Morgan is director Luke Scott’s debut feature, and it certainly feels like it. The film’s first twenty minutes provide an intriguing set up: Kate Mara’s corporate fixer Lee Weathers is dispatched to a secluded location in the middle of the woods to assess the value of an ongoing experiment in artificial intelligence. The human/machine hybrid is in the shape of a young teenage girl and has been affectionately named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) by the staff of the experiment. The large staff includes multiple doctors, a behaviorist, a corporate project manager, and of course, a cook. Lee arrives to determine whether or not the faceless corporation funding this experiment should continue to do so after Morgan viciously attacks one of her caretakers.
Morgan arrives a year after Ex Machina captivated both critics and audiences, making many top films of the year lists, and it’s difficult not to make the comparison in light of so many similarities. An outsider arrives at a secluded location to “test” an artificial intelligence creation and encounters more than they expected. Morgan however is significantly different because Lee arrives automatically in an antagonistic position to Morgan. She is there to essentially decide whether Morgan lives or dies. This places her directly in opposition to Morgan herself and to the staff who for various reasons are invested in Morgan’s survival. This is evident in the first act where Lee arrives and quickly establishes that she is not there to befriend any of the staff. Mara does a solid job with what she’s given to work with, imbuing Lee with a cold and distanced demeanor. The costuming is also on point, Lee is all business in angled short hair and crisp suits while the staff is dressed in relaxed and loose clothing with a lot of flannel that makes them all look more like camp counselors than scientists.
There are flashes of inspiration in Morgan that ultimately just make its somewhat generic action thriller finale more disappointing. A sequence involving a brief Paul Giamatti appearance is great with Scott drawing real tension and suspense from what is essentially just a conversation. The sequence builds fantastically, and the explosive climax of the scene launches us into the final act of the film. From this point forward Morgan absolutely moves, stringing together a number of small action set-pieces and peppering in small moments for the audience to catch their breath. The action is film making just fine, not cut to shreds but not particularly well choreographed and edited either, though it does have a solid sense of weight and impact to it.
Although Morgan squanders an interesting opening on a generic action finale there’s nothing offensively terrible about it.This is a low-budget (8 million dollars) original sci-fi concept starring two women and multiple people of color, there’s credit to be given to Scott Free Productions, 20th Century Fox, and Scott for producing a movie that seemed to approach film-making exactly the way it should be done with diversity. The two leading women by the way, absolutely wail on each other in these action scenes. There are moments in the action that are basically “what if Jason Bourne was a lady and he had to beat the crap out of a super-human teenage girl?” Who wouldn’t be interested in that?
Morgan falls short in many regards, but Luke Scott and the rest of the film-making team seem to be attempting something intriguing. A generic second-half wastes genuine potential but somehow leaves us feeling more optimistic than disappointed. You could do worse than that at the theater this weekend, although, frankly, you could probably do better as well.