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Movie Review: Ex Machina (Spoiler Free)

Updated on July 19, 2015

Spoiler-Free

By Spoiler Free, I mean there is absolutely no telling of the plot rather than the opening synopsis.

That being said, I urge you not to watch the link for the primary trailer of this film as it reveals a scene that will compromise your expectations for the film. If you don't care about being spoiled, or forget details of trailers easily, feel free to watch it at your own leisure.

Movie Poster for the Film

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Initial Impression

Originally I was very pumped to see this film. Written and directed by Alex Garland (who also wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, quite possibly my favorite infected-centered cinematic franchise), the trailers build up such an intense atmosphere to really sell it as a sci-fi thriller. In the end, it was everything I thought it would be. I'd say it was that and more, but I already had such high hopes for it. The film simply delivered on its premise expertly.

Make no mistake, this is a thinking movie, potentially the last before the latest wave of summer blockbusters and mindlessly fun action flicks hit us.

The Plot and Synopsis

A young employee who works for the world's largest search engine company called Bluebook (couchGooglecough), wins a drawing where he gets to spend a weekend at the CEO's home retreat. After making the trip to the super-elusive home/facility, he becomes part of a Turing Test with the CEO's attempt at creating a complete Artificial Intelligence. But, without spoiling anything, a huge number of questions unfold throughout the film until the very credits roll.

While the plot may not be the most unique aspect itself, the themes and environments bring home the thriller aspect of the film. Ava, who is the artificial intelligence, appears as the perfect blend of man and machine and is a real of a person as the human characters, while at the same time exhibiting qualities indicative of a machine. The main protagonist, Caleb, serves as an excellent medium for the audience's eyes, observing plots, subplots, and even potential plots smoothly to quell or incite the audience's interest. It's very well done and I never found myself bored or impatience during the film.

Caleb and Nathan

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Casting and Performance

I have had some experience with a few of the actors before, but never in this genre. For that reason, I was able to benefit from having any kind of expectation to their roles.

As mentioned before, Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson), serves as the perfect guide to the story, plugging us into his thoughts as he shares many of the audiences' own feelings, suspicions, and reactions. There isn't a tremendous amount to speak on about this character, although later on in the film his person and character are detailed a little more which helps explain the decisions he chooses to make.

The CEO Nathan Bateman is played by Oscar Isaac. As a brilliant coder who serves as Bluebook/Google's founder and CEO, he boasts a huge amount of money and has taken it to himself to create an artificial intelligence simply 'because artificial intelligence is an inevitability.' Isaac plays the character well, giving him a flickering charisma to add to his eccentricity and slight god-complex who always believes he's the smartest one in the room.

Finally there is the android Ava played by Alicia Vikander. Her character is hands down the very best performance as it requires a great deal of blurring the line of human and machine. She delivers her lines very well while hesitating just enough to simulate a processing. It's difficult to explain, but her performance in the film is superb.

Ava

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Visual Effects

They're not distracting in a bad way, which is the best thing one can say about special effects.

Furthermore, they're superb and given attention to such detail that I find pleasure in showing the mechanical purpose of some things. The film focuses more on ideas, conversations, and theories than it does for literal special effects however, so this film focuses more on Ava's presentation than anything else.

Rated R

There is some considerable full nudity of the female body, so be forewarned. Aside from the initial scene of nudity, most of the other scenes that display a gratuitous amount of skin are not sexual in nature, but take from that as you will.

There's also the use of profanity as well.

In essence, don't bring the family to watch the film or recommend it to ultra-conservatives.

Movie Trailer

Interesting Sub-Plots

There's considerable amount of attention given to a Polluck painting but I'm not entirely sure that I understood its importance.

But, as a more terrifying sub-plot, is the garnering of information. The CEO Nathan goes into detail about how he's taught Ava how to do facial mannerisms, language, and so forth. By using Google (or Bluebook as its called in the film), he's tapped into so much personal information and private data of customers of both his company and anyone with a phone. That access casually addressed in the film is frightening to say the least.

The film also is very self-aware. In a thriller such as this, it knows the audience expects a twist. While my wife and watched, we whispered to each other what we thought might actually happen, whether what people were actually AIs or normal humans, what actually happened off camera, and so forth. The film seemed to guess every scenario we came up with (we're quite chatty so there was quite a bit) and presented the possibility before addressing it. It's rare when you see a film level with the audience and more pointedly play with their assumptions on how things will play out, rather than just know its climatic moment and push towards it heedlessly.

Closing Thoughts

Watching this film reminds me of the first time I watched Spielberg's A.I. when I was a lot younger. It's fascinating to imagine what kind of process and line of thought an artificial intelligence displays and while many films have tried their hands at this, this particular film goes above and beyond. It's not just Vikander's performance, nor is it the special effects but a wonderful blend of the two.

But while this is, as I would call it, an intellectual film, it doesn't stop there. The very atmosphere and mysterious plot make it a great deal more accessible to those who like thrillers. The first half of the film could be called, at best, unnerving at moments but it's not until closer to the endgame do things start becoming more intense and hectic as is typical of a thriller.

As for its accessibility for age, the film goes for a more raw display which includes the nudity and sexual reference that will limit some viewers. On one hand, I would feel more comfortable recommending this film to more people were these scenes omitted or changed in a way to be less 'offensive.' Still, these scenes match the atmosphere and contribute to the environment of the film so I cannot mark it as an attempt to simply be 'edgier.'

Nevertheless, my summer has been kicked off by a fantastic film that didn't fail to deliver on my high expectations.

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TL;DR

  • Sci-fi thriller from the writer of 28 Days Later
  • Intellectual film that values ideas over special effects
  • Nudity and some profanity
  • Fantastic acting and eerie atmosphere
  • Would recommend

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Further Reading

Check out some of my other reviews of summer films in 2015.

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    • Travis W Wood profile image
      Author

      Travis Wood 2 years ago from Woodstock, Georgia

      I like the thought! It gives me some measure of closure at least.

    • profile image

      Teshaun 2 years ago

      It seemed to me the painting was supposed to represent the border between where does random end and purpose begin. A metaphor for life (and in this case AI): it seems to be sporadic while simultaneously and consciously deliberate.