Arts

Luke Scott follows in dad's footsteps with Northern Ireland-shot sci-fi thriller Morgan

Luke Scott directs Morgan, a sci-fi thriller shot in Northern Ireland. David Roy enjoyed this action-inclined debut from Ridley Scott's son, despite the fact it's over-shadowed by similar, superior sci-fi fare

Kate Mara and Rose Leslie in Morgan

MORGAN is a decent sci-fi thriller with one big problem: it's far too reminiscent of Alex Garland's excellent artificial intelligence-themed Ex-Machina from last year.

While Ex-Machina was one of the best hard sci-fi pictures of recent times – pitting man against beautifully designed machine in a tense, darkly amusing chess match between human wit and cold mechanical cunning – Luke 'son of Ridley' Scott's Northern Ireland-shot debut feature offers a much less nuanced, sci-fi action-informed watch.

However, genre fans will still enjoy the film: among its assets are strong stylish visuals and a solid ensemble cast led by Kate Mara (recently seen in Ridley Scott's The Martian – the elder Scott produces here) as Lee Weathers, a no-nonsense troubleshooter dispatched by her masters at the evil sounding SynCorp to investigate an 'incident' at one of their remote laboratories.

Squirrelled away beneath a crumbling country house in what looks like rural upstate New York (a convincing joint performance by Tollymore Forest and the grounds of Galgorm Castle), top boffins led Dr Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) have been busy trying to splice specially engineered nanobots into human DNA.

Weathers soon learns that the team's first couple of attempts at creating a man/machine hybrid did not end well.

And, as audiences will already be aware from the film's startling opening scene, now even their apparently successful splice, Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), has taken a turn for the violently unpredictable.

As a risk management officer, Weathers must assess whether the projected profits from the project – and we get the distinct impression its primary application will be military rather than domestic or secretarial – outweigh the potential disasters involved in proceeding with the Morgan programme.

Although this lab-born being is just five-years-old, her physical and mental development have already reached late adolescent levels.

Morgan also exhibits Spider-Man-esque super strength (not to mention a completely unexplained proficiency in martial arts), the capacity to control nearby technology by thought and creepy 'pre-cognitive' powers that allow her to read minds.

While the rest of the lab team – including matriarchal project supervisor Dr Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), snarky behavioural scientist Dr Amy Menser (Rose Leslie, from Game of Thrones) and kindly geneticist Dr Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who like Yeoh, gets just a couple of scenes) – all dote on their unique Frankenchild, their resident chef/boozy hunk Skip (Boyd Holbrook from Narcos) finds Morgan 'creepy'.

He also knows how to use a hunting rifle, thus marking himself out as a potential ally to Weathers if she should have to, to quote Michael Biehn in The Abyss, 'take steps'.

At least Skip has the sense to stay well out of Morgan's road: cocky leather-clad head shrinker Dr Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) sweeps in to conduct his psych assessment of this bionic wunderkind without so much as a background briefing.

Needless to say, this is a mistake, setting in motion a chain of increasingly violent events that finally rip Morgan out of thoughtful sci-fi territory and plunge it headlong into chasey/shooty/fighty action land.

The script by newcomer Seth W Owen touches on some classic sci-fi dilemmas with regard to man's scientific quest to become 'god' and the reliably awful consequences of creating superior synthetic beings, but the film is less interested in actually exploring these issues than simply using them as a convenient springboard for its climactic action.

Also, whereas Alex Garland had us empathising with the robotic Ava in Ex Machina, any affection we might have begun to develop for the eerily alien-esque Morgan early on quickly dissipates once it becomes clear she's not particularly conflicted about hurting her hapless scientific masters.

Clearly, Asimov's three laws of robotics were not encoded into her nanobot-boosted genes.

This rather disturbing character flaw is just one of the many odd things about Morgan which the film never explains satisfactorily. We seem to be expected to just blindly accept 'because: evil corporation' as a blanket reason for everything that goes awry.

A key, potentially disturbing plot point concerning the exact nature of Dr Menser's relationship with Morgan is somehow completely glossed over – and the only viewers who won't twig that there's more than meets the eye to the ice cool Lee Weathers will be those who have never seen Blade Runner or Alien.

Despite such niggles, on the whole Morgan manages to entertain, and Luke Scott and cinematographer Mark Patten certainly ensure the film looks great, both when we're inside the Brutalist confines of the tech bunker and out in the lush green woodland beyond.

Not a classic, but it'll definitely make you hesitate before ordering that first-off-the-line robot butler.

MORGAN (15, 91mins) Sci-fi/thriller/action. Kate Mara, Anya Taylor Joy, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Vinette Robinson, Brian Cox, Chris Sullivan, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giammatti.

Director: Luke Scott

RATING: 3 STARS

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