FILM REVIEW – MORGAN. With Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Written by Seth W. Owen. Directed by Luke Scott. Rated R for brutal violence, and some language. 92 minutes.
MORGAN is the flip side of “Ex Machina,” which was one of the best films of 2015. This time it’s the outsider who is the hard-nosed corporate type, and the people who have created the artificial being who become emotionally attached to it. While it raises some of the same questions, it plays out quite differently, making it part of a lively debate rather than the “ripoff” or “clone” that some critics will inevitably claim.
Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a biological construct as opposed to a mechanical device who has rapidly matured. The scientists on the project refer to Morgan as “she.” As with many stories about artificial intelligence, a key question is whether sentience exists and whether the resulting creature is an “it” or has become something akin to humanity.
In a prologue, Morgan unpredictably attacks and injures one of the scientists. This brings the arrival of Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a sleek and serious corporate investigator who will determine if the Morgan project can be salvaged or should be terminated. As far as Lee is concerned, Morgan is an “it.” Over the course of a couple of a couple of days, Lee will talk to the various scientists as they await the arrival of Dr. Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), whose intense grilling will demonstrate whether or not Morgan is irretrievably out of control.
The scientists (including Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Michele Yeoh) are committed to the project. One even seems to have developed a personal bond with Morgan. Whereas the question in “Ex Machina” was whether the female android had developed real human emotions, the question here is whether allowing Morgan to develop emotions has turned into a fatal flaw. And just what would it mean if she has to be terminated?
The feature directing debut of Luke Scott, whose father Ridley Scott tread on similar ground in the classic “Blade Runner,” “Morgan” plays everything close and tight. Almost all the action takes place at the remote house where the experiment has been underway. (We learn of an earlier massive failure in Helsinki which may explain why they are far from any city.) Morgan is presented as a somewhat sullen teenager who rarely removes her hoodie, yet clearly is more than an automaton. Deciding she is less than human–and simply an experiment gone wrong–will have a devastating impact on her “family” of creators. Seth W. Owen’s clever script keeps us focused on the competing agendas of Lee and the scientists, and only in the third act do we discover that we–and most of the film’s characters–have been asking the wrong questions.
The ensemble cast is solid, with Mara tightly wound and relentless as the corporate hand, and Taylor-Joy tackling another complex role after her turn earlier this year in “The Witch.” In each case she seems to be just another pretty face–and cast for that–only to reveal deeper layers as the story progresses. She’s clearly someone to watch.
“Morgan” proves to be a lot more interesting than any of the superhero blockbusters that have filled our screens in the last few months, which means you’d better catch it fast.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is the author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.