Posted in Film Review

One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Ex Machina (2015)


Ex Machina has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic:  namely what makes humans human.

The increasingly omnipresent Oscar Isaac plays billionaire Nathan Bates, genius creator of ‘Google’ – my mistake – ‘BlueBook’, the world’s “leading search engine”.  Living in the middle of the American wilderness (in reality, a very picturesque Norway) in a luxury villa that actually exists as a hotel, Bates is leading a one-man research project into the development of a truly self-aware Artificial Intelligence.  Leading neatly on from the recent Cumbur-busting “The Imitation Game” the eccentric and erratic Nathan needs to share his work with someone external in order to perform ’The Turing Test’ – the test to determine if a machine can genuinely pass itself off as human to another human.

Given the price of a Centre Parcs luxury villa, Caleb wonders what this costs to rent
Given the price of a Centre Parcs luxury villa, Caleb wonders what this costs to rent

Domhnall Gleeson’ character (Caleb) works for BlueBook and wins the Wonka Golden Ticket to spend a week with Nathan, becoming the human side of the test.  Ava (Alicia Vikander) is the beautiful and seductive android subject, and the film clinically walks through the sessions between Caleb and Ava, watched over by Nathan via the villa’s comprehensive CCTV system. 

Caleb has an eye for the ladies
Caleb has an eye for the ladies

The only other significant character in the film is Nathan’s house maid Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who neither understands nor speaks English so drifts silently around offering various ’services’.   

We have been here before:  Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and Spielberg’s “AI” both covered similar ground, but in perhaps a less claustrophobic manner than Ex Machina.  This serves the story well, ramping up the tension as an age old Sci-fi plot-point emerges: how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. (No rain or doves are included in this one though).

The acting is all up to snuff, with Isaac – this time hiding behind a Brian Blessed-style bushy beard – looking and acting for all the world like George Clooney. 

Nathan's talking Pollocks
Nathan’s talking Pollocks

Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, and getting all the roles that Paul Bettany is now too old for) makes the journey well from nice but naive employee to a much more world-wise freedom-fighter.  Swedish-born Alicia Vikander, currently also leading in “Testament of Youth”, is deliciously sensual as Ava (albeit – and trust me to notice this – that her significant assets seem to vary in size during the movie). She is also an excellent actress, having to reflect a wide range of emotions through little else than her eyes.

After she'd put a thousand cars together, she got the rest of the day off
After she’d put a thousand cars together, she got the rest of the day off

The writer and director is Alex Garland, and this is actually his impressive directorial debut – he is best known as a writer, having penned the novel of “The Beach” and the screenplays for films including “28 Days Later”, “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go”. Also hats off to the special effects crew (led by Richard Conway) since Ava is a miracle of visual effects.   

The glow stick diet was really starting to produce results for Ava.
The glow stick diet was really starting to produce results for Ava.

The effective keyboard score is by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.

I really enjoyed this film.  However, that is on the basis that Science Fiction is one of my favourite genres:  I can see some audiences finding the philosophical plotting too slow and wordy to hold their interest. But if you like your films deep and thought-provoking, as well as deliciously tense in places, then this might be for you.  The film also doesn’t outstay its welcome, leaving some loose ends to ponder on after the lights come on and the screeching song over the end credits (sorry… it’s just AWFUL!) drives you from the auditorium.  Also be aware that for those offended by full frontal female nudity, or indeed those that enjoy it, there is a good deal of it in this film. (Lads,  practise the excuse now:  “But it’s fine dear – – she’s not a naked women… she’s a robot!”).

Fad Rating: FFFF.


4 thoughts on “One Mann’s Movies Film Review: Ex Machina (2015)

  1. Thanks for commenting – appreciated. Yes, in retrospect I think even with 4 ‘Fads’ I think I was a bit harse – this is one of the films I keep thinking of, and already have it on DVD pre-order!

  2. While it’s 100% true that “She is also an excellent actress, having to reflect a wide range of emotions through little else than her eyes.”, I think Scarlet Johansson (Her, 2013) achieved much more with much less – just a voice. That should have been the movie to compare Ex Machina with. The movie, with its claustrophobic setting and somewhat stiff acting demanded of the stunning and talented Vikander, took away more points than it added to her profile. The plot did flow (albeit jerkily) but the philosophical arguments were too many and too random to effectively trigger true reflection. “Her” left me wondering “What if? Will the world really get to that point?” and in love with the beautiful Johansson, “Ex Machina” left me thinking “Smart B****” (YES – way too many gender issues in the movie too). And the suspense in the ending, it took me back to the house to wonder what Caleb would come up with next … not following Ava’s trajectory to ponder the pandora’s box that she would apparently unleash in the real world. Both directions, however, do offer a real chance for a sequel, if only to save the franchise.

    The positive – Vikander’s almost flawless physical features were perfect for her “brand new robot” part. Ava is however too cold to be called beautiful, just flawless. Sian Grigg (make-up) did a great job.

    All said, the movie is good and “brimming with potential”.

    1. Thanks for commenting. You’re right that Johansson did a knockout job in “Her”. Perhaps Johansson’s closest match to Vikander’s performance though would be her cold and impersonal role as the alien in the ‘love it/hate it’ film “Under the Skin”. As for a sequel, I’d vote a big no to that… sometimes classic films (and I think this will grow to be a cult Sci-fi classic) are best left as isolated events.

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