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Review: Morgan

Morgan’s makers lose trust in the intellectual heft of their material and chose to prioritize empty sensation instead.

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Morgan
Photo: 20th Century Fox

In Morgan’s centerpiece scene, the titular intelligent humanoid played by Anya Taylor-Joy verbally spars with a psychologist, Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti). Brought in by Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate risk-management consultant interested in assessing Morgan’s viability after she repeatedly stabs in the eye one of the scientists who created her, Dr. Shapiro proceeds to push the five-year-old being to her emotional limits. Having only been taught happiness and sadness, Morgan suddenly finds herself unable to process all the nuances in between those two poles, and the resulting confusion somehow leads her to crack in the most brutally horrifying manner imaginable. Even more than the entirety of last year’s entry into the dangerous-A.I. subgenre, Ex Machina, the scene brings intense life to that age-old sci-fi theme of the limitations of machines in trying to be human.

The scene, however, also heralds the film’s steep decline into mindless action and violence. Not that Morgan didn’t already have its problems in its slow-burning first half. Its basic plot elements feel built out of off-the-shelf genre parts, recalling not only Ex Machina in its focus on an artificially intelligent being, but also director Luke Scott’s father Ridley’s Alien in its characters—most of them scientists, one of them a steely eyed corporate fixer in the mold of Ian Holm’s Ash from the 1979 sci-fi horror classic. And screenwriter Seth W. Owen is so fixated on the film’s larger themes that he barely shows any interest in filling in the details of the world and characters he’s created. We’re offered scant sense of what kind of corporation Lee and all of these scientists work for, and why they’re creating Morgan in the first place.

Still, Morgan’s first half generates enough of a sense of mystery to remain involving. The tension-filled dynamics between the group of scientists who created Morgan offer some intrigue, with Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) proving to be the only one of them who sees this creation as a human being rather than just a science experiment. Most of all, though, there’s Lee herself, who exudes cold professionalism to the core, and whose real motives remain obscure. Her lack of emotion contrasts with Morgan’s eerie wide-eyed innocence, especially when the latter talks excitedly about the “heaven” to which Dr. Menser has promised to take her outside the borders of the compound at which much of the film takes place.

But the filmmakers’ idea of indicating Morgan’s frustration over being unable to process the wide spectrum of worldly sensation and human emotion is to turn her into a remorseless killing machine with a heretofore unexpected knack for kicking ass and a single-minded desire to go to the aforementioned heaven out in the forest. Perhaps this nosedive into the ridiculous—complete with incoherently shot and edited fight scenes—might not have mattered so much if Scott and company were more emotionally invested in the fates of their characters. Instead, they seem more interested in clearing the path for a final twist that most in the audience will see coming. By the end of the film, the thematic promise of its centerpiece scene—a confrontation that suggested the story would offer a distinctive angle on the question of whether a machine can ever fully achieve human sentience—has been long forgotten, as if the filmmakers seemingly lost trust in the intellectual heft of their material and chose to prioritize empty sensation instead.

Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti Director: Luke Scott Screenwriter: Seth W. Owen Distributor: 20th Century Fox Running Time: 87 min Rating: R Year: 2016 Buy: Video

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