Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate risk management consultant, is sent to investigate a new synthetic lifeform, Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), after a violent incident at the research facility where she lives.
The dangers posed to humanity by artificial lifeforms have been explored time and again in cinema, so you’d think it would be difficult to find new ones. Yet this effort finds time to flirt with several fresh ways of tackling the subject before settling on none of them.
We open with Kate Mara’s Lee, a chilly, reserved corporate functionary headed to a remote research base after a bioengineered being with synthetic DNA, Morgan (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), attacks one of her keepers. Lee meets a close-knit team led by genius scientists Dr Ziegler (Toby Jones) and Dr Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), all determined to protect someone they consider a young woman rather than a mere experiment. The mystery is how Morgan herself feels about her situation, and how she will react if her life is disrupted by Lee.
It's beautifully shot, but unfortunately Morgan never finds a focus.
Unfortunately the story never finds a focus, shifting from Morgan to Lee to the research team and back, sketching an interesting group of characters before ignoring most of them completely. In fact it’s littered with Chekhov’s guns, repeatedly alluding to strange powers that Morgan can access but failing to show them in action. What should be a stand-out scene — a psychiatric evaluation by Paul Giamatti’s cold-blooded doctor — falters because it never demonstrates Morgan’s supposedly towering intelligence to become a real two-hander. Worse, the film settles into overly familiar action beats towards its finale, and not particularly innovative action at that. This lifeform may be a physical threat to humanity — but she doesn’t present an existential threat, a danger of usurpation or replacement. And a girl with a talent for kung fu is something we’ve seen before. A lot.
Debutant director Luke Scott, son of Ridley, initially suggests a Blade Runner-esque debate: who’s the more inhuman, the killer robot or the ruthless human sent to stop them? But the story he tells has turned out far less successfully. It’s beautifully shot and the performances are fine as far as they go — day players like Brian Cox add real depth to the cast — but it can’t conceal the lack of a solid core.
It’s well designed and shot, but in service of a story that never coalesces into something intelligent or compelling.