|Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson in Ex Machina|
IntroductionThis is an exciting time for filmmaking. Besides some of today's movie studios going in directions that would have meant career suicide for all involved, in just as little as ten years ago (Tron Legacy, Guardians of the Galaxy) and how much cheaper one can make a film with the current technology, there are more than a few up and coming writers/directors that seem to understand what a lot of films nowadays lack which is, that childlike sense of awe and nostalgia that has now been replaced by big bright flashing lights and lazy storytelling. As a kid from the 80's, I have a certain perspective and expectation when it comes to action films, fantasies, and science fiction. That's why Steven Spielberg is one of my favorite directors. His influence over the years has either directly or indirectly inspired some interesting people. As 70's & 80's children themselves, people like J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Wars: Episode VII), Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie), The Russo Brothers (Arrested Development, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla 2014), and Alex Garland (28 Days & Weeks Later, Dredd), each have a hint of that 80's influential style and have delivered on more than a few occasions. Garland has been around writing for awhile now but, he's finally stepped over into directing. If his first film is any indicator, then we might just have the next Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, Inception) in our midst.
Garland's first film is Ex Machina. With a modest budget ($16 million), a well written story, and all the other little things that blend together harmoniously, he has crafted a smart science fiction film that relies less on the big bright flashing lights, and more on the overall quality. This film channels classic writers like Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner) and Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) and, there's a slight feeling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein too. Ex Machina is the superior opposite to last year's F/X laden, Transcendence, which also dealt with artificial intelligence (AI). While Transcendence was mediocre with more than a few problems, Ex Machina seems to do everything right. This movie is so well done that I can't really find anything negative to say about it. Right from the start, the story introduces the main character played by Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2), and then whisks him away to the main setting without wasting any time. Not a single scene feels wasted. The pacing of this film serves the story very well and, never tries to grandstand with exploitative moments or gimmicks to capture your attention. The sets and locations (filmed in a hotel in Norway) are just like the visual effects; Conservative but beautiful. Even the prop of a glass egg filled with jelly, that represents a robot's brain, is simple yet attractive. The musical score is another properly fit piece of this film's puzzle. Mostly subtle like a Reznor & Ross collaboration (The Social Network, Gone Girl), the music compliments each scene and gets intense only when needed.
Only four actors are seen for almost the entire film; Gleeson, Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch), Alicia Vikander (Seventh Son), and newcomer Sonoya Mizuno in a silent role. Gleeson plays his character with a level of innocence that's like a curious child. Isaac is this movie's most energetic presence. Most of the time, he's funny and playful, and other times, he comes off as secretive and off-kilter. That imbalance makes for some interesting moments that occur. Vikander as Isaac's robotic creation, Eva, is sympathetic and ultimately Ex Machina's main focus. Her interactions with Gleeson are intriguing in that, there's a brief amount of open honesty between them until, an air of deception has materialized all around them and Isaac, without a clear reveal until the end.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Ex Machina
The Good- Isaac's dance scene; Funny and creepy. The robot testing time lapse video; Awesomely disturbing. There's more than one "twist" in this pretzel's ending.
The Bad- A little more delving into Eva's mind would have been nice.
The Ugly- When The Terminator came out over thirty years ago, the thought of AI destroying all of human society seemed too fantastic to become reality but, with this movie, it's seems almost like we're one maniacal asshole or clumsy scientist away from being the machines' bitches.
Final Thoughts on Ex MachinaEx Machina is not a science fiction film for everybody. If you want brainless buffoonery with excessive explosions every three and a half minutes, then wait for the next Michael Bay picture. If you like science fiction films like Contact, Moon, or Interstellar, that stimulates the senses by making you think, then see this movie at full price. I know you try to save your money on time passing films by going to matinees or watching it on tv but, with this film, support the all around effort that was put into it. Mr. Garland, I think you have a bright future as a director in this business.
Rating- 8.5 out of 10
Ex Machina (2014)
R | 1h 48min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 24 April 2015 (USA)
A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac