‘Morgan’ Takes Out Intelligence in Artificial Intelligence

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Average: 5 (2 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There is nothing like the feeling of watching a completely immersive sci-fi film that delivers the complexity of technology in a modest package, and uses elements of nature to create a beautiful contrast. Unfortunately, “Morgan” doesn’t deliver on the enlightenment it promises.

Trying to fill the role created by last year’s masterpiece “Ex Machina”, “Morgan” explodes with superficial artificiality. It poses the question of what constitutes “personhood” and explores it through shallow platitudes and out of character, obsessive behavior. The high concept story development seems to have been an overwhelming task for first-time feature film writer Seth W. Owen. While trying to introduce the same ideas of “humanity” that we’ve seen not only in last year’s films, but from films stemming all the way back to Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis”, Owen manages to create a story that feels less like an echo and more like a lazy mimicry.

Lee (Kate Mara) in ‘Morgan’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

The story development is exactly what you would expect from a by-the-books science fiction. It starts off taking its time and only feeding you bread crumbs with the promise of a main course at the end. The character exposition is minimal, developing every single character with the bare minimum amount of dimension so they don’t appear too empty. Aside from the two main characters, Lee (Kate Mara) and Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) there isn’t even a facade of complexity with every character never evolving past their baseline introductions. The two that were “developed” really just ends up meaning that their characters experience some sort of revealing of their true selves/intentions near the end of the film.

“Morgan” works best when you view it as PSA for abusive/toxic relationships. Owen has a hard time creating the relationships between his characters. There is a big distinction between affection and obsession, and the majority of the characters in Morgan’s life lean towards the latter. The only experiences we witness that come close to explaining the other character’s unhealthy attachments to Morgan come in the form of brief flashbacks that present the idea, but never actually sell it. Instead, you get a group of people that are constantly being abused mentally and physically, but continue to remain apologists towards their abuser. Not just that, but they blame themselves instead of blaming the perpetrator. The most believably tender moment in the film happens as someone is slowly being strangled.

As I’ve mentioned before, “Morgan” successfully creates an atmosphere of intrigue and idiosyncrasy, drawing the audience deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole. If first time director Luke Scott can be praised in anything in this film, it would have to be for effectively baiting the audience with the buildup of suspense. Even though you figure out the film’s twist early on, there is always that lingering glimmer of hope that the film will surprise you. Despite some slight turns and an outright genre change, “Morgan” confirms your fears and reveals itself to be a predictable mess.

In keeping with the film’s “Ex Machina” mimicry, Scott uses the untamed, gorgeous natural settings to counterbalance the sterile, technological laboratory. Yes, we’ve experienced this before, but it remains one of the film’s most effective elements. The least effective come when the film runs past the subtle sci-fi genre and crashes into an action/adventure. Neither genre gets close to feeling satisfying, especially when the car chases feel like a tepid car commercial and the few fight scenes are edited so poorly that the complete choppiness and poor visual planning make the “Resident Evil” franchise seem Oscar-worthy in comparison.

Hoodie: The Title Character (Anya Taylor-Joy) Confronts Lee in ‘Morgan’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

The only people to come out completely unscathed from this wreck are Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, Rose Leslie, and especially “The Witch” actress, Anya Taylor-Joy. Together, they deliver performances that briefly elevate the film’s quality every time they are on screen. It is unfortunate that this is Taylor-Joy’s first film after her breakout performance in “The Witch” but it should be of some comfort that most of us will forget about this film now that Oscar-bait season is about to begin.

With a skillful script, almost anything can be forgiven. “Morgan” would have stood a chance at survival with a strong story, but borrowed visual themes. Now, it only serves as reminder of the greater film it tried to imitate. The director and writer both seemed overwhelmed by the task, which is understandable considering neither of them have had the past experience to explain how they could land such a big film. Perhaps the director’s father and “Morgan” producer Ridley Scott could explain how this happened, but as it stands, it would be too little too late.

”Morgan” opened September 2nd in theaters everywhere. Featuring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Paul Giamatti. Written by Seth W. Owen Directed by Luke Scott. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

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