Review: Ex Machina

Wow, I am struggling to think of problems with this intelligent sci-fi thriller.

Caleb, a young computer specialist, is hired by a recluse multi-millionaire programmer to test groundbreaking artificial intelligence within a secret, isolated laboratory.

Ex Machina is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, writer of incredible science fiction screenplays such as Sunshine, Dredd and 28 Days Later. Three films I own and consider to be high class in their respective genres. Why then has it taken me over eight months to watch Ex Machina? The trailer and the promotional material.
Ex Machina is an awesome thriller, a very quiet and very subdued experience that speaks volumes without resorting to any action set pieces or Hollywood cliche. It is an intelligent, thinking-man’s science fiction and unfortunately that is hard to market for wider audiences; I found the trailer to be very confused in tone, it wanted to make it look like an action thriller when it is certainly not.

It is hard to explain the film without spoiling it, but I will commend it for its narrow scope and intense focus on its three main characters. It is an analytical story, Oscar Issac’s Nathan is a brilliant but recluse and socially weird genius who has created “true” AI, Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a young outsider who is asked to give a “Turing Test” to Nathan’s creation and is oblivious to anything else that may or may not be going on. Alicia Vikander is our final piece of the triad as Ava, the seemingly flawless artificial intelligence.
It is a talking film, we get to see the logistics of the creation and the morality played off by all three characters in great depth and using this to slowly expose what is a very dark and repressed secret beneath. While the discussion of artificial intelligence is cliche nowadays (and the representation of said AI being a beautiful young woman) these characters and how they affiliate and treat one another is far from cliche.

There’s a very modern take on the advent of artificial intelligence at work beneath Ex Machina. It isn’t some military funded science division, or some laboratory accident or even a metaphysical internet conception of life. It is constructed by a man who understands how to ignore conventions and use all of the tools modern living gives us to harness what it is to be human. How people use the internet and cellphones for example. Oscar Issac has the most work to do here and he certainly delivers a very complex and layered performance.
There are no wars between man and machine, but rather a debate between two men about the machine. This film isn’t so much about the bells and whistles of a CGI robot so much as it is about Humanity and how we are fundamentally flawed yet strive to create life.

Of course, like Sunshine and others of Garland’s written work, things get dark, and while I may have spotted a few of the film’s twists and turns early, others did catch me off guard. The characters are set up so well that you can never quite tell who is doing what to whom…

I honestly cannot say what I disliked about this film, except maybe the unavoidable cliches already mentioned and some leaps in the storytelling. Extremely minor things. As a science fiction fan Ex Machina delivered on so many levels and rose above my unfairly lowered expectations. A moody, intense thriller that makes you wonder and think about what will happen next.

Additional Marshmallows: Somebody get Alicia Vikander to school Kristanna Loken on how to act like a robot, good lord; Ava is incredibly well realised compared to the travesty that is the Terminatrix.

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