Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a fantastic science fiction flick.
The films written by Garland have been some of my favorite for the last decade and more. Sunshine and Dredd are two of my all-time favorite films. Almost all of his work has been critically received, and he’s even written one of the better stories for a video game, with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. And now with Ex Machina, Garland has stepped into the realm of directing.
The film follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a talented programmer working for the film’s version of Google, called Bluebook. Caleb wins a lottery to spend a week, and work, with the company’s recluse founder, Nathan (Oscar Issac). Upon arriving at Nathan’s secure, and secretive, compound, Caleb is welcomed by a bizarre man, who deftly balances a casual and drunken spirit with the mind of a genius. This genius is quickly illustrated by Ava.
Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, is a highly advanced Artificial Intelligence. Caleb soon understands he’s been brought to the facility to test Ava, and determine whether it (she?) is a legitimate consciousness, or just software. Not satisfied by creating an A.I. for Caleb to communicate with, Nathan has given her a body, albeit robotic and with mostly mechanical visible pieces. Still, her face is real, creating natural reactions and expressions, making the interactions between Caleb and Ava all the more unsettling. As Caleb gets to know both Nathan and Ava better, he grow more and more interested, and concerned, with the intentions of both.
Ex Machina‘s examination of people and personality is incredible. Even with it’s wrapper of a science fiction film, it’s heart lies with it’s exploration of Caleb, Nathan, and Ava, who all are very different, and exhibit different actions, passions, and reactions. It’s greatest strength of the film, and makes it captivating from start to finish. Special props to Oscar Issac, who delivers an incredible performance, with one light-hearted sequence stealing the show.
The supporting role of the film goes to the wonderful special effects work done for Ava. In nearly every shot she appears in, some portion of her is CG, and the integration of the effects is phenomenal. It’s subtle, allowing you to stay engaged with the story and characters, and not be distracted by outlandish creations.
If I could fault the film in any way, it would be that a couple of moments near the end feel a little derivative from the rest of the journey. Still, the finale holds up, and is well deserved.
I love science fiction. It most situations – books, films, video games – a sci-fi basis will often draw my attention more than any other genre. Ex Machina is the kind of science fiction I absolutely love, and a fresh break from typical, action heavy films of this genre (even though I’m pumped for Age of Ultron). I’m truly happy that Ex Machina is being received so well, and with it’s newly expanded theatrical release, you owe it to yourself to go check it out.