Last year, Alex Garland wrote and directed the superb Ex Machina, a tale of a man selected to put an android with advanced AI through the Turing test to see if she could pass as human. That film is expertly crafted by Garland and performed to near perfection by Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson.
Watch that film instead.
There, now that I have that out of the way, Morgan covers much of the same ground as Ex Machina, just not as well. Morgan is by no means a bad film…It’s just a rather run-of-the-mill Sci-Fi/Horror Thriller.
Warning: Potential spoilers follow.
The film begins with Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy – The VVitch) snapping while confined in her lab and repeatedly stabbing one of her caregivers (played by the criminally underused Jennifer Jason Leigh. Seriously, she has like 5 mins of screen time, max.). It is after this that we learn Morgan is part of an experiment run by some large shadowy corporation to create new techno-organic human/machine AI-powered beings (read: Cyborgs). Said corporation fears that Morgan may now be a liability if she cannot control herself, so they send a risk assessment agent, Lee (Kate Mara – The Martian), to determine if the project should continue or be terminated.
And with that I will get into the acting, and one of my bigger issues with the film. Kate Mara’s acting is quite on point, to the fact it’s a huge detriment. From the moment she walks on the screen, you figure out the movie’s big twist. Mara’s performance is not subtle in the least (incredibly wooden and emotionless), and to that end, neither is the film.
The movie telegraphs its twist so hard, reveling in the fact that they are pulling one over on the audience. The film thinks it is being so incredibly clever across it’s run time, but the clues are so heavy handed that the viewer already knows long before the big reveal. It continues to double down on this to the point where I was thinking “Either this is one of the worst performances I’ve seen all year, or [The Twist] is definitely how it ends”. And that was, very predictably, how it ended.
But I digress, as aside from Mara, the acting is pretty great. Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) plays Amy, Morgan’s behavior specialist. Her character is one of the few people who has really taken Morgan under her wing and they have bonded with each other. You really get to see a loving and deep caring between those two that is absent from many other characters in the film.
Along with Amy there is a six person team lead by Scientists Dr. Ziegler (Toby Jones – Captain America) and Dr. Chang (Michelle Yeoh – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) the two responsible for creating Morgan. All of these parts are played well, but we get so little time devoted to them that we never really establish any connection and they fail to leave much of an impression.
Also thrown in the mix is Paul Giamatti, who drops by for about 5 minutes mid-movie. Although brief, his appearance is one of the best in the film, instilling subtlety and gravitas into a character who is basically a throw-away cameo.
The true star of the film, however, is Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan. She plays the titular character with complexity, some subtle and some not so. Morgan, being lab engineered, has accelerated aging and learning. The film joins her at the age of 5, but she physically is in her late teens/early 20’s. Taylor-Joy plays up that element of being both a brilliant computer and an immature child effortlessly. She also explores the duality of being both human and robot well, like in the scene where she admits she let her anger get the best of her (which is a natural human emotion she claims to have) but describes it as “an error” and says it was the “wrong action to take”. You can see the internal struggle as she tries to reconcile this. She glides so well through a range of emotions right into emotionless machine-person so well. She does wonders with the material she was given.
The film does explore many interesting themes and ideas pertaining to Morgan, such as the idea of what makes a person human. This manifests itself in many conversations the characters have and how they address Morgan. Even down to the fact that the corporate employees repeatedly to refer to Morgan as “it” or “the asset” while the project’s team address her as a person. We repeatedly see Morgan in flashbacks growing and learning over time, just like a normal human being, even though she’s basically an organic machine. She continuously pines to be a part of human society and free in the world, while the world looks at her as a product to be manufactured and sold.
Jake Scott, son of legendary director Ridley Scott, helms this film, his first major motion picture. The film is shot fantastically, and generally very well put together. The cinematography is beautiful, with the entire movie being constructed with the sterile, drab grey interiors of the lab contrasting with the lush greenery of the forest outside. On a technical level, the film does not fail in any way.
While not a bad film by any measure, Morgan is very derivative and quite the generic “AI may not be as harmless as it seems” Sci-Fi/Horror yarn. While very competently made and starring an incredibly talented cast (including a couple stellar performances), the script struggles to cover any new ground and peters out to a standard slasher-esque ending with telegraphed twist that is apparent in the first 10 minutes. Your time would be better spent catching another film at the theater and saving this one for a rental.
Verdict: Netflix It