Ex Machina is a well done, if entirely predictable sci-fi drama. If you’ve ever seen a movie about artificial intelligence, or even if you haven’t, it’s not hard to figure out what’s going to happen. It’s still sci-fi done right which is always a fight, but it doesn’t do anything new with the genre.
Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a company lottery to spend a week with his genius boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan wants Caleb to test his new A.I. Ava (Alicia Vikander) and they have lots of philosophical discussions about the nature of identity and
It’s basically Blade Runner if the entire movie was the replicant test. No matter how many questions Caleb asks though, it never gets deeper than that. Does Ava know she’s a robot? Is she knowingly seducing Caleb or is she really able to have feelings? Interesting themes that play out exactly the same way they always do. Maybe that’s the nature of drama. There’s only one way this can go. But the film plays many discoveries as surprises when really they’re not surprising.
At a certain point, it’s so obvious where Ex Machina is going that it’s taking too long. It really drags. By the time every twist has been revealed, there’s one twist the film didn’t play and you kind of wish they’d done it so it could just have all
Nathan is such an entertaining character, he keeps things exciting. He is an eccentric billionaire abrasive genius character who says shocking things but they’re always clever, like a Dr. House. His blatantly egotistical misinterpretations of quotes Caleb shares, and calling out the “who you gonna call” joke we’re all thinking makes us want to hear what he’ll say next. He’s more compelling than his creation at the center of the story.
The visuals make futuristic sci-fi out of simplicity. Nathan’s house is a stark, metallic place with lots of empty hallways. A wall full of post-it notes looks more futuristic than anything just because of the shape. It’s actually the most basic primitive thing in the movie used to convey an otherworldly genius.
The music is unfortunately obvious and makes things feel more telegraphed. Abrasive industrial sounds both suggest machinery and are just unpleasant to the ear. A bassy throbbing is a heartbeat. Silence would serve the film’s intellect better.
The visual effects are seamless. When you figure Vikander must be wearing a green suit and every frame of her must have been rendered, none of the scenes look CGI. The technology of Ava is an interesting update on hardware and our internet/cell phone usage, but sci-fi is always adapting modern technology to the same tropes. The Terminator series moved Skynet from a physical entity to a cloud based Internet system, and that was before the cloud was even called the cloud!
If this is someone’s entry into sci-fi, Ex Machina raises all the questions that could get them hooked on the genre. Further exploration could go deeper than Blade Runner and A.I. but Ex Machina is just a gateway film. The real question may be: can our philosophies about artificial intelligence evolve with our stories?