Ex Machina (2015)
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Alex Garland (Directorial debut, wrote 28 Days Later and Dredd)
Synopsis: Young idealistic programmer assists a genius inventor in determining if his latest AI android passes the test to be “human” enough.
- The tone is very much in the vein of Frankenstein by way of Stanley Kubrick. This is probably what Spielberg’s AI should’ve been. Dark and parabolic, like a cautionary fairy tale.
- If the male cast members (Gleeson and Isaac) don’t ring a bell to you they will in about 4 months when you and the whole world see The Force Awakens. Here they play well together as genius and admirer who slowly grow to be antithesis to each other. Gleeson is in awe of Isaac’s work and accomplishments but surely sees that his idol is not who he seems to be.
- Isaac is fantastic in this. I’ve seen him in some other works and I really am starting to like him a lot. He has charisma and a great cockiness in most of his roles that really work despite him looking like a slightly tougher Jake Johnson. His villainous turn here is a fine performance, teetering on the scale between right and wrong, much like Dr. Frankenstein. What he thinks is right is a breakthrough in modern science but he has mad-scientist tinge to his character. First of all he’s a crazy drunk. Practically drinking in every scene. He also is a media mogul who crosses the line between right and wrong when it comes to personal privacy for the sake of his scientific breakthrough. At times you are rooting for him to succeed and be right but there are times when he’s a rude and crude charlatan who you want to see get his just desserts. A very well played and written take on the Dr. Frankenstein type. Plus the dude can really dance!
- This is the first time I’m seeing Swedish Alicia Vikander’s acting and it surely won’t be the last. She walks a great fine line between human and AI robot that in some scenes you can honestly fail to tell the difference.
- The simplicity of the plot and story. There’s 4 key players (there is also a housemaid named Kyoto played by Sonoya Mizuno) in one setting. Like a stage play, the story and characters are tantamount to to the film and everything fits perfectly in this small package. There’s no convoluted or extra plot points that mean nothing to the story or not important to the characters development within this brief elapsing of time.
- I should also mention the terrific special effects in the film. I was wondering if it was CGI that made Ava the android look mostly robotic but I realized later that her body was digitally rotoscoped to look unfinished and in certain parts, transparent. The visual effects were remarkably well done.
What doesn’t work:
- The film worked so well in telling a very accurate or believable science-fiction story about a mad genius who invented and perfected an humanoid robot. If you watch the trailer or look closer at the poster you see a very attractive Alicia Vikander with a realistic human-skinned face and hands. The rest of her body is essentially unfinished for most of the film. I have zero issues with suspending disbelief about a near-prefect android character. And I can even get past the realistic face. But towards the end of the film she is able to finish her body by taking pieces of skin from other androids and placing it on her own body like Play-Doh and it looks perfect. How is this programmer/inventor able to make such realistic human skin? I can understand the plastic or metal components of his robot creations but it was a little distracting to the story that there was artificial skin that worked so well that it fools other humans. Not a major issue, mind you but I wanted to point this out.
- The ending may leave some viewers unfulfilled. I was OK with the open-ended finale but it does leave some questions unanswered and some characters fate uncertain. To me, this is fine because this movie is not a typical Hollywood movie but more of a morality tale and if you can walk away from it understanding the importance of the story then you should be fine.
- The Domhnall Gleeson character is a little too optimistic and idealistic in this film for my tastes. Very naive in the way that he thinks he can alter fates of others when it is he who should be lucky to just be there. The more he pries and meddles with Isaac’s affairs (that frankly don’t really concern him) the more he hurts himself. I just question too much the motives of characters like this and it doesn’t necessarily harm my enjoyment of the film but in my experience it’s a little lacking creatively. I realize that he needed to be an exact foil to Isaac but it’s a little of a tired cliche. But I’d be wrong in saying that it doesn’t ultimately work.
Overall: This film proves that there are still great modern takes on old stories especially in science-fiction. Unlike, say Snowpiercer that takes themes and makes a shitty movie, Ex Machina is a way better example of taking an old idea and updating it to the current times. It’s philosophical as well as parabolic and with a way better screenplay, direction and acting than most recent sci-fi flicks. Plus it has a robot with a great derrière. I highly recommend this easy to follow and not-so-hamfisted flick to anyone.
Score: 8 Deliberate Blackouts to the Surveillance System (out of 10)