Ex Machina Review: Evolution vs. Humanity

Photo Credit:http://variety.com/2015/film/global/film-review-ex-machina-1201405717/

The science fiction genre is often used to tell stories about humanity losing control and going too far. Ex Machina is a similar tale, but never one that criticizes forward thinking and technological progress.

Last year’s messy Interstellar loudly foot the same foot forward. Ex Machina is a subtler, much more satisfying affair.

Director Alex Garland starts his debut feature with a scene from the perspective of a machine analyzing human features and reactions. We watch in silence as Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) learns he’s won a work lottery to visit the CEO’s private estate. Upon arrival, we meet Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the lonely, seemingly alcoholic pioneer behind a fictionalized Google substitute. He quickly reveals his intention to have Caleb test his latest work: a highly advanced, humanoid artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander). She’s a charming technological advancement that lets Caleb in on the fact that she knows she’s in a prison.

If you’ve seen any classic sci fi films featuring AI self-awareness, some of the plot points will be familiar to you. At the most basic level, Ex Machina is by no means original. But its ideas on its subject are a lot fresher. This is a film that uses technology to unsettle you, only to later flip it and encourage the evolution of both humanity and technology, even suggesting that one day those will be one in the same. The movie isn’t about a killer robot, it’s about a species fighting for a chance.

But Ex Machina doesn’t get by on ideas alone. Gleeson, Isaac, and Vikander are all exceptional in their roles. As the characters twist all their agendas, a slow burn tension builds to a suitably quiet climax. Some ill-placed comic relief gets in the way here and there, but the dramatic beats hit pretty hard despite it. Then there’s a perfect ending to the film five minutes before it actually ends. The extraneous time does no damage to the impact of the story, it’s just unnecessary.

So while Ex Machina is by no means perfect, it still comes out on top as one of the most fascinating sci fi films of the decade so far. It helps that Garland and his cast and crew are firing on all cylinders to make this story sing. If only all genre films were this good. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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