Ex Machina – Review

Starring: Domhnall Gleason, Alicia Vikander, Sonoyo Mizuno, Oscar Issac
Written and Directed by: Alex Garland
Metacritic Score: 78
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
IMDb Score: 7.7

Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.

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Science Fiction has been on some sort of renaissance as of recently. With films like Edge of TomorrowHerInterstellar and films as far back as District 9, science fiction films have been looked upon as some of the more intelligent and thought provoking.

Ex Machina has essentially been this year’s version. It’s the one film that had everyone saying that this is a great film that is not only great for science fiction fans, but for general movie audiences in general.

If we look at the last few years, my opinion of the big science fiction films has been mixed. I absolutely adored Her and Edge of Tomorrow, wasn’t captivated at all by Interstellar and absolutely hated Gravity.

Care to guess where this movie goes?

Caleb (Gleason) is a coder for a huge technology conglomorate who wins a lottery for a surprise experiment. His boss, Nathan (Issac), brings Caleb to his state of the art secluded home and tells him what the experiment is: It’s to interact with a groundbreaking female A.I. named Ava (Vikander) and to assess whether it is indistinguishable from that of a human.

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Most good science fiction stand by a certain credo: It needs to have themes in the reality the show is made for. Star Trek dealt with issues of racism with its multi-ethnical cast. Star Wars is intrinsically rooted in Taoism, from it’s description of the Force to it’s literal character design. The recent Battlestar Galactica series was about terrorism and how nations perceive what are justifiable means in getting rid of it.

So, what is Ex Machina‘s theme? Well, there are many themes, actually. There is the basis of sexuality in human interaction, can an AI truly be considered human even if it can distinctly look like one, are AI’s something that deserves freedoms like humans, etc.

Ex Machina is clearly written and directed by a creator who wants to take a common trope of science fiction and spin into a much different scope. Not a bad thing, of course.

But when you create a movie that’s trying to juggle multiple themes while being an engaging story with good characters, something is going to give way unless you carefully make a through-line.

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It’s a fact that with these types of films, everything has to work or the themes and messages are marred in the bad elements and made less impactful. Unfortunately, that is precisely what’s going on with Ex Machina.

 With Ex Machina, it’s really hard to talk about what works without dipping into the problems.

Let’s start with the actual premise of the film: finding if an A.I. is indistinguishable from human intelligence. Fascinating premise that, for the first 45 minutes of the film, goes into some pretty heady and thoughtful territory.

But the film doesn’t stay on that premise. In fact, with the exception of mentions from the character, it pretty much abandons it. The movie goes from that premise to an allegory of slavery is whether an A.I. can be attracted to someone or is it only manipulating the human into thinking it is attracted to the human.

Three premises that, by themselves, could have made a fascinating film. Three premises that, when together are really never addressed to their intellectual capacity, lead to an overall feeling of “What is this movie trying to say?”

And this question isn’t a fascinating, metaphorical deep dive into thematic elements and using the visual medium in innovative ways version of that question. This is a “Seriously, what the hell are you trying to say?!” kind of question, since the film doesn’t seem to want to stick with one question, or even one theme, to flesh out any of it’s questions.

Let’s now go into the four characters of the film: Caleb, Nathan, Ava and Kyoko. None of the characters in this film really have a deep personality that can only be described in the black/white spectrum of character creation.

There is literally no depth to any of the characters, with Caleb clearly being the white knight and Nathan standing directly as black. Ava is the grey, since we really don’t know what’s going on with her. Kyoko? She doesn’t even speak, which oddly gives her more character than any of the other characters in the film.

The screenplay literally just stands by this mantra: Every little scummy thing a bad man can do, Nathan does it. Every single thing that can show morality, Caleb does it. Ava, of course, is a blend of the two but isn’t very deep in herself. This leads to two hours of knowing what the main characters are like.

That can be a good thing in some movies, but you’re spending two hours with these four characters. When you add one dimensional characters along with a plot that seems to shift it’s themes every quarter of the film, there’s literally nothing to attach yourself to for grounding purposes.

And the purpose of good sci-fi is to be able to identify with things that people can relate to. That’s why, no matter how much the film ages, people can still love Blade Runner or Solaris: the actual science or fictional science is just used to enhance the human themes.

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There are literally multiple questions that are equally fascinating and frustrating because the movie doesn’t know how to keep its thematics straight. This results in a movie that can’t stay engaging without doing a complete switch-out, meaning there was no faith in the script holding up for two hours.

Let’s just take this next section as a list when it comes to performances:

  • Domhnall Gleason (Caleb) – A good performance, somewhat likable. Comes off as kind of pathetic and sad when not really intending to. His performance is more hindered because of the script.
  • Alicia Vikander (Ava) – Another good performance: She’s nails the feel and look of an A.I. Very believable. Again, hurt by the script, but this actress has definite talent.
  • Sonoyo Mizuno (Kyoko) – The best performance of the film. Her silence and looks of helplessness and dread adds an emotional depth that the rest of the film clearly doesn’t have. Wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
  • Oscar Isaac – Just bad. Of course, the character is written as a cross between your corporate boss who spouts out generic garbage disguised as motivational “can-do” work prose and an over sexed, comically bad Bond villain. But Isaac literally just takes this character and makes him so intolerable that you hate every minute he’s on. And no, this isn’t “he’s so bad I can’t stand him therefore it’s a good performance,” this is bad that he’s an eyesore and a facepalm to watch.
    Also, I’m starting to realize that Oscar Isaac may not be that good of an actor. Possibly more overrated than Ryan Gosling.

Let’s ask a simple question: Should you spend two hours watching Ex Machina? I’d say yes, though keep your expectations in check. The movie makes you think, but it also makes you frustrated because the film doesn’t know what it wants you to really think of.

Is it a good film? No, but it’s not a bad film. There isn’t enough bad in the film to actively dislike the film, there’s just so much frustration with how it came out. It’s more of a “Man, this could have been so much better.”

The results of a film that tries to be more than it is, shows it can be, but can’t get off the ground to reach any new heights.

2/5 – Themes not realized, ideas not expanded upon: Film unfortunately broken.

The Wiz Says #42

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