Review: Ex Machina Is Smart Science Fiction And Very Good
Title: Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Screenwriter: Alex Garland
Principal Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, and Corey Johnson
Summary: A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breaktaking female A.I.
This is another example of a movie that flew pretty much under my radar. I know that Oscar Isaac has been kind of a big deal since Inside Llewyn Davis and getting cast in the new Star Wars movie. A Most Violent Year was very good and that was pretty overlooked in last year’s award season. I’ve been following his career because I think it’s going to be an interesting one to follow, but this movie kind of surprised me. I hadn’t heard of it until its viral marketing through Tinder got noticed during the South by Southwest Expo a few months ago. I was excited to see this one and was glad that we managed to get a screening in our area.
Ex Machina is a different take on the issue of artificial intelligence with a great leading performance by Alicia Vikander and a stunning soundtrack.
When dealing with something like robots and the idea of artificial intelligence there are a few tropes that you need to avoid. These days when people think of A.I. they think of the Terminator franchise. Ex Machina goes in a different direction with the idea. The best way that they go about doing this is making sure that we are always aware that Ava (Alicia Vikander) is a robot. She has a human face with hands and feet but the rest of her body is a shiny example of science ficton design. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) even says that the point of inviting Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) out to test Ava is to see if she has consciousness when you are aware she is a robot. It’s a different way of going about the Turing Test, the test which someone tries to figure out if they are talking to a computer or a person.
Vikander does a great job to bringing Ava to life. She does little things that make us aware that she isn’t human. She looks at everything as if it’s amazing and new but doesn’t overdo it to make it annoying. She walks the line very easily and this is going to be a star making performance for the young actress. Oscar Isaac also does a very good job as Nathan as he is a little cagey and obviously hiding something. Domhnall Gleeson is also very relatable as our protagonist who is being manipulated by multiple great minds.
The soundtrack is the other thing that does a great job of making the movie strangely tense. This is a movie that spends a lot of time with people having several different conversations in extremely tense moments. There is an aura that seems to hang over the entire movie that is helped by the soundtrack. There are a lot of jingles that sound a lot like something you would play for a baby whenever Ava is around which makes sense since she can be very childlike, but then it switches to eerie sounds that almost sound like this is a horror movie. It matches Vikander’s performance along with the mystery about what Nathan’s intentions toward Colby really are.
The story is probably the thing that the movie suffers from the most, even if there are some very interesting things going on underneath the surface. The main thing is the subtext that goes along with Ava being a woman and the presence of another woman name Kyoto (Sonoya Mizuno) in the house that Nathan says “doesn’t speak any English”. As the story moves along we see that the main idea comes from the fact that women do not like to be treated like objects. Nathan seems to regard Ava like a thing while Caleb looks at her more like a person and the movie dwells a lot on who is right. Writer and director Alex Garland has written some of the best science fiction in the last decade like Dredd, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, but like Sunshine the ending sort of falls apart a bit. It doesn’t go where I expect it to and it doesn’t quite go off the rails as Sunshine did, and while I enjoyed the ending I can see a lot of people predicting it and not enjoying.
Ex Machina is a solid science fiction film that focuses more on thought and less on special effects, so if you’re going in for a low budget version of Terminator you’ll be disappointed. It’s not the science fiction second coming so don’t let it get too overhyped, but it is very good. Garland has promise for a director, and while this isn’t the best story he’s helped pen it is a very good one.