Film Review: Ex Machina-Lite but still good enough for genre fans

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Shortly after I reviewed Don’t Breathe and mentioned the influx of horror films both good and bad as of late, I had anticipated that I would be reviewing yet another horror film in the form of Morgan. The trailers have led me to believe that this would be a mix of science-fiction and horror but this is hardly the case. Interpret this paragraph as my little rant against studios and their marketing teams. Stop advertising movies as something they’re not – it hurts the overall box office take and causes people’s expectations/thoughts on the film to be lessened because of expectations not being met. That being said, was I able to see past all that nonsense and enjoy this sci-fi/drama/thriller for what it was?

The plot is somewhat similar in structure to the vastly superior Ex Machina, which should have won a million Oscars. A corporate risk assessor, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), is sent down to investigate a case in which an artificially-created female named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) has snapped and stabbed one of her keepers/scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye during an interview session. As Lee has to decide whether to continue the program or terminate Morgan, the scientists that live at the facility struggle with her decision-making as they have grown attached to this being that they have raised there for five years.

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I had a hard time deciding if I liked this one or not. At first, I was leaning on the “no” side as it lacked the depth that a movie like this really needs and I wasn’t really into some of the performances/characters like I was expecting but as I sit at home typing this review up, I realize that I may have liked it a little bit more due to the last 25-30 minutes specifically as well as some of the plot elements that I reflect on after letting the film’s sequence of events breathe for a bit.

I should really discuss the acting here because it was a main point for me where I went back and forth. There are some character elements that I simply can’t reveal so I will try to be a little more vague than usual here. Kate Mara plays our resident risk assessor and does okay but I found she didn’t have a lot of presence overall to play the lead. I never really related to her character nor was I completely on-board with her. She does seem to get better as the film progresses though and it’s one of those performances that you appreciate a little bit more after you have digested the overall experience. Anya Taylor-Joy is solid in the title role of Morgan. She is allowed to emote but not to a degree that it would seem unreasonable. She is not Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (I can’t help but keep comparing the two films) but she is definitely “good enough.” The scientists are mostly a hodge-podge of underused talent with Toby Jones doing his usual solid job and sticking out a bit from the bunch.

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The one that really stuck out for me though in terms of the entire movie was Rose Leslie, who plays Amy, a behavioural scientist that has bonded with Morgan the most. She seems the most human and naturally endearing/funny of the bunch and maybe that’s why it’s so interesting that she partners up with the robotic Morgan so often. I also felt that there were some lesbian undertones with Amy and Morgan in a few scenes, which we kind of hear another character elude to when he coyly describes himself as someone who “probably isn’t Amy’s type.” Rose kinda steals the movie away with her performance and I wasn’t expecting that at all. We also get some real quick appearances with wasted performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian Cox and a hell of a scene involving Paul Giamattti. An expert at crafting characters that are bubbling just below the surface, Giamatti runs away with the little screen time he has when he could have just showed up and collected a paycheck.

The pacing is pretty uneven as the first hour of the film is a bit of a slog to get through until we get to the much more interesting final third. The first two-thirds isn’t a COMPLETE write-off but most of the scientists are fairly one-note and flat in terms of characterization so the film’s attempt to present them as full-fledged characters fails on a number of levels. The writing isn’t amazing either but the film sets some elements up well with good payoffs (something that, again, I can’t delve into that far without giving anything away) and some of the dialogue is decent if not a little too expositional at times. In fact, you may as well write off that entire scene between Lee and the hunky cook because he basically describes every character in the film to her (and the audience) even though we’ve already met them. It’s almost like the screenwriter gave up for a bit at that point.

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So is this Ex Machina-like morality play worth your time? Honestly, if you have nothing better to do and you have about 100 minutes to kill, it’s not that bad. Will it change your life? Probably not but it’s serviceable enough to entertain and it didn’t make me want to rip my eyeballs out. It’s lazy at times and even irritatingly over-written but it makes up for it with a few fun performances, good plot twists and some well-constructed violent scenes.

***

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)