Ex Machina (2014)
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Ex Machina is the best science fiction film on artificial intelligence since Blade Runner. While Blade Runner is an action thriller that relies more on it's epic visuals to tell it's story, Ex Machina is a dialogue-driven psychological thriller that slowly works it's way under your skin. Thought-provoking and terrifyingly suspenseful, an induced state of paranoia may linger long after the end credits begin to roll.
The less you know going into a film like this, the better your experience will be. Alex Garland has given us a modern science-fiction masterpiece. Performances from all three leads are flawless and every other aspect of the production, from the cinematography to the soundtrack, is perfectly suited for the story. Not only is Ex Machina an amazing achievement for a directorial debut, it's Alex Garland's best written work to-date.
The increasingly omnipresent Oscar Isaac plays billionaire Nathan Bates, genius creator of 'Google' - my mistake - 'BlueBook', the world's "leading search engine". Bates lives in the middle of the American wilderness (in reality, a very picturesque Norway) and in a property that actually exists (BlueBook the Juvet Hotel). He is leading a one-man research project into the development of an 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.
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 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. 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 (as covered by the trailer): how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. (No rain or doves are included in this one).
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. 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.
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 writer and director is Alex Garland, and this is actually his impressive directorial debut. He is of course 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 effective keyboard score is by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury.
The film pleasingly doesn't outstay its welcome, also leaving some loose ends to ponder on after the lights come on and the screeching credits song (sorry, but 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, that 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!").
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Quiet dialogue scenes between two characters are filmed in such an impactful, making them feel hauntingly austere, sweet and innocent, or terrible and frightening, through meticulous use of composition, light and sound. The film really does run the gamut of emotions, surprisingly funny one minute and gut-wrenchingly tense and weird the next, while the script twists and turns, constantly unsettling your assumptions about what will happen.
The performances are excellent, most notably Alicia Vikander as the beguiling Ava, who absolutely passes for being 'almost human'. Her precise movements -walking, standing or stooping to pull on a pair of stockings- have just that slight tinge of the uncanny about them to suggest a mechanical skeleton, yet she is undeniably seductive. You can really understand Caleb's mental plight as she begins to show signs of a sexual interest in him!
Domhnall Gleeson also delivers a quiet and focused performance as Caleb, which reflects much of the film's over all style. Like Ava, he is relatable, yet has this slight autistic aloofness about him, in complete contrast to the boorish, reckless Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
The dialogue feels real and non-cliché. The pacing for the most part is measured, although one or two scenes might move a little slower than they need to.
The ending probably will not satisfy everyone, and admittedly left me a feeling a bit cold, but it certainly didn't follow the route I was expecting. Overall I found it to be enthralling and disturbing stuff.
Despite contributing several scripts for the screen, this is writer Alex Garland's first directorial effort. It's a hard sci-fi movie which examines concepts and ideas above everything else. That's not to say it isn't dramatic or even thrilling because it is both of those things as well but the focus is squarely on the science fiction speculation, and this is a very welcome thing. The central concept that it examines is artificial intelligence. How we interact with AI as humans, as well as how a seductive machine could in turn manipulate us. The very well written script poses philosophical questions such as is there moral or immoral ways to treat AI. It also considers if sometimes part of being human is that we sometimes subconsciously want to be fooled by an illusion, if it is attractive enough.
In many ways Ex Machina resembles last years Under the Skin. Both feature highly advanced female non-humans. In the earlier film Scarlett Johansson played an alien, here Alicia Vikander plays an android. While the very small cast all acquit themselves very well, it is Vikander who stands out in the film's most challenging role. It's a nuanced performance that captures the fine balance between the human-like and machine. Not only this but the marvellous special effects compliment this performance to create a very distinctive character. Aside from the effects, this is probably quite a modestly budgeted film, as the small little-known cast and limited sets suggest. But these restrictions have been used to the films advantage, as the unknown cast surprise more given little is known of them and the restricted setting gives off a claustrophobic feel which works well, while forcing us to focus in even more on the ideas being put in front of us. A scene setting ambient soundtrack additionally creates just the right off-kilter mood to accentuate the events. But it's ultimately the very good writing that underpins the success of this film. All-in-all, very impressive science fiction for those who appreciate the genre's more cerebral side.
The movie is's self is engaging, thoroughly watchable, the characters are simple and yet layered with complexity. The film strikes the perfect balance of not spoon feeding and not dumbing down but not being too arty or intellectual just for the sake of it.
Best seen in a cinema I reckon.
From the moment, we arrive at Caleb's estate something seems very off-putting, he clearly is hiding something. And for the entire movie, as we explore his compound things slowly get more off-putting and stirring before boiling over during a wonderful climax. The deception between the two human characters is what makes the movie exciting, both men seem to be playing one another for unknown reasons. And as Nathan begins to understand more and more of what really is taking place in the house the tension rises and secrets unfold. Characters motives and beliefs are slowly unraveled and some seem more logical than others, but that's why the movie works, every character has sound reasons for their actions. The movie makes strong arguments for both sides of the A.I. equation.
However, the movie might be too slow for most audience members, as I said this is a movie where ideas shine not action sequences. Not only do ideas shine, but the acting out of the three leads is incredible to say the least! But it's this move (moving away from action and letting ideas flourish) that makes Ex Machina shine and worthy of being labeled a future sci-fi classic!
The story is a modern telling of Bluebeard's Castle as the correct version of Beauty and the Beast. In other words, it seems to be about impotence. Except that this is geek love, love at an impossible distance, that is eroticism. And the movie itself tells you all you need to know about eros.
The insight. Ex Machina is ostensibly about Turing's Test, the thesis that a machine might be so human as to fool a human being. Does Ava pass this test? Depends on how you perceive the test. Ex Machina actually implies a more relevant Test: could a machine seem so human as to make the human being inteacting with it come to believe that he himself is a machine?
And the insight? It might be that the solution to the AI/human interface may not involve the humanising of robots, but the robotisation of humans.
Only 8/10 because it is not clear that this insight was actually part of the plot. But whether you find eros or AI in this movie, you will have a rewarding journey.
Featuring Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, the stars of the upcoming Star Wars adventure, plus talented newcomer, Alicia Vikander – who stars in three films this month; Ex_Machina is quite well profuse.
Jumping right in, we are introduced to Caleb (Gleeson), a twenty- four year old coder who wins a chance to spend a week at his CEO bosses luxury house. Travelling for many hours over his private estate via helicopter, he arrives at a remote mountain villa. Where he meets Nathan (Isaac) – a prodigy programmer, who at the young age of thirteen created the foundations of Bluebook (our equivalent to Google and Apple combined). Now, middle-aged and extremely wealthy from his companies growing success, he lives a reclusive life at his custom-built smart house, which is insulated by intelligent automated features and billionaire gadgets.
Addressing the concept that life is different at this remote location – which is more of a research facility - Nathan invites Caleb to be part of an experience during his one week stay. An experiment that he classes as the greatest discovering of mankind; to test the world's first artificial intelligence system, which is housed inside the body of a beautiful robot girl (Alicia Vikander).
Of course, the AI' concept has been tackled many of times in contemporary film - most recently in Wally Pfister's directorial- flop, Transcendence. In reality, the closest thing we have to it is Siri. Yet, Garland's vision of AI is extraordinarily superior and physiologically mesmerising to witness.
For Domnhall Gleeson, the premise of his character is similar to that of his characters once played in Frank, or About Time – one that is thrown into a portal of unknown weirdness, and often out of his depth. Over the seven days of testing, Caleb must perform the scientific 'Turing test' on Nathan's AI' system, nicknamed Ava; the idea of which is to deduce God-like theories and philosophical concepts – do robots feel a consciousness? If disguised, would you know it is a robot? Is it ethical?
It's heavy material for Garland, but no stranger to psycho- thrillers, he explores futuristic concepts as if AI's really do exist. Equally, the craft behind Ex_Machina is exceptional. A beautiful piano theme plays methodically, with often mix of silence setting the unique atmosphere. Whilst mainly set inside Nathan's enclosed premise (with no windows), the camera work is mounted aesthetically.
Now, in her third film this month, Alicia Vikander shows that she is able to tackle any form of performance with extreme clause. Whether she is a young-women coming of age during World War One (Testament of Youth), a love-interest of a criminal (Son of A Gun), or now a robot, she is outstanding. Fluxed movements, and facial expressions through seamless CGI, she steals all scenes present.
Compressed into an impressive 1 hour 48 minute running time - considering the ground it has to cover for such a serious sci-fi drama, Ex_Machina, still manages to find time for sublime humour. Taut, fascinating and simply intriguing. Alex Garland's debut film comes highly recommended.
In brief: four characters, one location, excellent dialog, clever script, good acting. This is film-making.
It is a thought provoking, a bit eerie, and leaves you with a "holy crap" feeling when its done. When it ended I was like "who wrote this? what else has he done so far. gotta watch it"..
They did so much in this film with such a small budget. In a better world this movie would be celebrated in cinemas worldwide and not left for torrent down-loaders.
Warm recommendation! :)
A few notes:
2. As far as AI goes, this is the film that Spielberg wishes he would have made. It covers the same weighty questions but in a way that grabs the viewer by the throat and doesn't let go until the very end.
3. The I/B (impact to budget ratio) is off the chart. A full length feature that has what, 3 major characters, the same set, and some nice CGI? The backer who wrote the first check must have been crying tears of joy because they were in profit before the cameras rolled.
5. Not merely a thinking-mans sci-fi, also a horror flick. Riffs off themes from classics like ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (where the daughter of the mad scientist is much more than she seems) and even the original Dracula (where the innocent young man gets invited to a castle for a job and discovers the owner and his servants are more than they seem).
7. Director Alex Garland is a force to be reckoned with.
8. Riffs off Sleuth (1972) where two men who are having seemingly simple conversations end up in a battle of wits.
9. Is it just me or is Oscar Issac as Nathan channelling Mandy Patinkin from Homeland, including voice mannerisms, even the beard?
10. Also borrows from Frankenstein (the created wanted to destroy the creator) and even Pinocchio (the puppet who wanted to become a real boy).
11. The pacing is extraordinary. It never peaks or plateaus. Every time you think you know what is coming, it just takes the story up a notch.
12. Even the ending -- a riff on the "cuckolded boyfriend" -- is unexpected and mesmerizing.
13. Cinematography is breathtaking. Musical score is perfect.
14. Did I mention Wow?
While Ex_Machina deals with the old aged staple of A.I and the pitfalls of it and what it means to be a human, not a machine, Garland operates his tale with a pinpoint accuracy that mines tension and intrigue from the films first frame to its last and creates a small scale vision that feels entirely in a world of its own. Garland's vision is a sight to behold and his direction is not far removed from the works of greats such as Kubrick, while Machina largely takes place within the confines of reclusive tech genius Nathan Bateman's stunningly designed home/ research facility, there is much visually wonderment to be found wherever you look. From the beautiful surrounds of the wilderness outside, the handle-less rooms that operate Nathan's lavish digs through to the flawless design of Ava the artificial being at the centre of this cautionary tale, Garland has created a small scale yet undeniably impressive universe that manages to mix the smarts, the visuals and the performances into one.
Filled with heart and humour (a trademark of Garland's works) Ex_Machina features what will be one of the years most accomplished trio of acting turns with well-rounded and pitch perfectly played acting turns. In another sign that he is quickly becoming as good as his father, Domnhall Gleeson plays kindly tech guru Caleb with the right amount of smarts and heart while his scenes with his upcoming Star Wars co-star Oscar Isaac are brimming with underlying motives and tension suggesting that their pairing in this year's space adventure will be a sight to behold. Isaac shows off a dark side to his growing screen powers and his Nathan is in equal measure sad and dangerous and while the two leads excel, they along with the film itself pale in comparison to Vikander's star making turn.
With a beguiling beauty and a truly remarkable ability to possess the charms of a human and the persona of an artificially created living entity, Vikander's Ava is without doubt one of the year's most stunning creations in both a CGI sense and characterization sense. Ava's "sessions" with awe struck Caleb may be purely dialogue driven but it's here that Garland's study of the not too distant A.I advancement comes to its greatest fruition and it's in no small way built almost entirely on Vikander's turn, as Ava is hers through and through, thanks to motion capture abilities. While it's some time off one would hope that Ava see's Vikander find just rewards come awards season but Ex_Machina may be slightly to left of centre for the sadly outdated and out of touch Awards ceremonies that dominate the industry.
While it's not flawless, some motivations and scenarios remain somewhat underdeveloped or questionable; Ex_Machina is a stunning Sci-Fi vision that is also a fully formed thinking man's thriller. With a jaw droopingly good turn from the soon to be megastar Vikander, Ex_Machina is another excellent example of what makes the Sci-Fi genre such a harbourer of thought provoking classics and further proof that Garland is one of the most consistently good storytellers working in the industry today.
4 and a half dancing showcases out of 5
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The CEO give impression of someone who have reached too much too fast and is not even interested in what he have created (did he really create the AI?). So... he decent to having sex with the previous IA models, get drunk, and boring thoughts.
Caleb start impressed by what he see in Ava, but soon loose the admiration, as he see the CEO as someone who do create something unique for then to destroy it - which starts a conflict inside of him.
I guess the director try to make the movie deep (drama) and controversial, but the acting is too stiff and the dialogs are ... (to me) boring. OK, I have 40 years experience in AI and read about all I could get hands on, so I am not impressed by some transparent robot with a 'deep' ping-pong dialog.
That the CEO place is far away from everywhere, that he is drunk, creating something special, and a partly naive outsider is there to evaluate Ava makes potential for a great movie, but .... I am not impressed.
After ca 70 minutes it start to be ridiculous and more boring. The movie have 'tense' music to build up suspense (drama), but it don't work for me.
What so many critics praised as "minimalist", I found shallow: A one-dimensional, clearly ego-maniacal villain creates a flawlessly sympathetic A.I., with whom our equally-flawless protagonist cements an attachment. That, plus a fairly pedestrian game of cat-and-mouse between our 'tagonists, followed by an unsatisfying ending, defines the bulk of this film.
What so many critics praised as "thought-provoking", I found nonsensical. The chance to parlay the dichotomy between evolved vs. designed intelligence through Ava's character was squandered by the decision to render her ultimate motives entirely inscrutable: a contrivance that may have been---but should not have been---the point. There were times when this film showed real promise, the potential to give real weight to the blurred line between human and synthetic self-awareness that will doubtless challenge us in years to come... but, alas, in service to its Pollock-painting motifs, it chose easy ambiguity over genuine insight.
Superficially, this film is meaningful: It certainly tackles the questions of intelligence, of person-hood, of agency and of sentience in a world where all of the above can be designed by a psychopath.
Unfortunately, those questions are damn important ones to tackle... and, in the end, "Ex Machina" in no way does them justice.
But soon the movie breaks down into a series of boring interviews with the robot (Ava). The billionaire (Nathan) lives a lonely life with his human(?) servants where he tinkers in his lab and spends his off-time drinking copious amounts of alcohol and then pummelling punching bags and pumping iron in order to detox from the booze.
But here are the logic disconnect/plot-holes.
1) If Nathan wanted Caleb to evaluate his latest humanoid "model" then why is Ava incomplete with missing "flesh" exposing her electronic circuitry
2) Why would Nathan allow his power system to be vulnerable to interference from Ava where she can talk privately with Caleb thus possibly undermining Nathan's plans?
3) Why would Nathan live all alone in a compound without any security guards ?
4) One night Nathan passes out drunk thus allowing Caleb to get his access card allowing him to reprogram the security measures of the building. You would think thatNathan wouldn't use something so "old-school" like a plastic card thatcould easily be stolen. How about biometrics instead that would make itvirtually impossible to have any security breaches.
5) In the end Nathan is stabbed to death by one of the robots. One would think that he could have programmed to NOT commit violence on his person.
6) Eventually Ava gains her freedom by playing Caleb and goes to the Robot storage room. Needing to look more human she strips off faux skin from an Asian model. Did the thought occur to her or the writer that the skin from an Asian wouldn't match hers.
7) When the day comes for Caleb to be airlifted by helicopter from the high-tech hideaway Ava struts out to take Caleb's place on the helicopter. You would think that the pilot would be suspicious about picking up a young woman instead of the computer nerd he was supposed to: duh.
In short this movie is nothing more than eye-candy set in an exotic locale with a few titillating nude scenes.
To me it seems most directors aren't good writers. This movie would have been much better if Caleb himself was actually a robot and he was summoned to Nathan's hideaway for HIS ultimate evaluation. Caleb, realizing his situation conspires with the other robots and kills Nathan where they all exist together in seclusion or eventually find some way to escape.
Where to start with this one hmmmmm. The movie explores the already over navigated "what if AI was created" however unlike most movies that question should it be created this one throws you full into "oh we did it already and here is a brief explanation on how we did it".
The premise is weak to say the least with our main characters having no real reason to be doing anything they are doing other than they can.
Caleb is a young tech savy man who we learn more or less is picked to be part of an experiment with Ava and Jay. Throughout the film we learn very little about him other than he has no family and has the hots for Ava. Sadly this is the least thought out character in the film even though it depends on him to carry us through what we are watching.
Jay is a genius with an apparent drinking issue and a very bland personality. His motives for making AI can basically be summed up as him wanting fame and money and that's about it. Through the film you learn these robots are ehem full functional females and yes that does mean he is sleeping with one. Aside from the otter non sense that this one man has created several robots on his own with full functional AI he gives you the ending to the film with roughly 20 mins still left in it. Whoever decided to have Jay basically say outright what if this is all a setup and then end the movie that way should be fired and kicked out of Hollywood.
This brings us to Ava who honestly has nothing going for her. Shes a robot who manipulates everything and walks out as the last man standing. No reason is given for why she does what she does other then what Jay says and that's about all we know.
To me the film felt rushed and incomplete neither saying why AI was created or where its going. It was simply we made robots, the robots are free and everything you wanted to happen isn't going to happen.
AI has been a recurring theme in sci-fi movies for some time now with varying degrees of plot and execution quality. I feel this movie aces both.
A secluded environment and very good original music set the mood for full focus on story and character development. The plot twists time and time again as an intelligence power-play is delivered with very good performances by this little known cast. Character development feels perfect as each one gains depth without loosing essence.
From a sci-fi point of view, it's not you're typical FX based movie, nor is it an action film. Nevertheless some very good effects and acting make for an excellent merge between fact and fiction that lets you concentrate on the philosophical questions the movie asks about the nature of AI.
Conclusion: I'd recommend this film to anyone. Though warning it concentrates on the brain rather than the muscle. Excellent movie.
In Ex Machina, a human being, Nathan, creates artificial human beings, specifically artificially intelligent female robots, for his own purposes, and then feels entitled to kill them off when their existence is no longer convenient, even though the robots are genuinely sentient, conscious, self-conscious beings. The protagonist, a biological human male, becomes close to a female robot, partly through sexual attraction, and decides to rescue her from her scheduled death.
Perhaps it's just an accident of what I've read, but surprisingly few of the gushing reviews I've read of Ex Machina take notice of the fact that so much of its plot is borrowed from one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Of course there are plot differences. Most notably, Ex Machina raises more explicit issues about gender, although reviewers differ whether it is the movie that is sexist or only the character that produces the female robots or both. In any case, it appears that part of Nathan's mission is to produce a perfect female companion, which to him means one that serves you and has sex with you and is incapable of answering back. There is a trace of this theme in Blade Runner, in the character of Pris, a replicant whose job is to serve as a prostitute, but it is much fainter.
Even more notable, however, are the differences in what the two films do with the material. Both movies raise basic philosophical issues about whether biological human beings are different from replicants/robots in any morally important ways. Both raise issues about what it means to be a material and therefore a mortal being. But Blade Runner reflects on these issues in intelligent and moving ways. Rachael's anguish at discovering that her precious childhood memories are not really her own, for instance, raises exactly the sort of question that philosophers of person identity like to think about: Suppose that you are about to lose your memory through an illness. The doctors, however, are able to scan your brain now, and using that scan to copy your memories back into your brain when you recover. Would those memories really be any more your own than Rachael's? The replicants also discuss their attitudes towards death. By contrast, all we know about the robot in Ex Machina is that she plots to use the hero to help her escape her death, which is exactly what she was programmed to do.
More generally, in Ex Machina, the philosophical themes are only brushed on lightly as a way of trying to pass off as a serious film what is essentially an adolescent boy's fantasy - lots of special effects, naked nubile females, and guys drinking beer. And an adolescent boy's nightmare: being tricked by female characters who are essentially manipulative, think of nothing but sex and how to use it to get their own ends, and with whom one therefore can never form a genuine bond.
Skip Ex Machina. It's not worth watching even once. Stay home and stream Blade Runner again instead.
The problem with "Ex Machina" plain and simple, is that it lacks suspense. The protagonist is one Caleb, a computer programmer who works for "Bluebook," the world's popular search engine which presumably has replaced Google in the future. Caleb is invited by Nathan, the firm's CEO, to his secluded, "hi-tech" mountain retreat where he is asked to perform a "Turing test," on Nathan's sexy (CGI altered) android, Ava. The test involves determining whether the android's "artificial intelligence" is so advanced, that Caleb is unable to distinguish human from non-human responses.
You would think that Oscar Isaac who plays Nathan would be some kind of cool, Steve Jobs character with a touch of Machiavelli. But unfortunately Issac plays Nathan as a bully without a trace of subtlety. Is it Garland's lack of talent as a screenwriter or Issac's own boorish performance that brands Isaac as one of the worst actors of the year?
You'll probably guess that the one-note Nathan plans to wipe Ava's memory clean and Caleb will try to help escape from the sealed-in compound. Caleb also discovers that Nathan's personal assistant, Kyoto, is also an android and he also has her "confined to base."
At a certain point, Nathan learns of his collusion with Ava and warns Caleb that her plans to "spring the joint" will not involve him. But somehow Caleb anticipates Nathan's uncovering of their plot and disables the compound's security system. Part of the climax is predictable: Nathan further shows off his bad guy credentials by killing Kyoto and ripping Ava's arm off, in an attempt to kill her. But of course the robot is too smart for the bully and stabs him to death.
The only twist is that Nathan was right: Ava somehow escapes the retreat and leaves poor schnook Caleb, to die, locked inside Nathan's "campus."
As Porky Pig would say, "That's it, folks!" If your thing is one dimensional villains, then "Ex Machina" is for you. Even the twist of a sexy but unfeeling android, who leaves an undeserved protagonist to "twist in the wind," is hardly much of a "deus ex machina," to get excited about!
Now, isn't that a variation of what movies (and fiction in general) do? They show us characters we know aren't real, and yet for a couple of hours we believe in them, root for them, bestow our empathy on them. There is an interesting meta layer, with Ava beguiling Caleb just as Garland's disquieting script captivates us viewers.
Ex Machina succeeds thanks to strong character work and excellent performances. Gleeson is fine as the audience surrogate; lovely Vikander is both vulnerable and uncanny as Ava; Isaac, who is becoming one of the best actors of his generation, absolutely kills it as smug demiurge Nathan, a brilliant man hiding a sinister streak behind is cool bro facade.
What might have been interesting is if we got to experience the development process to get to the point of AI, not the physical so much, but the cerebral...that might have been interesting. Instead. we get this pretty robot, which looked like a cross between the robots of "A.I." and "I Robot", with a fully formed intellect. The movie spends most of its time reinforcing what we already know from the first session between Ava and Caleb which is, , "Yup....she's an AI all right...now what?". They blathered on about the Turing Test, and didn't do anything close to it...which they didn't need to because it was darned obvious that she was and AI...or close enough for a movie.
So that takes up most of the movie...that which wasn't taken up with shots of the cold, stark, orderly interior of the house/lab and contrasting shots of beautiful, untamed wilderness outside. It was subtle, but I think they were trying to make a statement right there.
As if to add insult to injury, one of the main characters, Caleb, had no purpose in the movie at all...his absence would have changed nothing. The scientist knew everything that was going on and correctly predicted the outcomes of everybody's actions. Yet, and this is a hoot, he couldn't figure out why the power kept going out in his house/lab. He could have made a call to the local power company, but no, he assumed that this annoyance didn't need the investigative time or effort it would take to make that call. It was kind of a big part of the plot...yet the very practical and easy solution was completely ignored. When you miss something that obvious, it's difficult to take anything else seriously.
I'm not going to give you the plot because you'll be able to guess it within about 15 seconds of seeing Ava. It looked good, but it wasn't good. It has only been out a week or so and there were exactly 5 people in the theatre. We talked on the way going out and we all came to the same conclusion; It just wasn't very good. You'll get much more watching any of the other movies I mentioned, even AI, which owned the previous low spot on the AI scale, until Ex Machina. It gets a 4 only because of the very good CGI.