Director: Luke Scott
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: September 2nd
What makes us human? Or more specifically can artificial life develop true human consciousness? This question has been a recurring theme in much of science fiction since the latter half of the 20th century from HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey to nearly all the work of Philip K. Dick and films adapted or inspired by his work. At this stage it is a pretty standard theme that the only question to ask is does this bring any new ideas to the table? It doesn’t take long for Morgan, the new feature from Luke Scott, to answer that question quite early on and the answer is no. Morgan is just not that smart a film that it either collapses or flat out ignores its themes in its strangely action-packed second half. Perhaps however, it can entertain as a kind of dumb action sci-fi movie? The answer once again is no.
It is not as if Morgan lacks an interesting premise. It opens with an interesting scene as we see security footage of a woman telling a hooded figure that she can’t allow them to go outside in the near future, information that this figure doesn’t take too kindly, standing up and launching a vicious attack on the woman. We find out that this figure is not a human but a form of artificial life, created by a group of scientists in a large remote house. Given the name Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), she was created as a baby and due to her rapid growth, is a five-year-old in a twenty-year-old body.
As a result of this incident, the corporation who invested in the program — addressed as corporate during the film maybe because Sinister Industries Inc. was already trademarked — send Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to oversee the project and take drastic action if necessary. What she quickly discovers is that the scientists in charge of Morgan view her as a daughter, but due to more recent events she has been contained in a Plexiglas and cement covered room that resembles a discarded set design from Ex-Machina.
The idea of conflict between emotion and reason, in particular in regards to children, would make an interesting one. However, the characters are too poorly developed to make anything out of this idea, to the point that they just come across as being pretty stupid. While there is something to the idea that parental love blinds some people to the obvious faults in their children, surely some red flags would have been raised after the attack at the start of the film where one of their co-workers was literally blinded. It never convinces in the idea that Morgan can be seen as anything else but a dangerous AI.
Bad characterisation hits its peak at the midway point with the introduction of a psychologist (Paul Giamatti) who arrives to assess Morgan. Describing himself a one of best psychologists in the world, he spends the rest of his screen time proving himself to be anything but, deliberately goading Morgan in a scene that ends in predictable results. While nothing about this makes any sense in term of story, character or indeed logic, it appears that it allows Morgan to give itself permission to become dumber, turning from bog standard sci-fi to action thriller, full of kinetically edited fights scenes that are as hard to make out as they are boring. Even when at one point, a middle-aged scientist suddenly develops kick-ass fighting skills to try and take down an AI that is a five-year-old in a twenty-year-old’s body who has also developed kick-ass fighting skills.
Morgan takes what is an unoriginal but interesting idea, a Philip K. Dick meets Frankenstein premise with a solid cast, but ultimately wastes it with poor plotting, badly developed characters, and unengaging action. The main problem is that it perhaps is taking itself a tad too seriously, as evidenced in a last act twist in which the most surprising aspect of it is that fact that it was a twist in the first place. In order for a twist to work there has to be a degree of intelligence to the proceedings, which quite frankly this just does not have.