Warning, this review does contain some spoilers. Ex Machina is a 2014 A24 film written and directed by Alex Garland, in his feature film debut. It received many accolades from the National Board of Review to the Academy Awards to the Golden Globes to BAFTA to Saturn and several others. With 2019 winding down, I am finding this film on a lot of “best movies of the decades” list. My main question is, “why?”
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer for a web search engine company called Blue Book. He wins a contest to visit the company’s eccentric CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), who lives in isolation with his maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who he claims doesn’t speak English. His house has incredibly advanced security systems, high tech laboratories, and monitoring systems. If only those pesky power outages would stop. Caleb is there to administer the “Turing Test” to Nathan’s latest android Ava (Alicia Vikander), whom he claims has achieved human-level artificial intelligence. As Caleb sits with Ava, he starts to become fascinated with her level of intelligence and seemingly ability to mimic human emotion. After only a few “sessions” with her, he begins to develop an attraction to her and she claims to be fond of him.
I do want to praise Gleeson. He plays his role very well and does a good job of portraying a conflicted person who is forced in tight confines with a narcissist and egotist in Isaac’s character who thinks he has crossed the threshold in technology. Likewise, the cinematography by veteran Rob Hardy is most impressive. As far as imagery, it makes you feel the confines of the large technology-fueled house and that is impressive for an indie film.
Outside of that, and I know I am probably the only reviewer who thinks this, but I have to say it. This movie is boring, slow, and the shocking twist ending was so predictable, anyone with half a brain could have seen it coming.
Personally, I found the characters of Gleeson and Isaacs, though intellectual or something, to be idiots. They prattle on about how once artificial intelligence robots are able to make decisions, show emotions, and what not on its own, they’ll replace the humans. They claim it’s the equivalent of a person and they could replace humanity.
I find this overused trope in Tron: Legacy, the Star Trek franchise, the Terminator films, etc, but the difference between those features and this one is it tries to wrap the AI evolution idea in pseudo-intellectualism to make you think that Ava is somehow a person. While Ava has some human features, in my opinion, she comes off as incredibly cold, even when she is trying to express emotion. With this in mind, Caleb is incredibly daft as he falls for her robotic charms. At one point, he starts to doubt his humanity and even cuts himself to see his arm bleed. Like I said, he is an idiot. I also rolled my eyes, quite literally, as Bateman pats himself on the back, declaring that he is a god or something for creating a robot that appears human.
The film is also incredibly bleak. While I did enjoy the camera work, it conveys a sense of foreboding and this is what made it so predictable. You know what was coming after the first “Session” card appeared on the screen before Caleb’s interviews with Ava. Later in the film, when the plot goes dark, a cheesy “Session 7” card appears that disrupts the flow of the moment. That was a minor, but annoying detail.
Now, this upcoming paragraph does have some spoilers so hang on.
For some reason, it is revealed Kyoko was a robot as if it was supposed to be some sort of shock. Trust me, you knew the second it appeared on the screen. Anyway, that is an aside. With no explanation, Kyoko just computes that it likes Ava and aids in the great escape, killing Bateman in the process. It is supposed to convey some sort of emotion that he deserved it because he “mistreated” these robots. It fails on every level. Why? Because these robots are shown to be just as manipulative, malevolent, and downright evil as a person. If AI is supposed to “evolve” than shouldn’t they be, I do not know, better than people. Alas, that is not the case. They do not seem humanlike at all. Just cold and malicious.
Okay, spoilers over.
One final note on the movie. It is so SLOW. There are literally segments where the characters just walk around the house in silence. I imagine it was supposed to convey the sense of how confining the house was, but they could have cut off about five minutes of those scenes and the movie would have flowed much smoother.
Bottom line, this is an overrated film that drowns in pseudo-intellectualism and has severe pacing problems. While the performance of the main protagonist and the cinematography are impressive, it is boring and eye-roll inducing.
FAVORITE QUOTE: One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Nudity, Sexuality, Strong Foul language
Check out the trailer below:
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