Ex Machina is predominantly a three-hander and stars Domhnall Gleeson (Black Mirror: Be Right Back, Frank, About Time) as Caleb, picked at random in a lottery at work to go and stay with the boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis), who lives in a seculded, palatial hideaway, surrounded by mountains and zero phone signal – so, rather like being on Vodafone.
Not being sure what he’s sent there to do, he discovers Nathan is rather like a bearded Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, occasionally stroking his shaved head while mumbling, although in Nathan’s case, this is because he’s usually drunk, and not because the man playing him is an overhyped actor.
His task is, essentially, to take part in The Turing Test – to converse with a machine and see if it would pass for human. If it does, it is classified as having artifical intelligence. Caleb will spend a number of sessions talking to Ava, a female robot portrayed by insanely beautiful Alicia Vikander, trying to establish this. Why a female robot? Well, partly because Nathan has been on his own far too long – which makes you wonder why Willy Wonka surrounded himself with Oompa Loompas… unless that’s what he was into, and partly because Caleb is a straight male and it throws in a sexuality aspect to it.
The acting is good from all concerned, but it just feels too plodding to be getting anywhere. I’m all for films to start slow and build upon that, but while the first third is intriguing, and the last third is where things get more interesting, it’s the middle section where things really sag. It’s like it’s missing those ‘building blocks’ in the middle. This is a shame as I was really looking forward to it, as I love stuff like this which is set either in the present day or near-future, and which deals in artificial intelligence.
Ex Machina breaks the trend of a lot of films where, in this case, it’s the first two thirds which are fairly so-so, and the last third which is a damn sight better. This was entirely the opposite situation to Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which this film’s first-time director, Alex Garland, also wrote. He also wrote the so-so 28 Days Later (I preferred the sequel), Never Let Me Go, and the terrible Dredd 3D. Please, let’s never ever speak of the terrible Dredd 3D again.
In fact, the most memorable scene is one involving Oliver Cheatham‘s disco classic, Get Down Saturday Night , which I remember best from hearing it in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, even though it was blended down into a basic pop track “Make Luv”, credited as Room 5 featuring Oliver Cheatham. I won’t go into detail about why this song appears, though, as I wasn’t expecting something so funky.
That said, I loved the look of the film, and Alex Garland has certainly got an eye for detail so it’ll be interesting to see what he does next, especially with the contrast between how I felt the flow of this went against the flow of Sunshine. I will, however, also make the point that when it comes to Ava’s ‘outfit’, Alicia Vikander’s ‘body’ is mostly see-through, given that she’s a robot, so a lot of the time, my eyes, and attention, were drawn to admiring the CGI work going on there rather than the rather average plot.
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
Format: 2.35:1 (F55 RAW (4K) and F65 RAW (4K))
Released: January 21st 2015
Director: Alex Garland
Producers: Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Music: Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury
Caleb: Domhnall Gleeson
Nathan: Oscar Isaac
Ava: Alicia Vikander
Kyoko: Sonoya Mizuno
Office girl: Chelsea Li
Secretary: Evie Wray
Helicopter Pilot: Corey Johnson
Jasmine: Symara A Templeman
Office Manager: Deborah Rosan
Amber: Elina Alminas
Lily: Claire Selby
Secretary: Ramzan Miah
Office Worker: Johanna Thea
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.