Review by Niall McKenna
Scientists creating artificial life and regretting the consequences is a staple of science fiction. Morgan draws on this without becoming derivative, a film driven largely by action rather than the intellectual questions it poses.
Risk assessment consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is assigned by corporate to a remote research facility to investigate an attack perpetrated by ‘the asset’, an artificial lifeform. The scientists, headed by Dr Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) consider the asset to be a her, not (as Weather believes) an it. They name her Morgan. The rich existential questions this premise offers are plumbed no further however, director Luke Scott opting for a more exciting (if at times underwhelming) approach.
Mara is ruthlessly efficient as Weathers, utterly unresponsive to any question of Morgan being a person in her own right. Fresh from The Witch Anya Taylor-Joy is excellent as Morgan, injecting the character with just enough pathos that we care about her. Other characters, like Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), are underutilised – the victim of the first attack, she could have provided a greater insight into Morgan’s character. This is remedied somewhat by Ziegler and behaviourist Amy (Rose Leslie). Both are emotionally invested in Morgan – Ziegler by what she means to science, and Amy by her potential to be a regular young woman with her own rights and desires. The Frankenstein family that forms around Morgan is one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Morgan’s setting and cinematography are top-notch. The highways and roads that Lee travels through to reach the city are reduced to their base structures, like cells on a slide, and the mossy forest surrounding the facility is repurposed throughout the film to represent violence, beauty, chaos – a natural foil to Morgan’s character development. These visual states, foremost among them the sunlit flashbacks, are a relief from the cold grey sterility of the lab that is so prevalent in science fiction.
A film about artificial people coming to terms with their existence from the son of Ridley Scott is always going to draw comparisons, and in this respect Morgan falters. What does it mean to be human? Where does AI fit in humanity’s future, if at all? These questions are forsaken for action sequences that are as well-choreographed as they are brutal. Silver and lethal, Morgan is genuinely frightening. Scott has clear command of what is going on onscreen, and the narrative clips along at an energetic pace.
The writing is at times shoddy, and one of the best scenes in the film (led by an incensed Paul Giamatti) is undermined by a series of jarringly bad decisions on the part of the characters. Nearly all the characters in the film are scientists, but they consistently treat Morgan and their situation in a frustratingly unscientific way. The cast is talented enough to sell the idea that this strange family with Morgan at its heart supersedes standard procedure. If only Scott had settled more decidedly on this element of the story – it could have been heart-wrenching, but it is halfhearted at best. Other superhuman aspects fall flat, the third act reducing Morgan to a monster who inexplicably knows martial arts rather than the intelligent emotient threat to humankind we were promised in the first act.
Morgan is an effective sci-fi thriller, but can’t help but feel that the premise – similar to last year’s excellent Ex Machina – could have been better executed, and every punch, crunch and gunshot in the third act can’t mitigate that fact. This feeling is mostly remedied by a deviously clever ending, and great performances throughout.
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