"More human than human." Eldon Tyrell proudly boasts of his corporations motto in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. The Tyrell Corporation, albeit very proud of their replicant children, seem negligent in the implications of the parameters they set on their creations. The scientist parents imbue genius knowledge, while giving little thought to the psychosis that can be created by accelerated maturity and the absence of any real emotional guidance. It seems fitting then that his son, Luke Scott, explores similar themes in directorial debut, Morgan. A group of scientists and specialists genetically engineer Morgan under direction of a shady corporation for clandestine ends. However, what hampers Morgan a little is it's non-committal to be subversive, thrilling or a mix of both.
The very first scene of Morgan injects something unsettling into the proceedings: Watching from the apathetic eye of a CCTV camera we watch unflinchingly as the groups "child" launches across the table at one of her creators and takes her eye. Although on the surface this is a gross overreaction, given that the doctor is doing her best to see that Morgan can be let outside again, it's clear there's more going on in the facility.
Sadly, rather than draw the audience in with the questions the opening creates, we sit through an exposition-heavy first act. Kate Mara's Lee is sent with the purpose of assessing the projects viability and meets the facility's boffins one by one. What should be a tantalising series of narrative breadcrumbs is instead a exercise in vagueries and sometimes tedious character introduction. It's clear that those involved in the project have become too attached to "it" - as Lee repeatedly reminds them - but it's deliberate pacing slowly parks in benign rather than alluring.
The ensemble cast is a directors wishlist. Michelle Yeoh and Toby Jones are two actors always able to deliver an emotional two-hander with little effort. Which they do, but with the story unable to settle successfully on their regrets or the impact to Morgan, they feel sidelined. An increasingly tense scene between Paul Giamatti's profiler and Morgan only seems to stand out due to the muted execution of the scenes that came before it.
Morgan isn't devoid of merit. It's beautifully shot and when the actors do get time among the melee to shine it's delivered with an intriguing preservation. It also leaves you to wrestle with some of the ideas it presents, particularly if you want to get Freudian about some of the subtext. There's even an attempt to put a slant on the Bourne-kineticism during it's fight scenes, where Scott goes for clearer framing of action and edits the beats of each blow landing on their assailant. To it's credit it also develops some new ways to explore the perils of artificial lifeforms, only to put them back on the shelf.
Alas, like the effective parenting trick; you'll leave after the credit roll feeling disappointed instead of angry. Unlike the title character, the film doesn't seem quite brave enough to be itself. Afraid to lean on the tried and tested trappings of a thriller or throw caution to the wind and just embrace it's weird.
3* - I, Machina