Actions & Consequences:
Two centuries after the 19-year-old Mary Shelley conceived her immortal Frankenstein, film makers continue to find themselves being drawn back to the essential themes in that classic work: artificial creation; and at which point do we have to address the possibility of that creation being in possession of a soul?
Last year Alex Garland’s Ex Machina set the bar so far up that it is likely to remain the height to reach for well into the foreseeable future. That was with android AI and now scriptwriter Seth W. Owen and first-time director Luke Scott toy with a similar question centred on artificially created biological life in the limply-titled Morgan.
The problem is that, much like its title character (played by Anya Taylor Joy), Morgan is none too sure what it wants to be. I enjoyed the first forty or so minutes in which we are introduced to the secluded scientific team who are looking after the human hybrid and have taken a most unscientific and definitely over-protective attitude towards her. Or it, as is preferred by Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), the risk-assessment specialist sent by the Corporation to check out a rapidly worsening Bad Situation. It comes as no surprise that the once-docile and super-intelligent Morgan has turned out to be something of a killing machine. Luckily, Weathers may look gamine and pixie-like but she’s not far off being one herself.
I’m in the middle of reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot at the moment and found myself wondering why these big corporations don’t just induce in their creations his Rule of Robotics that absolutely forbids a robot to harm a human. That thought only lasted for a second, though; then common sense kicked in and I remembered that in the real world (as in so many cinematic ones) the first people that would want to get their sweaty little paws on such weapons would be the Military – and they most certainly wouldn’t want that rule messing up their macho fantasies.
The first half is thoughtful, although I hope that by his second film Scott has stopped letting a distracting soundtrack drift in everywhere; but after actor Paul Giamatti finishes his role as the planet’s absolutely worst psychological assessor, the film turns into a very gory – and often downright sadistic – action flick all the way.
Scott’s father Ridley (who also produces) has presumably pulled in some favours because there is a damned fine cast, most of whom have brief and thankless roles, for which they appear overqualified, to put it mildly. Apart from the great Giammati, there is Toby James more-or-less reprising his slightly barmy scientist in the TV show Wayward Pines; and quite bizarrely Jennifer Jason Leigh pops in as a doctor who has been stabbed in the eye by Morgan – not that this stops either her or the rest of this odd bunch loving the mischievous little tyke. Hell, what’s an eyeball between friends? And after her horrorshow outing in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight one can only suppose that Jennifer actually likes being covered in gooey makeup.
Even Brian Cox puts in an appearance for no discernible reason.
There is also a welcome and more substantial turn from Rose Leslie – she who used to warn Jon Snow that he knew nothing – as another ‘scientist’ who has developed something of a lesbian crush on Morgan. And since we keep getting reminded that Morgan has a mental age of five, I found this more discomforting than almost all of the rest of the film.
Morgan is worth watching, although it’s unlikely to remain in the memory. And it does make me want to see more of Luke Scott’s work. On the evidence of this flawed but interesting outing, he just may have inherited the old man’s directing genes.