PLOT: After a violent outburst, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a bigwig corporate risk consultant, is brought into a wooded compound to assess the commercial viability of a newly minted android named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy).
REVIEW: If vision is indeed a genetic trait, there's no wonder that iconic filmmaker Ridley Scott has blessed his son Luke with a trained and talented eye behind the camera. After helming a single TV episode in 1999 and one short film LOOM in 2012, Luke Scott has now mounted MORGAN - a fairly handsome if foreseeably output sci-fi horror morality tale 20th Century Fox is releasing wide on September 2nd. As a first feature, the film is absolutely adequate. It's when the movie is ineluctably compared to similar-themed AI morality plays - EX MACHINA reigning supreme, SPLICE reigning a tad inferior - that the movie tends to overexpose its hand and give away its master plan. And in keeping with the card-game metaphors, Kate Mara's stoically poker-faced lead performance really doesn't do the climax of the film any favors. Still, thanks to the narrative's topical cautionary conundrum, a few standout scenes from some seasoned acting vets, and a baleful barrage of back-half bloodletting, MORGAN operates as a passable piece of sci-fi portent!
Lee Weathers appraises risk management for large corporations. As the flick opens, Lee arrives at a secluded laboratory in the upstate woods of New York, on assignment to examine the damage done by Morgan - an L9 model of android designed with sentient AI. Turns out Morgan - the black eye-balled, alabaster skinned automaton in baggy hoodie - went ballistic one day during a routine interview and damn near gouged the eye out of Dr. Grieff (Jennifer Jason Lee). It now falls on Lee Weathers to make the call. Is Morgan morally fit enough to remain operable? Or has it shown the kind of irredeemable evil that warrants being shut down for good? Along to help sway Lee one way or the other are a host of fellow doctors: Ted Brenner (Michael Yare), a dopey company man; Dr. Menser (Rose Leslie), a sweet-hearted friend of Morgan's; Dr. Ziegler (Toby Jones), an avuncular psychologist; Drs. Darren and Brenda Finch (Chris Sullivan, Vinette Robinson), surrogate parents of Morgan's; Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), the cold and clinical lead doctor; Skip (Boyd Holbrook), the wise-cracking resident chef; and last but most memorable, one-on-one psych-profiler Dr. Shapiro (Paul Giamatti). Input from all is given, some heeded, some discarded, as Lee must ultimately answer to her ominous overlord known only as "corporate."
As for Morgan, the violent mood-swings escalate. After snapping during a monitored psych evaluation with Dr. Shapiro, Morgan can't quite control its destructive tendencies. Thing is, she's supposed to know right from wrong, to adhere to a certain moral core. Morgan even fantasizes about visiting a nearby lake, with Amy, and clings to how much joy it could bring to her otherwise isolated existence. It becomes her motivating force for escaping the lab-compound, and do so by whatever means necessary. It's here where the movie seems to suggest that, if evil is innate in humans, than it will intrinsically transfer into whatever form of artificial intelligence they create. The flick is therefore a cautionary tale, under the guise of a late-blooming violent horror yarn, against the need or notion for humans to create androids by themselves. That perhaps, a sentient android could very well be pure and peaceful one day, if only they could be created in a vacuum, without the inherent evil that men do foisted into their DNA. And frankly, it's when this precise rumination takes hold that the movie is at its most poignant and thought provoking. The underlying theme seems to suggest that you may be able to preach morality, but if there is encoded evil in the very fiber of your being, practicing morality is a near impossibility. A frightening thought.
That said, the marked downturn of the movie is Kate Mara's indicatively wooden performance. As our guiding conduit into this world, she hasn't the remote likeability for us to want to side with and see her safely through. That matters. It's a kind of alienation that not only keeps the audience at a distance an arm's length away, but in this specific story, actually threatens the major reveal the end of the flick so largely hinges on. Honestly, by the halfway point you should be able to see exactly where the movie is headed, and it's directly due, in part to the unsubtle script by Seth W. Owen (PEEPERS), but more so to Mara's not-so-nuanced physical comportment. Had a more seasoned, fluid and graceful actress been cast in her stead, perhaps the overall arc wouldn't seem so easily seeable. Thankfully, as antidote to the obduracy, we have the warmhearted performances by standouts Toby Jones and Rose Leslie, both of whom imbue their characters with sympathetic shades that, in the end, make Morgan's malefic outburst feel of heavy enough consequence. Beyond that, it's always good to see Brian Cox and Michelle Yeoh onscreen, even if they're both given little to do in this particular flick. Still, the sturdy support can't quite atone for MORGAN'S cold and distant principal...or principles for that matter.
To top it all off, MORGAN'S cynically unnerving, thought-stirring moral take on the future of artificial intelligence is among its strongest sway. It's when the plot machinations of said take are spoiled by the indicating performance of its lead actress that movie loses its grip and becomes a predictable, somewhat paint-by-numbers genre outing. But even without a stuck landing, even without the desired "ah ha" moment the big third-act reveal fails to elicit, the overriding assertion that no one form of sentient AI created by humans could ever be truly moral and nonviolent deep down, that men's inherent evil will organically transfer to the AI they build in a lab, should still manage to shake one to the core. That bleak and basic position, along with some nastily choreographed stints of violence in the second half, make MORGAN a slightly more than mediocre sci-fi parable. And if nothing else, it proves Luke Scott has somewhat wisely and ably followed his father's footsteps.