The best sci-fis are about questions. Questioning the nature of reality and of the self. Asking what it is to be human, what consciousness is, what makes us who we are. So you’d think that a movie about a hybrid biological organism – a synthetic human – directed by the son of (and produced by) a sci-fi legend would be full of interesting philosophical and psychological questions. But with Luke Scott’s (son of Ridley) Morgan, the answer is a hugely underwhelming no.
Kate Mara (in a performance that’s deliberately ruthless, efficient, almost robotic, but actually veers too far towards bland) is Lee, a corporate risk management consultant sent to a remote genetic research facility. She’s briefed on concerns over an incident that’s shown to us in the opening scene – the abrupt, non-fatal eye-stabbing of one of the facility’s staff by their creation. Morgan, as they’ve named the being, is only 5 years old but has already grown to the size of a teenager, rapidly advanced in intelligence beyond their expectations, and is exhibiting things that may not have even been anticipated. Was this violent outburst a malfunction, it being true to its nature, or something else entirely? Will Lee have to be more than simply an information gatherer?
The movie plays out in two halves, the first a slow burn, more studied investigation of this strange little family/zoo and a hint at a wander through the reasons behind Morgan’s creation. All too suddenly though, questions of humanity become pointless when the characters make ridiculous decisions and act unlike any human ever would. It becomes a killer stalker-esque generic action thriller of jaggedly edited, unbelievably choppy fight sequences that detract from some gorgeously shot exteriors. It’s like they didn’t know what to do next and just went, “Fuck it, fight!” The film’s conclusion is also blatantly obvious from very early on, especially to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Ridley Scott’s oeuvre (especially Blade Runner and Alien).
There’s no doubt about the talent of the cast but they’re consistently let down by the poor script. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) is the one stabbed in the opening, but she only appears for about four more minutes in a bewildering underuse of talent. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is forging an impressive career, bringing an unsettling otherworldiness and strength to Morgan, but Rosie Leslie, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh and Boyd Holbrook are stilted by trying to form the written words into something human. Paul Giamatti is a stand out in a short cameo, bringing a full-on, noxious energy that makes it feel like he’s walked in from an entirely different movie.
Ultimately, the questions that the movie could raise and address, but doesn’t, are far more interesting than the movie itself. There’s so much potential and talent here – the cast, Max Richter’s great score, the fact there’s definitely some of the father’s directorial skills in the son – that it’s frustrating and disappointing to arrive at this outcome. This is a movie of ‘could-have-beens’; it could have been this year’s Ex Machina, instead it’ll leave your mind before you’ve left the theatre.