Luke Scott, son of Ridley Scott, delivers rock solid work in his feature debut in many respects, but excellent performances and technical achievements can only take you so far if there’s nothing outstanding in the script. Scott takes the time to develop the Morgan narrative from multiple viewpoints, which makes it a rich, exciting experience but he fails to add anything interesting to the familiar big screen scenario of out of control/dangerous artificial intelligence, so it doesn’t resonate as much as it could have.
Kate Mara leads as Lee Weathers, a risk management consultant sent to assess an experiment in a hidden, top-secret facility where the resident scientists successfully created a living being using synthetic DNA. “It” is named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), and while Morgan once lived happily with her creators and had joy in her heart, changing circumstances required that they confine her to a bunker. After a violent episode, Lee arrives on behalf of corporate to determine whether the project is heading in the right direction or if it needs to be terminated.
It’s a scenario we’ve seen before – scientists achieve the dream of successfully developing artificial intelligence, only to have their creation grow beyond their wildest dreams, to the point that they can’t control it anymore and then struggle to decide if they should wipe out years of work. Scott doesn’t break new ground with that concept which is unfortunate, but he still delivers a highly effective sci-fi thriller that works exceptionally well on multiple levels.
Over on team corporate we’ve got Mara’s character. From the moment she’s introduced, it’s abundantly clear that Lee’s an A+ employee with a job to do, and she’s going to do it no matter what. Thanks to her extremely uncomfortable looking wardrobe and some monotone dialogue delivery, Mara flirts with cartoonish all-business behavior, but that winds up appropriately drawing attention to the moments when Lee displays humanity. The scientists working at the facility have an emotional attachment to Morgan so the big question is, will that impact Lee’s decision or is she just a heartless corporate robot who’s only concerned about the potential threat Morgan poses to the company and its investments?
Drawing you deeper into that predicament is the team responsible for Morgan’s creation, her “family.” There’s the head of the operation, Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), chief scientist Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), behavioral psychiatrist Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), psychoanalyst Amy (Rose Leslie), Brenda (Vinette Robinson), Ted (Michael Yare) Darren (Chris Sullivan) and Skip (Boyd Holbrook), the on-site cook and nutritionist. Every single member of the team brings something to the scenario that’s well worth considering when trying to determine what Morgan’s fate should be for yourself. But the standout is definitely Leslie as Amy, one, because she gets an especially powerful and dynamic connection to Morgan and, two, because Leslie seizes the opportunity and does a lot with it. Almost every single character in the film challenges you to take a closer look at their every move, facial expression and decision, but Amy in particular experiences an arc that could completely change your assessment of the situation.
As for Morgan herself, if you’ve seen The Witch, it’ll probably come as no surprise that Anya Taylor-Joy is fantastic in the role. The only problem is she deserves more. Morgan boasts a stellar ensemble cast and the group mentality is key to the story’s success, but there’s no doubt that Taylor-Joy would have taken the character far further had she been given more material. She’s a captivating presence in every scene she’s in, but highlights include an intense standoff with Paul Giamatti as Alan Shapiro, a corporate psychologist who’s sent to assist Lee with the investigation, and a handful of spoiler-filled scenes that pop up in the tail end of the movie.
Even though Morgan isn’t as satisfying and innovative as one might hope, the film still serves as a very effective calling card for first-time feature director Luke Scott. Scott’s got a keen sense of pacing and tone, and boy does he know how to shoot hand-to-hand combat. If anything makes Morgan stand out from then pack, it’s the fact that it feels like no one else could have directed the film. (Or at least not the same way.) It’s slick, but Scott’s style suits the material well and his thoughtful shot composition leaves much to be discovered in subsequent viewings.