Ex Machina Screen 83 of 24 reviews

Ex Machina

2015

Ex Machina Poster
  • Elongating 25 minutes worth of story with the help of some heavy robo-petting and Oscar Isaac's technologist speechifying, Garland takes some old Twilight Zone tropes for a spin. But that déjà vu is precisely the point. Like Steve Jobs channeling Rod Serling, that familiarity is why EX MACHINA gets under our skin.

  • I spoke about this picture with a filmmaker friend of mine and we both expressed a kind of irritated mystification about it: how did Alex Garland, an experienced novelist and screenwriter, become such a goddamn good director his first time out? It’s kind of maddening.

  • Novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland’s brainy, precisely calibrated chamber drama was that rare piece of contemporary sci-fi filmmaking worthy of mention in the same breath as “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator.” Whatever this modestly scaled film lacked in budgetary heft, it more than made up for in sleekly expressive production design, provocative ideas about the fine line between man and machine, and knockout performances from Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

  • Among the many pleasures I found in the smartness of Alex Garland’s Ex Machina were its complex set of responses to other SF films (not to mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which it provides with a thoughtful sex change): most clearly Solaris(including even the use of a Jackson Pollock canvas to “reply” to Tarkovsky’s employment of Brueghel’s “Hunters in the Snow”), but perhaps also John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974) in a few aspects of its production design and its periodic rape fantasies.

  • Written and directed by Alex Garland (a novelist and screenwriter), it is a first feature: extraordinary, considering the authority the film carries. There are no first-time jitters in evidence. No grabbing-for-the-brass-ring and showing the strain, common of first-timers. Garland knows exactly what he is doing, what story he is telling, and how he wants to tell it.

  • If our technological self-distraction constitutes the gradual loss of our humanity, Ava—Eve 2.0—is a return to it. If that’s right, she signifies the end of an evolution of smart-but-dumb gadgets that make us ever more robotic, in robots whose sense of emotional vitality is heightened to the utmost. As such, they serve as surrogate mothers to the emotional life that humanity has given up, worthy vessels for carrying on the project of consciousness.

  • All this is sleekly done and amusingly provocative: unlike Her, Ex Machina has a literary awareness, evident in its allusions to Genesis, Prometheus, and other mythic predecessors, that enriches the familiar narrative.

  • Ex Machina is not a Luddite parable, but rather an examination of the myopia of power, even among those who, like Caleb, would see themselves as powerless. As such, Ava and Caleb operate as each other’s narrative opposites. Where she dreams in color, he dreams in black and white. And when he retreats into the basement at the end of the film, she exits triumphantly, leaving Caleb a final message — “REJECTED” — negating his offer of affection delivered from a position of power.

  • Garland was wise to set ninety percent of the film in one location, as it gives him a highly controlled environment, and the camerawork feels purposeful and precise. The film’s clean, sparse aesthetic matches its minimalist narrative, which hinges on just three characters. This means, of course, that the performances of Vikander, Gleeson, and Isaac are crucial.

  • Ex Machina is a high-IQ sci-fi film that connects viscerally and on every other level to audiences of all kinds. It’s exhilarating to see this movie in a theater packed with people rapt in the taut spell of its life-or-death drama and rippling with nervous laughter at its frisky, kinky sexuality and absurdist undertones.

  • Mr. Garland, a novelist turned screenwriter making his directing debut, sets an eerily, cleverly unsettled stage. The prowling camerawork establishes a sense of absolute control that fits with this strange fishbowl world and is accentuated by copious production design details, including the glass walls and ubiquitous security cameras.

  • Garland builds tension slowly and carefully without ever letting the pace slacken. And he proves to have a precise but bold eye for composition, emphasizing humans and robots as lovely but troubling figures in a cold, sharp mural of technology. The special effects are some of the best ever done in this genre, so convincing that you soon cease marveling at the way you can see Ava's metallic "bones" through the transparent flesh of her forearms...

  • The architecture of Nathan’s residence (“This isn’t a house – it’s a research facility,” he tells Caleb) enhances the plot and simultaneously foreshadows its denouement... With his lanky, fresh-faced good looks, Gleeson is spot-on casting for Caleb, highly intelligent but none too clever, latching on too late to the way he’s been played from more directions than one.

  • A worthy companion piece to “Under the Skin” and “Her” in its examination of what constitutes human and feminine identity — and whether those two concepts need always overlap — Garland’s long-anticipated directorial debut synthesizes a dizzy range of the writer’s philosophical preoccupations into a sleek, spare chamber piece: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” redreamed as a 21st-century battle of the sexes.

  • Prometheus gets name-dropped (defying the gods, etc), omnipotent Google lurks in the background, an Oppenheimer quote and a snatch of 'Enola Gay' add to the sense of Atomic Age hubris - but all it really says about AI is that if we build these things they'll end up taking over (the missing word in the title is 'Deus', of course), which ain't exactly news. Fairly hypnotic on first viewing, not really aching to re-visit it though.

  • Ex Machina is primarily a three-hander, a small-scale contest of wills that would be well-suited to the stage were it not so dependent on the massive, imposing architecture for its primary effects. In this regard there is a schematic quality to Ex Machina... Nonetheless, the icy visual abstraction is impressive. That, along with a soundtrack by Portishead's Geoff Barrow, serves to make Ex Machina a worthwhile curiosity, even if it ultimately has less in its mental banks than it thinks it does.

  • There’s something pat about Ex Machina (beginning with its title, which refers to an ancient dramatic tradition of extreme contrivance), but at the same time, the way it interrogates imagery and ideas that several decades’ worth of science-fiction films have casually taken for granted makes it an outlier of sorts: if not an advanced model then at least a version with updated software.

  • Make no mistake, this is a film of ideas—sadder, quieter, more delicate than the Hollywood sci-fi standard—where every sliding wall of opaque glass suggests something about technology and the way people would use it... In both his screenplays and his prose, Garland often focuses on makeshift societies; here, he creates a tiny one... with a future of infinite technological possibilities. As is often the case, it can’t fully let go of the world it’s supposed to replace.

  • This directorial debut from novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland is perhaps more interesting as a study of Millennial superbrains-turned-entrepreneurs than it is a speculative exploration into the future of artificial intelligence.

  • Isaac’s [character] works wonderfully, but the idea of Caleb as character who’s supposed to both earn our sympathy as an unwilling patsy and also be interpreted as an intermediary villain is shaky. A better film would have started with this fact, then gradually abandoned him as a protagonist, in acquiescence to the dawning awareness that Ava is the real victim/hero, focusing firsthand on her self-discovery/fight for liberation rather than using it as set-up for a rug-pulling twist at the end.

  • The movie’s biggest problem is that its basic premise—the modified Turing Test that Nathan has Caleb conduct—doesn’t make any sense, especially in conjunction with some fairly obvious secrets lurking elsewhere in the compound. Consequently, it’s too easy to guess where the story is probably headed, because that’s the only direction that would satisfactorily explain Caleb’s presence.

  • I, for one, am always disappointed when all that movie nerds can think to do with their genius, their god complex, and their G’s is to take a rib and build an Ava. Based on the heartless territory the movie stakes out, Garland, too, might be tired of this. But 90 minutes of male fantasy and 10 of alleged feminism are bad math. Ex Machina feels like the work of someone who felt the best way to make Frankenstein was to watch a lot of porn.

  • Like the frequent cutaways to the evil lair's scenic surroundings, from snow-capped mountains to trickling waterfalls, [Ava's] ambition is stock. In the end, more than just the machine remains an enigma.

  • Women’s captivity is the great theme of most of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films, and Ex Machina is the most basic and manipulative of these, the tale of a hapless john sent on a bizarre mission by a pimp to see if he can free his whore. The sordidness is made oblique because the characters are a programmer, a genius CEO, and a pixie android, and it’s set in a sterile underground lab.

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