If Morgan were a Crayola crayon, it’s cutesy name would be “Cement Mixer Grey.” If it were a culinary dish, it’d be a baked potato without a single topping (not even accidental ketchup drips from an overloaded hot dog). If it were a cinematic endeavor – which it is – Luke Scott’s sci-fi thriller would be a lazy, knee-jerk response to Ex Machina‘s provocative brilliance, relentless in its genre irreverence. There’s a time and a place for a such drab thrills like this, and they’re best enjoyed in small television bites while you glance up from your daily chores. They’re background noise at best, never striving to break its predictable mold.
Young Anya Taylor-Joy stars a Morgan, an artificial lifeform being studied and raised in an isolated, backwoods laboratory. Under the guidance of Dr. Lui Cheng’s (Michelle Yeoh) devoted team of researchers, Morgan – an L9 model – attempts to learn what it is to be human, but suffers a setback after violently attacking one of her caretakers (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). This prompts a visit from one of corporate’s risk-management officers – Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) – so she can determine how best to continue with Morgan’s development. Even though the choice is clear, Cheng’s colleagues can’t stand to see Morgan terminated, so they stage a breakout – freeing Morgan, and setting her on a savage killing spree.
Starting with a positive, Taylor-Joy’s follow-up to The Witch proves a bright future for the brooding young genre actress. Morgan is an intensely calculated robotic being, and Taylor-Joy has no trouble acting as a curious observer to humanity might. Her abilities are rarely explained (Reading minds? Indestructible skin?), but that’s not Taylor-Joy’s fault. Concerning the character she’s given, Taylor-Joy hits upon the callous coldness of something that feels no compassion or emotion, and does so rather well – she’s going to be just fine after Morgan.
The rest of our cast are forgotten like last year’s iPhone release, including a secret-assassin turn from a feisty Kate Mara. Again, it’s not exactly the actors’ faults, given how characters strap blinders on when trying to free an unpredictable super-human who shows progressing signs of moral decline. Morgan exemplifies how erratic her outbursts can be on numerous occasions, yet Seth W. Owen’s script still tries to play the whole “But she’s our baby!” card with doctors played by Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Chris Sullivan and Michael Yare’s nerdy project manager. They all insist that Morgan is just a misunderstood child, even though she just tore someone’s throat open right in front of them (another confusing moment when Morgan’s doctor/interrogator is practically BEGGING Morgan to kill him). Mara’s one-woman clean-up crew dazzles in small spurts, but let’s just say there are no surprises and leave it there.
Even worse than character logic is Morgan‘s blurring annoyance of frantic action cinematography, quick-cutting with every punch and kick thrown. We’re talking shakier than Jason Bourne, which already had my head spinning earlier this year. Mara and Taylor-Joy engage in a climactic tussle set to a densely wooded backdrop, only to have cinematographer Mark Patten turn the whole throwdown into a glob of shakiness worth much less excitement then deserved. Every scene already languishes in a monotone atmosphere of sterilization and smooth concrete, so it’s a shame to waste your most scenic views on lightning-quick POV switches.
Morgan is neither bad enough to hate nor good enough to praise, which is a movie-lover’s death sentence. If you’re going to bomb, bomb hard. Don’t just slap together a modern story that weakly hits on a few pertinent topics (playing with AI fire, trying to create beyond our understanding) – kick some ass, take some names and give Kate Mara the unexpected action role she deserves. Alas, Luke Scott’s copy-and-paste take on hubris boasts the charisma of cold steel, and the depth of a kiddie pool. So many scenes hinge on the word “because” that it eventually becomes a flimsy crutch, which all but dooms Morgan to a direct-to-bargain-bin fate like so many other undefined bores.
Morgan is Ex Machina Lite, minues the gripping sci-fi quandaries and emotional investment.