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‘Ex Machina’ an unoriginal take on artificial intelligence

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(Universal Pictures)

(Universal Pictures)

“Ex Machina” is a mildly entertaining movie that, put very simply, should be better than it is. Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Ex Machina” desperately wants to be a deeply thought-provoking film but manages only to bring to mind better, more intelligent films like Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

Like “Her” and countless other artificial intelligence films, “Ex Machina” focuses on the relationship between a lonely human man and a newly created artificially intelligent female machine. It takes place in the not too distant future and has a disapproving eye to society’s reliance on technology.

“Ex Machina” has a total of four characters: Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), Nathan (Oscar Isaac), Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). The film opens as Caleb, a computer programmer working for the world’s largest search engine company, Bluebook, discovers that he has won a companywide lottery to meet Nathan, Bluebook’s eccentric and elusive CEO. He is flown out to Nathan’s high-tech fortress in the mountains where he is to spend the week getting to know his boss.

Almost immediately, Nathan tells Caleb the real purpose for their meeting: Nathan wants Caleb to perform a test on his newest creation in order to determine whether or not Nathan has successfully imbued it with artificial intelligence. The creation is a female robot named Ava. As soon as Caleb begins to talk to Ava, a romantic relationship starts to form between them. As the film develops this relationship, it also explores Nathan’s nefarious purposes for creating an A.I., his evil intentions for the technology, his treatment of Ava, his alcoholism and the story behind his mysterious, speechless butler, Kyoko.

Like “Her,” “Ex Machina” really begins to fall apart in its third act, where it shamelessly gives way to nearly all of the tropes of the genre. Humans turn out to be robots, robots turn out to be human inside and Nathan doesn’t have as much control over his own technology as he thinks. Throughout the film, various plot twists and story beats are presented as if to say, “Shocker! Betcha didn’t see that one coming!” An observant viewer will have predicted every plot point from the moment Ava is introduced into the film.

The most bizarre and off-putting aspect of “Ex Machina” is its casting. Every decision made by the film’s casting department seems odd. Isaac and Gleeson are two of the best actors working today. Isaac gave a monumental performance in the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and has since been terrific in such movies as “A Most Violent Year” and “The Two Faces of January.” Gleeson was incredibly charming and moving in “About Time,” convincingly naive and impressionable in “Frank” and chillingly creepy in a cameo performance opposite his father in “Calvary.” However, both of their work in “Ex Machina” leaves a lot to be desired.

In “Llewyn Davis,” “A Most Violent Year” and “January,” Isaac gave very intense, heavy performances and was spectacular. The intensity of his “Ex Machina” character, Nathan, on the other hand, is supposed to come through with his almost exaggerated nonchalance. Therefore, “Ex Machina” has Isaac saying “dude” quite often, talking very casually and getting sloshed. The one thing Isaac barely gets to portray in “Ex Machina” is his specialty – intensity. Therefore, his performance, unfortunately, is unremarkable.

However, what really gets me mad is what “Ex Machina” does to Gleeson. He is an Irish actor, and has played an Englishman very well in many of his previous films. His English accent in “About Time” is extremely charming and is a large part of what makes that performance work so well. The same goes for his accent in “Frank.” Here, however, Gleeson does a terrible American accent that drains all his ample charisma and charm, rendering him a blank slate.

The casting of Vikander as Ava is understandable. She has a perpetually curious and innocent expression, which fits very well with the new A.I. However, curiosity and innocence are just about all Vikander can do. This becomes a problem when Ava begins to do things that seem out of character, and Vikander’s performance does not give us any hints at her motivations. As a result, Vikander’s contributions to the film’s ending feel unearned and unnatural.

“Ex Machina” is a subpar robot A.I. movie in more ways than one. The special effects for Ava are very good, but much of the other CGI in the film is pretty shabby (scenes involving a stabbing are particularly egregious). Bad CGI, unfortunate casting choices and lousy derivative plotting add up to the very forgettable movie that “Ex Machina” is.

Eli Fine can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ElazarFine.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “‘Ex Machina’ an unoriginal take on artificial intelligence”

  1. Phil on May 4th, 2015 4:03 pm

    9 out of 10 people are raving about this movie. I think I found the other “1”. How does it feel to be an outlier and to give an inaccurate review – because you don’t understand the movie or do not like the subject matter? The criticism concerning Gleeson was not relevant. The question should be whether he portrays his character accurately, not whether if he has the right accent. Also, after this thing wins some Oscars, perhaps even for best film, will you retract your review then?

    I have not seen Gleeson in other roles, so I fortunately did not have that bias when I watched the movie.

  2. Able Mabel on May 6th, 2015 9:26 pm

    Dear Phil,
    When I first read your comment, I was sipping a mocha latte down at the cafe. So dismayed was I to read your insightless and plebeian take on this charmless movie that I spat a mouthful of sugary liquid down the front of my blouse. Your blithe statement about the value of groupthink as regards artistic criticism is symptomatic of a larger problem with the millennial generation. What with your tight pants and your Chipotles, you seem to misunderstand the value of an individual (and in this case i believe, quite clear-headed) point of view. An Academy Award does not a good a film make. Besides, I very much doubt that this “dick-flick” will ever be considered a possible nominee for an Oscar by even the most dimwitted and dementia-addled Hollywood dinosaur.
    Best,
    Mabel

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