Thursday 22 January 2015

Review: Ex Machina

World of Blackout Film Review

Ex Machina Poster

Ex Machina
Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Alex Garland / Trailer
WoB Rating: 6/7

2015! Considering that this mind-and-morality bending thriller doesn't feature Morgan Freeman as a scientist who seems to know nothing about science, Ex Machina has already won on points before the opening titles are over…

A 26yr old coder named Caleb working for a multi-national search engine company, wins an exployee-exclusive competition to spend a week with his reclusive genius boss, Nathan, at his remote home/laboratory. Once there, Caleb finds he's been specially selected to help run a series of tests on a groundbreaking new AI platform, Ava; the philosophical problem arises at where to draw the line between advanced artificial intelligence and bonafide sentience…

So, given that movies based on advanced/theoretical science can often 'slip the lead' of their writers and go tearing around the park out of control, it's a relief that Ex Machina is quite compactly told. The concept for the film is efficient enough that it never really needs to stray far from its own path (usual thriller rules apply here: second-guess plot developments at the peril of your own subsequent disappointment), and the intrigue surrounding Ava's personality is relatively short-lived as she has so much screen-time that it quickly becomes apparent exactly how advanced she is.

Far more interesting are the central performances. Domnhall Gleeson is pretty much the emotional-introvert he played in About Time, although the persona works every bit as well here, too. Oscar Isaac puts in a good (if intentionally unlikable, so good) turn as a genius corporate megalomaniac. But it's really Alicia Vikander who steals the show as Ava (with some not inconsiderable support from Sonoya Mizuno), the simulated person that's arguably more human than anyone else in the film. Set in a mountain hideaway with a primary cast of four characters, the claustrophobia you'd expect never quite closes in, although that doesn't always work in the film's favour.

My only real gripe is that the films of this ilk often leave the viewer with points for an expanded discussion or further reading on its themes, whereas Ex Machina seems quite happy to spend more time answering questions than it does asking them. It's certainly true that the performances are more complex than the story. Either way, I still loved it and another viewing is called for in short order.

Part satire, part thought-experiment*1, Ex Machina is a thematic re-tooling of both Blade Runner and Prometheus. If I was Ridley Scott, I'd be considering my next two sci-fi sequels very carefully indeed…

Oh, and how are you pronouncing this? I've been saying Ex Machina, but I've heard it said Ex Machina. It's like The Desolation of Smaug all over again…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
If philosophical sci-fi's your thing, yes .

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Rent (I'm still undecided as to the mass-rewatch value).

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
It's certainly 'up there' for the three leads, but difficult to tell if it's their best.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
No, but I'll have a lengthy list of questions for you…

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac both star in this year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 But also part 'slightly worrying layer of misogyny' too, if I'm being entirely honest. But that's a subject which will be discussed far more thoroughly elsewhere than I can hope to achieve here, so I'll settle for at least just mentioning it.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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