’s viability. In this interview scene, Morgan asks if artificial life can only perceive emotions as a preconditioned response to a given event and cannot truly simulate the complexity experienced by humans. There is talk of the ‘correct’ emotional response from the AI that hints at programming rather than feeling and this is a fascinating exploration. However, the film quickly runs out of steam with this and shifts tack rather abruptly to a formulaic action film. That isn’t all bad as the action is quite suspenseful but it’s disappointing if you wanted something deeper. The second half of the film is consumed with the scientists’ protection of their prodigy and it all seems so familiar that it’s like watching Ex Machina again. The parallels with this earlier film are stark but perhaps improved upon somewhat. The woodland setting makes for some good location shots and the cast as a whole do a good job. Skip Vronsky (Boyd Holbrook), the team’s chef, stands out as the human element of the film but is underused and doesn’t quite add the contrast to the artificial that he could have. This film, like all A.I. films, tries to ask the big questions—what is life? how far would you go to protect it? do robots deserve rights? whose call is it? —but at no point are these questions posed in any meaningful way. As director Scott‘s and writer Owen‘s first proper feature film, there was never quite the unique spark of originality that a film like this needs. Being a mystery, it’s laden with twists, most of which you can see coming ages before they do (especially the big one). But because you’re never surprised by what happens, there’s very little tension built up because you can predict the direction of the film.Though the gist of the story is intriguing, it hinges on the characters – which didn’t really work. The character development is another problem in this film. Any of these characters has no clarification or connection to the others and I literally found no explanation about what is wrong with Morgan or the reason for creating her. There appeared to be some kind of background which Dr. Cheng and Lee briefly discussed that was never really fully explained – it was fairly easy to fill in the blanks but it just felt a little half hearted, in much the same way as there really wasn’t very much character development. Another problem with the characters is that everyone seems so desperate to get you to like the child, or at least feel for her, that it is counterproductive. For, while we get to see her grow up and learn she is going through some weird form of puberty, at the same time you have a violent image of her stabbing someone in the eye. Then, on top of that, someone thought it would be cute to make it so everyone portrays it as a child-like mistake. Though, with so little time spent on developing anyone but Morgan, they never had a chance.
Lee walks in as a foreigner in this little community and everyone tries to be friendly but it isn’t like they are having multiple days of dinner and get to know you chat. Yeah, that is the best way to make the audience fall for someone. Especially with actors who seemingly struggle to get you to see things from their point of view. The film’s message about the mistakes made when playing God are beaten over the head, but the package it’s delivered in was so dull at times. Sure scientific minds may get caught up in the jargon and scientific ideas, but the team focused too much on the scholastic and not enough on the entertainment. Surely the mystery element could make up for it, but I found little mystery in this film other than when Morgan would go nuts, what would happen to her, and of course the twist I don’t want to ruin. If you’re into the moral dilemmas and high grade vocabulary this won’t bother you, but you might want to bring a pillow in case science wasn’t your cup of tea. When the monotonous discussion eventually stops and the system begins to fail, I thought the suspense would pour in. Wrong again. Despite the dark hallways painted in red, there wasn’t much outside of Morgan’s creepy close ups that one would find unsettling. The highlights of the film would be the fight sequences in the climax, which are absolutely brutal. Even without the majority having broken bones or anything like that, there is something about the intensity in Taylor-Joy‘s face, and the movements of her likely stunt double, which make every kick, punch, suffocation, or neck twist, just seem gruesome. And this is coming from someone who has seen a few violent films. It’s too bad that Luke Scott used his father’s pull as producer to make this his feature debut. Despite its hackneyed and derivative plot, there are moments where the young Scott shows a keen director’s eye, and as the aforementioned scene between Giamatti and Taylor-Joy suggests, he’s more than capable of bringing out the latent tension in his scenes while getting solid performances out of his actors. Those moments of potential are few and far between, however, as the film meanders helplessly through a collection of scenes that all add up to 92 minutes of wasted time. The film’s twist ending (something which I saw coming from far) tries to raise further issues of artificial intelligence and whether humanity might invent a successor that would cause humanity’s extinction. Among the performances, Anna Taylor-Joy is pretty convincing as the titular character, made up to look almost synthetic in texture and grey in color with her huge eyes desperately trying to convey the appropriate emotion. Mirroring her is Kate Mara‘s Lee Weathers. Mara is good in the role – devoid of emotion and straight faced at all times. Mara holds her own in this role and proves that she can be just as bad ass as any male counterpart in a sci-fi flick. Paul Giamatti is excellent in the single sequence he appears in. In slightly smaller roles Michael Yare, Rose Leslie and Boyd Holbrook stand out, while the rest of the cast comprising of Brian Cox, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Vinette Robinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Michelle Yeoh are was wasted. On the whole, ‘Morgan’ is a dud science fiction thriller that stands on the backs of every artificial intelligence film that came before it while forgetting to bring anything new to the table.
Directed – Luke Scott
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes