Luke Scott takes after his father, but the result is a generic and all too predictable piece of AI fiction.
Alien and Blade Runner are two of the greatest pieces of science fiction ever created. They run on opposite ends of the spectrum, with the former being a tight space horror film and the latter transforming dense cyberpunk into something watchable. So yes, while it is unfair to compare Ridley Scott‘s massive accomplishments to his son’s directorial debut, leaving this unspoken would be a misgiving. Luke Scott (who I will now on refer to as Scott — don’t get confused!) is the director of Morgan, and it’s really quite droll in its own right.
Morgan is an AI film, not too dissimilar from last year’s surprise hit Ex Machina. Unfortunately, this debut does not have the thematic or emotional complexity of Garlands. Kate Mara stars as Lee Weathers, an agent sent from THE COMPANY, to asses the status of Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a new combination of artificial and biotic life. It is clear the onsite staff has harbored feelings of love towards her… or it, as runs a constant debate between Weathers and the scientists throughout the film. Is it a take on transgender issues? I sure hope not, as it is lazy and underdeveloped like most of what Morgan has to say about artificial intelligence. Most of the incompetency in this arena has much to do with the dialogue, which — for at least the set-up — feels like a first draft, only there to serve the purpose of moving towards the action.
The greatest sin Scott has committed is creating a science fiction universe that is neither distinct nor interesting. Ex Machina was set in a clean, mechanical near-future. The aesthetic elements spoke to the story and provided background, allowing the film to not have to over explain itself. The visuals of Morgan don’t do much of anything. It is sci-fi completely devoid of aesthetic. There are no specifics whatsoever, no weird dancing rooms.
The first half bores and delivers a set-up for a story we are all too familiar with. The plot points remain telegraphed throughout, but a surprise appearance by Paul Giamatti turns the second half into a thriller. His Dr. Shapiro stops by to deliver a psych evaluation to Morgan, which will determine whether she lives or gets… terminated. Which is appropriate, due to how much the final half plays out as a bad homage to The Terminator. He gives the best performance of the film, and the evaluation scene is the highlight as well as the turning point. Perhaps the only moment of truly rousing drama and a spark of hope for the young Scott’s future.
Still, there is fun to be had. Weathers’ true purpose is revealed, as are those of the supporting characters (mostly to be punched or shot). The final thirty minutes are a bit thrilling, especially when you realize there isn’t much time left until the end is reached. This doesn’t save Morgan from being bad sci-fi, but at least it attempts to entertain and at very least these sections can be called entertaining. And then there is a twist (of course) and you can quite possibly guess it just by reading this review.
Morgan almost has the balls to not reveal the twist and assume you get it. Much to the chagrin of anyone who didn’t let the first 30 minutes bore them to sleep, the final five minutes of the film is a slap in the face. In the way that a Christopher Nolan film makes dumb people feel smart and validated, Luke Scott’s thing seems to be the opposite. Make a film that will make smart people feel condescended to (because we totally needed two previously non-existent characters to explain exactly what happened).
It’s a shame, because the action is well-shot and the final act is a decent ride. The complete lack of aesthetic and good exposition, well, that’s the reason to maybe avoid Morgan. We deserve more from our Ex Machina rip-offs.
Morgan is coming to theaters on September 2.