“Ex Machina” is a visually exquisite and thought-provoking jigsaw of suspense and sexuality. It disturbs, it discombobulates, but most of all it captivates.
Deus Ex Machina
A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.
Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” is reminiscent of classic past works by icons of intelligent Sci-Fi, such as Stanley Kubrick, all the while bringing his own distinct, modern and highly-cerebral voice to the mainstream movie-goer. Garland also stays true to his title evoking the namesake, but in a most unique fashion.
With intelligent Sci-Fi favorites such as “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine” under his belt, Alex Garland has penned some of the smartest science fiction films of the past few decades, and debatably the last century. Aside from scripting and the stunning cinemascapes, Garland aptly casts three up-and-comers to bring to fruition his AI-centric vision. As Garland makes his debut in the director’s chair, it is no surprise that he has extended the same meticulous care he gives to his screenplays to his directorial approach. Garland’s penmanship lubricates the small, but highly entrancing, cast with his masterful pros blending the intricacies of nerd-speak with a more brutish bro-banter.
His most effective display of this amalgam of dialogue comes through with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the substance abusing genius search engine CEO of the fictitious company Blue Book. Isaac breathes life and a certain sense of swagger into Nathan, showing his talent for excelling at off-beat roles. Isaac’s Nathan elicits both admiration and disgust as his mysterious and hopelessly human character helps develop the complex tone of the film. Isaac has been around the block, so to speak, and shared screen-time with Hollywood headliners such as Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”) and Cate Blanchett (“Lord of the Rings”) in “Robin Hood” as well as Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar”) and David Oyelowo (“Selma”) in “A Most Violent Year.” With his involvement in the upcoming “X-Men: Age of Apocolypse” and a reoccurring role in the Star Wars cinematic universe starting off with the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Isaac is one rising star to watch.
The relatively new to Hollywood Alicia Vikander (“The Fifth Estate”) is as cinematically capable as she is beautiful, and boy is she beautiful. The 20 something Swedish starlet gives a fame-making performance instilling her bionic on-screen presence, Ava, with the ideal balance of vulnerability, coldness and mystery. Her nuanced and highly ornate performance endears audiences with her deeply thoughtful and highly-human AI persona. Her demeanor is pivotal in building the backbone of suspense and mystery throughout the picture. Given her booming on-screen talent, I expect Vikander to be picked up by big productions in the very near future.
It would be a disservice to the film to discuss “Ex Machina” without highlighting the character rich performance of Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb, the socially withdrawn advanced coder. The Irish-born Gleeson is the third but equally essential piece to this stunning sci-fi puzzle. Gleeson carries the plot forward as the audience lives the experience through his character Caleb’s eyes. We have seen the multi-faceted Gleeson woo Rachel McAdams in “About Time,” be the cool yet quirky older brother of Ron Weasly in both installments of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” as well as test his dramatic side with “Unbroken” and “True Grit.” Now with his out-the-park performance of the highly intelligent yet sway-able Caleb, audiences will be anxiously waiting to see what he brings to the table for the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
To put it simply, “Ex Machina” is flat-out a visual stunner. The film relied upon breathtaking landscapes and excellent acting, using special effects appropriately sparingly.
The simplicity of the icy, highly-organized, and pristine interior of the research complex, served as an ideal juxtaposition to the sprawling splendor of the surrounding natural landscapes. This helps further illustrate the film’s conjunction of robotics and humanity.
Although the pacing was a bit slow relative to more action-oriented and mainstream sci-fi productions, I think it helps cultivate the suspense and builds towards a truly unpredictable and climactic finale.
Just like any movie with an unique plot twist, such as M. Night Shyamalan’s iconic “The Sixth Sense,” “Ex Machina” is most appealing the first time around. I will say that this is certainly a film I would enjoy sharing with another person or perhaps re-watching to note points of foreshadowing… or just to fall back in-love with Vikander’s oddly erotic and entrancing AI, Ava.
“Ex Machina" is a visually exquisite and thought-provoking jigsaw of suspense and sexuality. It disturbs, it discombobulates, but most of all it captivates. If you enjoyed "28 Days Later" and/or "Sunshine," then this will be another favorite. Great acting. Great Direction. Intriguing Story. A must see for all fans of Sci-Fi and cerebral cinema.