Starring: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, The worst psychologist in a movie ever (Paul Giamatti)
Director: Luke Scott
Running Time: 92 mins
Synopsis: Morgan (Taylor-Joy) is a bio-engineered child with extreme intelligence. After attacking one of her handlers, a corporate risk-assessor (Mara) is sent in to analyse the situation. What follows you really won’t care about.
Artificial Intelligence films are never about the machine. They are always used as windows into humanity. How would we approach such beings, what do they tell about our intentions, and could we really co-exist? The best answer some of these questions whilst also finding time to maybe throw in some cool robot action. Last year alone we had a terrific addition in the tightly wound Ex Machina. Does Morgan sit alongside such esteemed company? In simple words, hell no!!
I’m genuinely stumped as to what this short (one of its only real positives) grey piece of sci-fi is trying to say. Introduced to Morgan, we are thrown head on into a brief tete a tete with the title character and one of her handlers that suddenly and brutally turns violent. Due to this Kate Mara’s corporate stooge Lee Weathers is sent in. Right from the off we can tell Lee is not what she appears to be. The film attempts to build this into a movie long secret but if you haven’t guessed it after 10mins you have some severe mental deficiencies. Mara plays it with conviction and come the end she is the only real character with any colour. The final act turns her into a kickass cool headed force of nature and you wish the film had pursued with this angle more than the bland dullness we get instead.
The artificial nature of Mara’s performance sadly extends throughout the rest of the cast. I can’t say I blame them though. Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Leslie etc are all fine actors and bring what they can to slim parts. But the script does them no favours. Each line landing with all the weight of a bag of shit (I couldn’t think of anything clever and this film clearly spent no effort in trying to be so why should I). The titular Morgan is given some shade by Taylor-Joy, a revelation in this years The Witch, but the script cannot give her the needed complexity that she is desperately trying to bring into her performance. Numerous scenes seem to showcase that Morgan is battling the desire to be human alongside the innate need to become a weapon, that of course is what she has been bred for. But the film is so messily constructed that this is never really clear. Characters talk in hazy terms and sound more machine like than the actual artificial being in the room.
It’s all pretty bland and then Paul Giamatti turns up. Now this is normally cause for celebration, Giamatti tends to add a layered deflated aspect to his work, but here he plays what must be the most unrealistic psychologist in cinema. Confrontational from the off. He seems more determined to bring out angry feelings in his patient than actual psychological insights. This is even more alarming when we know he has been flown in after said patient became unexpectedly violent, surely knowing this information he would be trying to prevent another outburst.
After this low point events turn a little more livelier but as characters start dying left right and centre you realise that you just don’t care for any of them. In fact some of them are so miserably dull you feel closer to euphoria when they die rather than sadness. I just have no idea who I am supposed to root for through all this. The title would make you believe it’s Morgan, but she becomes so murderous so quickly that you want her to be added to the list of the dead too. Mara comes closest to being the heroine but even she is so elusive that it is hard to tell.
There are a few good ideas rooting around in the film somewhere. The focus on scientists falling in love with their subjects isn’t new but the way Morgan attempts to do this is unique. Shut away from the world for years, each member of the team protects the title character in different ways, from Leslie’s Amy who loves her like a sister, to the handler who forgives her even after being stabbed by Morgan at the start of the film. Like the rest of the picture though this is not sustained and drifts away with little focus at all.
Director Luke Scott is Ridley Scott’s son but you wouldn’t know it. Although the film looks handsome it contains none of his dads craft or film-making nous. In fact you cannot accuse this film of nepotism as if Ridley truly wanted his son to succeed I’m sure he would’ve passed on some helpful notes of improvement. Mind you if you want to strike out on your own you have to be left to make your own mistakes and I wouldn’t necessarily blame Scott. The script is so flat that it would take a director of considerable experience and skill to make something of it. But for a film about the creation of artificial life I guess it’s apt that the movie itself is so empty of humanity.
Verdict: Dull, listless and confused in what it is trying to achieve. A decent cast elevate it somewhat but there is little else to savour. Morgan may be an incredible scientific achievement but this is one breakthrough I’d be happy to disregard as a folly.