Kate Mara plays an aloof risk analyst for a big corporation sent to a remote facility to assess whether the company’s high-tech synthetic A.I. humanoid dubbed ‘Morgan’ is worth the risk or should be terminated. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) recently attacked one of the staff on hand (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The other staff includes scientists played by Michelle Yeoh, Chris Sullivan, Rose Leslie (who has been accused of being too emotionally attached to Morgan) and Toby Jones, whilst Boyd Holbrook plays the staff cook, and Paul Giamatti cameos as a snooty shrink who rubs Morgan the wrong way.
With a pretty decent pedigree cast and Luke ‘Son of Ridley’ Scott making his directorial debut (with Dad co-producing), one initially wonders why this 2016 genre flick flopped majorly at the US box-office and didn’t get much critical notice, either. Having seen the film, I can understand why there wasn’t much interest, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film.
As scripted by Seth W. Owen (“All Nighter” with J.K. Simmons and Analeigh Tipton) with an apparent re-write by the director, it’s a bit of a clichéd cobbling of “Species”, “Instinct”, “Splice”, and “Ex Machina” and it’s pretty hard to get truly invested in something made out of so many recycled genre parts. It’s very obvious what’s going on and aside from one twist near the end that apparently only I didn’t pick (in fairness, I didn’t read anything about the film beforehand, which definitely would’ve helped/hurt in that regard), nothing surprised me.
What I can say in favour of it is that it’s at least watchable, and a lot better than “Species” and “Splice”. I also really enjoyed the performance by Kate Mara and to a lesser extent Anya Taylor-Joy and Rose Leslie (doing a pretty decent Yank accent). Unfortunately the film is overstuffed with characters it hasn’t the time to develop, leaving the very fine Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh (whom Hollywood hasn’t gifted a decent role to since 1997), Chris Sullivan (who proves here that he’s more than just the guy playing my second favourite person on “This is Us”), and Paul Giamatti (basically playing Anthony Heald’s character in “Silence of the Lambs”) with little to play with. And did Jennifer Jason Leigh have to go somewhere else mid-shoot? Brian Cox gets even less screen time than Giamatti, only turning up at the end.
Mara has never been better in my view, playing one of only two people here with a working brain, and the other person is programmed. Mara’s character is the best and least derivative thing here. It’s the script that’s the problem here as even Ridley wouldn’t have been able to work around something so stock, overstuffed, yet underdone. The fact that these are the dumbest dumbfuck ‘smart’ people I’ve come across in a film in years doesn’t help. Shot by Mark Patten (who previously did 2nd Unit work on Ridley Scott’s excellent “The Martian”), the film boasts stunning scenery on the few occasions we venture outside. Listen out for the cute and obvious “2001” homage in one particular line of dialogue. I refuse to believe it was unintentional.
Interesting to a point and technically proficient, this serves the purpose of wasting 90 minutes or so. With that cast though, one expected something a little more substantive and original than the script provides. It passes the time but you won’t feel nourished either intellectually or entertainment-wise. Kate Mara is terrific however.