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edge staff writer


Girl, disrupted - 'Morgan'

September 2, 2016
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Sci-fi thriller fails to expound uponintriguing concept

For decades, the concept of artificial intelligence gone awry has been a mainstay of science fiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the exponential advancement of technology has led to even more explorations of this idea that man can create an intellect that matches and ultimately surpasses its maker.

The latest film to wrestle with that idea is 'Morgan,' a sci-fi thriller directed by Luke Scott the son of noted director Ridley Scott making his feature debut from a screenplay by Seth W. Owen, himself a relative newcomer on the scene. The film revolves around a lab-created being with unknown capabilities a being whose very existence presents some difficult ethical (and ultimately economic) questions.

Despite this intriguing foundation, however, the film fails to elevate itself an entertaining movie experience that never digs in as deep as it should.

Lee Weathers (Kate Mara, 'The Martian') is a high-level risk consultant. She has been tasked by her corporate superiors to investigate the viability of a top-secret project aimed at developing autonomous biologically-based AI. Said investigation is prompted by an incident in which the being named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy, 'The Witch' brutally attacked one of her handlers, a woman named Kathy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, 'The Hateful Eight').

When Lee arrives, she soon sees that the years of isolation on the project has emotionally compromised the researchers, all of whom mistrust her motives. The lead scientists Dr. Ziegler (Toby Jones, 'Anthropoid') and Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh, 'Mechanic: Resurrection') disagree on how Morgan should be 'raised.' The rest of the scientists particularly behaviorist Amy Menser (Rose Leslie, 'The Last Witch Hunter') - view Morgan as human, having watched her grow from infancy.

However, there's more to Morgan than any of them truly understand. Her uniqueness is undeniable and her potential seemingly limitless, but many concerns remain. Lee must weigh all of the information and determine what the proper course of action might be. That is, she must decide whether the project can continue or if it and Morgan must be terminated, regardless of any resistance she might encounter.

And there's plenty of resistance.

There's something slightly sad about missed opportunity. 'Morgan' has an intriguing premise with a lot of possibility, but it never quite manages to live up to its own base concepts. Rather than exploring the ethical nuances of the situation, the filmmakers instead largely ignore them; the end result is a not-bad bit of sci-fi that offers some action and thrills, but precious few ideas.

One supposes the relative inexperience of director and screenwriter had a fair amount to do with the film's failings. It would seem that neither man was confident enough to follow through on any of the idea-driven paths that their premise laid out for them. The end result is decent, but with a whiff of squandered potential.

It's a great-looking movie and it has some really strong performances, but it just doesn't land like it should - again, perfectly serviceable, but not nearly what it could have been. The film's earlier moments in particular feel charged with exciting and interesting ideas, but it doesn't take long for things to devolve into an amalgamation of the same-old genre tropes and action crutches that we've seen a thousand times.

Taylor-Joy is outstanding here as the titular Morgan, finding a way to humanize the character without ever losing sight of her baseline otherness. It's powerful, subtle work; between this performance and her work in 'The Witch,' she has had one hell of a year. Mara does fine work in her own right, imbuing her corporate coolness with the tiniest hint of menace. Turning workmanlike unflappability into a core character trait could have been boring, but Mara makes it work.

The rest of the cast is hit or miss. Jones and Yeoh never seem to settle into their roles; they're both fine too talented not to be, really but not much more. Many of the others feel as though they're vaguely disconnected from the proceedings frankly, the impressions they give would make more sense were the characters actually clinical and detached. Instead, the emotions feel forced. Menser is perhaps the guiltiest of overtrying, but almost everyone succumbs to some extent. Leigh is woefully underutilized, but she's good when she's there. And Paul Giamatti shows up for a couple of scenes and is at his weaselly best when he does.

'Morgan' gives the impression of having something to say, but then never quite gets up the gumption to pull the trigger and say it. You can see the outline of a great movie here - something that could have stood alongside, say, last year's excellent 'Ex Machina' - but ultimately, we're looking at a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller. It's a movie that willingly sacrifices ideas in the name of action and we're all poorer for it.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:38

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