Directed by: Alex Garland || Produced by: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
Screenplay by: Alex Garland || Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno, Symara A. Templeman, Elina Alminas
Music by: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow || Cinematography by: Rob Hardy || Edited by: Mark Day || Country: United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 108 minutes
Clearly Alex Garland (screenwriter of such films as 28 Days Later , Sunshine , Dredd , etc.) has a penchant for vibrant science-fiction premises, and his creative star is on the rise because he’s not afraid to write outside the box. However, with the release of his directorial debut, Ex Machina (EM), I remain unsold on the man as a reliable creative auteur who isn’t above a second screenwriter or a more capable director to guide his storytelling. EM poses some interesting ideas and refreshingly restrained settings, but at the same time dwells on sci-fi concepts and characters that have been done to death for decades and boasts a story whose plot twists you either see coming from a mile away or don’t make a lick of sense.
While I was intrigued by the film’s title and setup, I ultimately left the theatre unimpressed and somewhat bored. I’m normally the type of guy who loves his sci-fi slow and dull — I enjoyed the hell out of Her (2013), I’ve been a long-time fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), and where would I be without Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)? — but EM I found plodding and dull instead of patient and intriguing.
EM features the familiar premise of an eccentric super-genius/billionaire scientist who has created some kind of new-age artificial intelligence that will change the way humans think about sentience or their place in the universe or whatever. Said eccentric billionaire-genius is played by the reliable Oscar Isaac, who is arguably the biggest reason to see this movie,over Garland’s direction or the film’s supposedly high-minded concepts. Isaac reminds me of Denzel Washington from Training Day (2001), the sort of charismatic, memorable antagonist who you kind of, sort of, really like a lot more than the protagonist, even though he’s morally decrepit.
Opposite of Isaac is future Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Q4, 2015) co-star Domhnall Gleeson, an acceptable and relatable main character who drives the plot forward while proving an equal and opposite force to oppose Isaac’s smarter, less morally equipped villain. EM rides harder on these two key performances than anything else, as Gleeson and Isaac have acting chops for days.
In any case, Garland proves his salt as a visual filmmaker even if the final product is nothing groundbreaking or truly memorable. His framing of the low-key action and quiet, subdued story is admirable, and his use of soundtrack and sound design help flesh out this limited setting.
The script is where I had the most problems and where the film didn’t live up to its screenwriter’s reputation. In my opinion, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Terminator franchise (1984, 1991) hit the existential and ominous nature of futuristic artificial intelligence as much as it could or should be hit, and all the decades since of conjuring up mysterious AIs has largely become repetitive. Nothing in EM adds to this overdone mythos of electronic intelligence contemplation other than colorful visuals and nonsensical plot twists. It attempts to build on this established pop culture source material of artificial intelligence with great dialogue between Gleeson and Isaac, but the actual visuals and story arcs fail to provide any cinematic material that can stand on its own.
If you’re into true science-fiction that favors ideas and concepts over FX and high-octane thrills, EM will satisfy your artistic preferences, but know ahead of time that it’s treading well worn territory and adds little, if anything, new to its genre mythos. I maintain that Garland has yet to prove a consistent pattern of creative excellence, yet it’s undeniable that the man has genre potential; hopefully in his next outing he’ll collaborate with an insightful second screenwriter or a producer who can push him beyond cliched genre tropes, but for the time being Ex Machina is a decent if forgettable debut for the burgeoning filmmaker.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Ex Machina features great acting from its relatable protagonist and snarky, memorable antagonist. Gleeson and Isaac provide awkward but insightful social commentary along this retread of sci-fi existentialism and slow-paced philosophy. The film’s visuals are low-key, but pleasurable, and look well above their budget.
— However… the script is more boring than it is patient. Its ending is humorous but makes little sense. Alicia Vikander doesn’t make a particularly interesting plot device or character; Her this movie most certainly is not.
—> ON THE FENCE
? Spoiler alert, she doesn’t care for him… amusing, but yawn.