For all the talking we do at the Comedy Film Nerds gargoyle garage about how hard it is to find really good science fiction these days, I have to admit that I’m impressed with 2015 so far. We already have two great sci-fi films and we’re only a quarter of the way into the year. First, Predestination blew us away, and NOW, Ex Machina impresses with a great script by writer/director Alex Garland. Garland wrote the book, The Beach, then wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd.
In Ex Machina, a twenty-something programmer, Caleb, is selected by Nathan to participate in an breakthrough experiment to evaluate the human qualities of his creation of an artificial intelligence in the form of a beautiful female A.I.
If you’re looking for or expecting this to turn into some kind of sci-fi action film with chases and explosions like so many sci-fi films, then you’ve come to the wrong film. Ex Machina is more low-key, cerebral, and tense. And though the ideas it deals with are not particularly new, it does present them in a unique and deftly handled way. What does it mean to be human, to have concisouness? The dangers of playing God. Nature vs. nurture. All of these things are dealt with here, but in a smaller, more intimate story.
The cast is excellent. Domhall Gleason plays Caleb, at once somewhat nerdy and naive, yet smart and quick to observe. Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, strangely macho for a programming genius, alternately drinking too much and weight-lifting and cleansing, while calling Caleb “dude”, or “bro”. And Alicia Vikander is perfect as the A.I., Ava. She adds such an element of humanity to her character that you forget she’s got a robotic body.
And speaking of that, the CGI effects here are pretty astounding. They are subtle and seamless, Ava’s face hands and feet are her own human skin, but the rest of her is all machine, and the way they blend them together is beautiful and unique.
Ex Machina is shot in a series of conversational sessions between Caleb and Ava. In between these sessions, Nathan questions Caleb about how their interaction went; how did he feel about Ava’s A.I.? With each session with Ava, we get more information, things get complicated, and the tension mounts. This, in turn, makes the discussions between Caleb and Nathan more agonizing. And then there’s the presence of Nathan’s cook and sometimes girlfriend, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who speaks no English. She’s as mysterious a fourth character as any could want.
It’s all building to something, and most likely nothing good. But it’s a satisfying resolution that never condescends and never takes the easy way out. And that IS good, for us, the viewer. I really love this film, and it’s surely a solid four kittenhands.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, surprised to see another great sci-fi film this soon after Predestination. Now go vote with your dollar, and go see this!