Like a lot of people, I was blown away by last year's cerebral AI thriller Ex Machina, giving it a high place on my list of the best films of 2015. To a certain extent, Morgan plays a lot like a lesser version of that movie, but even a lesser version is still verging on great.
The biggest difference here is that Morgan is more action oriented, infused with strains of Hanna, but from the antagonist's perspective. In this case, that's Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate troubleshooter brought in when their research project seems to go awry.
Being blunter than Ex Machina, Luke Scott's direction can be more obvious about its feminist overtones. Like Hanna's Marissa Wiegler, Lee is coded very masculine, from her short, boyish haircut, to her angular jawline, to her suit, right down to her androgynous name, and Mara feels like she was born for this part. She is the hand of The Man, who has created this girl, Morgan, and thinks it can own and control her, literally objectifying her with a choice of pronouns.
At the same time, the film speaks our fears of the power that a girl Morgan's apparent age is just starting to come into. Young, icily pretty girls are dangerous, as The Neon Demon explored earlier this year. And we also worry that they are growing up earlier and earlier -- a side-effect of scientific progress changing our chemical environment -- before they are capable of understanding and controlling this power the way we'd like.
Morgan opts to go heavier on the action, with mixed results. The fights seem to cut around the actors, but it never really descends into Greengrass-level chaos. Still, for a first feature it's fine; Scott can't be expected to learn everything from his father, Ridley Scott. That said, he does seem to have cribbed a notable plot point or a shot here and there from his dad's more famous science fiction outings. If you're a fan of those, you'll probably have a few guaranteed moments of pleasant recognition.
If there's anything that Morgan lacks, it's ambition. Scott plays it safe here, delivering a tidy, serviceable thriller that manages to stand out in a summer littered with sprawling misfires.
Rating: 4 out of 5