The cunning and imagination of the science fiction genre is often a double-edged sword – Sometimes filmmakers can make their future and ideas of the evolution of mankind seem plausible and exciting, like in the “Star Trek” films and “her.” Other times though, the film gets lost in its own philosophical discussions of what man can and cannot do that the story and relate ablility of these characters suffers.
This is one of the biggest reasons I do not care for Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” – The film would rather talk about why man creates or how machines deserve the right to live their lives just like humans until it drives the audience away with tedium.
Let me make it clear though that I love the science fiction genre. That is one type of film where cinema can often be at its most creative and visually appealing. Watching films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” will remind you of that. But I am not afraid to point out its shortcomings either. That when a science fiction film is bad, it is often painful to watch.
While “Ex Machina” is certainly not a bad film, I do get a similar feeling to “Blade Runner” from this new sci-fi thriller. The visuals are often stunning and it has some thought-provoking ideas of machines and artificial intelligence, but the film gets so lost in its ideas that the story has no place to go and wanders around for most of the run time.
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coding expert for the largest search-engine company, Bluebook, and has just won a prize to visit Bluebook’s creator on his massive estate. Once he meets Nathan (Oscar Issac), it becomes clear that Caleb is getting more out of this trip than just hanging out with his boss. Nathan has spent much of his time and money on developing “the greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind” – an android with artificial intelligence.
Nathan reveals that Caleb is here to perform the Turing Test on his latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to find out if her intelligence is so good that it could be mistaken for human intelligence (the test is named after Alan Turing, the main character from “The Imitation Game”). It does not help that Ava has the face of a beautiful girl and a synthetic body to a woman, and makes advances on Caleb.
What does work in “Ex Machina” is the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and loneliness. Nathan’s estate is gigantic, as pointed by the helicopter pilot pointing out that they had flown over his property for the past two hours and were not close to his isolated and somewhat tiny dwelling. They have what feels like the majority of Alaska to themselves, with glaciers and snow-capped mountains everywhere, yet no one is around for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.
Yet, the entire time, there is this air that every character is being experimented on, whether they know it or not.
This is also related to my biggest complaint with “Ex Machina.” Because there are only three characters with speaking roles, and this unrelenting atmosphere must be in place, these characters are all over the map. It is impossible to know exactly where each character lies and what their true intentions are, especially when each keeps backstabbing the other two.
The worst culprit is Nathan, who keeps getting new character traits added. At first, he is this friendly yet eccentric multi-billionaire genius. Then, he gets development in the weirdest way – Suddenly he’s a nerd as he makes references to “Ghostbusters” and “Star Trek,” he likes to work out a lot, he is a drunk, and loves to party and dance. All the while, we’re supposed to believe that he invented artificial intelligence.
The film tries to give him so many identities that it ends up giving him no identity at all. It is just too much.
By the end of “Ex Machina,” I was left confused and uncaring about the preceding. So much of every character’s true intentions were left in the dark that the characters were simply unrelatable. Instead of fleshing out these characters further, the film decides to engage in philosophical discussions on why we would create androids or if a chess-playing robot knows what chess is.
Although the question of why make a synthetic android look like a sexy woman is pretty amusing – Why not make it like that?
Overall, “Ex Machina” has a look that is unmatched in the sci-fi genre and has an atmosphere that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. But any reason to care about these characters is traded in for discussions on intelligence and art, and story greatly suffers because of that. If you like “Blade Runner,” this is right up your alley. There is a lot of style and analysis, but not much substance.
Final Grade: C+
Categories: Movie Reviews