A mid-tier science-fiction thriller focusing on a familiar theme. Not artificial intelligence, but artificial life. A group of scientists, working for employers with an undisclosed agenda (although you can probably guess where that is going) in a remote location, have created an artificial lifeform: ‘Morgan’; a being with accelerated growth and enhanced cognitive abilities, but unstable and childlike emotions. She is loved and nurtured, albeit in captivity, by the team, especially Amy (Rose Leslie) and kindly project director Dr Zeigler (Toby Jones), however when a violent incident calls the program’s security into question, a cold company operative is sent in to asses Morgan, and the future of the project…
If all that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. All the familiar tropes are there (scientific experimentation that goes ‘beyond expectations’, unprecedented growth acceleration, interviews with the ‘subject’, failed previous experiments, and things going awry- you get the idea). Conceptually there are elements of Blade Runner, Bourne, Splice and even Species; and it's especially reminiscent of its recent contemporary Ex Machina (with which this shares a very similar set up and style). While there’s no pretending that this is in anywhere the same league as Alex Garland’s cerebral thriller, Morgan is still a lot more substantial than the likes of, say, Lucy.
The performances range from solid to excellent. Kate Mara is an impressive figure as Lee Weathers; the emotionally detached, no-nonsense company operative who interrupts an outwardly happy home, ruffling feathers left and right. Her character at first seems like a cliché, however her personality turns out to make sense later in the film. The other leading role is that of Morgan herself, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Naturally quirky-looking, her character is both tender and vulnerable, yet also dangerous and unpredictable, and Taylor-Joy captures that duality superbly. Special mentions too to Toby Jones who brings compassion and gravitas as Zeigler; and a particularly memorable and scene stealing turn by Paul Giamatti as rambunctious psychologist Dr Shapiro. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rose Leslie, Michelle Yeoh (among others) also add weight to a busy cast, and elevate what is essentially a throwaway sci-fi tale. There's nothing terribly groundbreaking here (although the ending offers a mild twist on what we've come to expect) and the latter acts predictably become an action-driven cat and mouse chase. That said, I found my interest increased as the film went on.
While Morgan doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it at least brings it with style and an effective sense of purpose. Luke Scott (Ridley Junior) proves a chip off the old directorial block with his feature film debut, with a competent use of sound design, cinematography, and an ability to get some superb performances from his cast (only one moment was a bit wobbly and could have used a retake). He also demonstrates some of Uncle Tony's action credentials to boot, with some fast paced and fairly brutal scenes. Essentially then, Morgan is a competent B-movie that can’t compete with the best in the genre, yet offers an enjoyable diversion; especially following on from a lacklustre summer.