Ex Machina Review

Ex Machina is a 2015 science fiction film written/directed by Alex Garland, who previously wrote the screenplay for the excellent cult action film Dredd and will be writing the upcoming film adaptation of the Halo video games. Though quickly forgotten by the public, the film garnered massive critical acclaim and was generally well received by those who went to see it. It received the award for best visual effects at the 2016 Oscars.

Story
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a promising young programmer, is invited to the house of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive billionaire who owns the company Caleb works at. He reveals to Caleb that he has developed and built an artificial intelligence robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and he wants Caleb to have conversations with her to see if she could pass for human. However, it soon becomes clear that something sinister is afoot at Nathan's mansion and tensions rise as secrets are revealed.

The setup, while not very original, does a lot with it's premise. It actually feels like a dissection of what it would take to make an AI into a human being. They talk about being aware of ones-self and others, how sexuality factors into one's psychology and how language works in the human mind. It's quite interesting to listen to and think about how difficult a project like this would really be.

The characters are all ok; Caleb is the everyman character that the audience can relate to and that role works just fine. Nathan isn't who I expected him to be at all. I was expecting more of a dignified, Dracula-type villain who's always quiet and suave. However, he's more like a frat boy, always getting drunk, sleeping with the made and being completely full of himself. He's a through and through narcissist, someone who thinks he's untouchable just because nobody's been able to touch him yet and thinks he's a god because he invented AI. The biggest surprise for me was Ava, the robot. Most of the time when a film or TV show tries to make me feel sympathy for a robot it never works because I'm always aware that it's just a machine. The best example that comes to mind is Westworld; you can try to make me care about Dolores' story arc all you want, but at the end of the day she's still just a robot programmed to do what she's doing. In this one, Ava really does feel like a human being, even though we can clearly see her robot body throughout the film. I didn't even really question why she was falling in love with Caleb until they brought it up because it seemed like a natural thing to happen (and not just because it was a movie and of course that was gonna happen).

The screenplay is spectacular because they talk like real people. There's a lot of um-ing and uh-ing and they talk to each other like they just met because, in the story, they technically just have.

The one part of the film I hate is the part that I can't talk about: the ending. This is a completely unsatisfying conclusion that just left me feeling empty. Maybe it has some deeper meaning or whatever hipster bull you want to tell me, but at the end of the day the ending is just terrible.

Technical
The film is a very minimalist production; there's no spectacle or hyper-realistic detail to the set design or costumes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The film seems to be set in a future that's only a few years away from modern day, so everybody still wears normal, 21st century clothing, but the sets are all really clean and sleek. It's almost like the future in Her, where you could believe that technology would be up to this level in a few years.

I'm honestly not sure whether or not the film deserved the Oscar for Best Special Effects; on the one hand, Ava's CGI robot android body is impressive, but on the other hand a lot of the other effects were blatantly obvious. I can't actually discuss said "other effects" because it would be giving away spoilers for the film.

I'm surprised that this film didn't get an acting nomination for Oscar Isaac, but perhaps that's because The Force Awakens hadn't come out yet. If you know him purely as Poe Dameron, you'll be shocked at the way he's transformed into a frat boy narcissist. Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are just ok.

Summary: Ex Machina was a bit overhyped for me; it's not a life changer, it's not even the best science fiction film to come out in years. It's just a good AI movie with a cruddy ending. I honestly wouldn't mind seeing a sequel to this one if it means we'll get some more satisfying closure.

B

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