A man stands in front of a glass cell, ready to question its occupant; a woman who is not truly a woman. If she fails the test, she will likely be terminated.
Where that scenario provided the focal point of last year’s Ex Machina – a restrained study of trans-humanism and toxic masculinity – in Morgan it is part of a much more generic effort.
When a company employee is maimed by an experimental prototype, risk assessor Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is dispatched to investigate. The prototype in question just happens to be Morgan (The Witch’s Anna Taylor-Joy), a technologically augmented teenage girl who, it seems, is prone to temper tantrums – what she refers to as “errors”.
It’s understandable when her surrogate family, led by the remotely maternal Dr. Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), are forced to keep her in underground lockup. The film’s palette, crisply rendered by cinematographer Mark Patten, is torn between concrete grey – the colour of Morgan’s hoodie – and woodland green; the woodlands Morgan is so transparently desperate to visit again.
Despite the aforementioned interrogation, which takes place between the antagonistic Dr. Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) and a seemingly compliant Morgan, Seth Owen’s script can’t quite make up its mind on what Morgan stands for. As the paternalistically proud, slightly down-at-hell Dr. Ziegler (Toby Jones) sees it she’s – all together now – “the next stage of human evolution”. As the rebellious Dr. Menser (Rose Leslie) would have it, she’s just a girl. Morgan’s cool affect, meanwhile, and propensity for sudden violence is more like a stroppier Hannibal Lecter.
With our sympathy vacillating between the impeccably professional Lee and the naïve but well-meaning scientists – and very occasionally Morgan herself – the film leaves itself plenty of space for ambiguity but finds itself locked into its thriller programming; culminating in a neat but contrived twist. Neither committing to its sci-fi aspect enough to say anything, nor thrilling enough to work purely on that level, Morgan finds itself stuck in safe mode and headed towards a creative dead-end.
Competently directed but utterly middle-of-the-road, the film plays like Blade Runner Year Dot but is unable to muster the insight and artistry to live up to its many predecessors.