Thursday, March 23, 2017
MORGAN (Jake Scott, 2016)
Risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) arrives at a remote property to determine how the corporation should proceed regarding a product in development, a synthetic humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). Although just five years old in real time, Morgan has developed at a highly accelerated rate, appearing to be a female in her late teens or early twenties. In MORGAN Lee prefers to refer to this gray hoodie-clad being as a genderless it, but the scientists who have nurtured her growth, particularly behavioral analyst Amy (Rose Leslie), tend to view her as a young woman.
Lee has come to assess if the project with Morgan should continue after this embodied artificial intelligence savagely attacked one of the workers. Much rides on Morgan’s psychological evaluation, and she does not take well to the provocations made by her interviewer, Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti). It falls to Lee to clean up the mess he creates in pushing his subject to a breaking point.
MORGAN echoes the documentary PROJECT NIM, about an experiment to raise a chimpanzee as a human, and the science fiction thriller EX MACHINA with its robot that might pass as a real person. While rich thematic possibilities exist in considering the ethical quandaries and unanticipated effects of such scientific trials, the film by director Jake Scott and screenwriter Seth Owen settles for being a Frankenstein-like story absent a brain. MORGAN’s premise is established but never expanded upon, leaving it as something that looks good at the design stage but lacks an animating force.
MORGAN’s visual style, especially the bunker-like building with its sleek interiors, are highly reminiscent of EX MACHINA too. Some of the similarities may be attributable to the genre, yet calling to mind a much better recent comparison does this film no favors. Side by side, MORGAN looks like the shell of a futuristic suspense movie, one with an appealing exterior alone that also has nothing to distinguish it from more robust competitors.
The film’s familiar but attractive foundation and surfaces hold enough interest that its diminishing returns make it feel like a squandered opportunity. The cast, populated with recognizable faces in small roles, promises something better than what they have to work with. Taylor-Joy, who first came to notice in THE WITCH: A NEW-ENGLAND FOLKTALE, is effectively eerie as a character trying to integrate the programming within her biological casing. In failing to tap into the potential of its scenario, MORGAN is vulnerable to being evaluated primarily on its narrative ingenuity, of which there is little. It takes all of the turns one expects in a schematic manner. Although it does so efficiently, MORGAN functions like a machine that can accomplish a task quickly even as it doesn’t deliver anything desired.