You Owe it to Yourself to Check Out the Superb Sci-Fi Flick "Ex Machina" Review

A lot of noise has been made this year over how fans of Science Fiction should go see some of the larger studio-produced Sci-Fi flicks like Jupiter Ascending and Chappie if they want to see more "original" science fiction films in theaters in the future. The idea was that it didn’t matter if Jupiter Ascending and Chappie were quite disappointing efforts, and they were, they deserved your money if you ever wanted more films like them. It’s an argument equivalent to a hostage situation, and it was ridiculous. You shouldn’t support bad films in the hopes that the studio will throw some good ones your way down the road. Instead, you should pay to see excellent movies like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, because doing so will be rewarding for you - and it will be. Plus, you get to see one of the more beautifully filmed sci-fi movies in a while that boasts both great acting (by Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac), and a stimulating take on the classic premise of the inherent unknowns of artificial intelligence.

When Caleb Smith (Gleeson) wins a contest to spend a week with his boss, Nathan Bateman (Isaac), the creator of the world’s preeminent search engine Bluebook and a reclusive genius, he’s whisked away to the remote fortress where Bateman spends his days working out, drinking himself into oblivion, and coding in secrecy. With no idea of what to expect from the week’s stay, Caleb quickly finds Bateman isn’t the uptight executive he imagined and instead a very loose but oddly threatening presence. The strangeness of the situation is made all the more unnerving when Nathan offers Caleb a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in the dawn of a new era of technology, but only if he’ll sign a non-disclosure agreement that seems impossibly and unnecessarily invasive. With the promise of such a tantalizing revelation just out of reach, Caleb signs and soon finds out what Nathan has been working on: an artificial intelligence, named Ava, encapsulated in a walking, talking body (Vikander).

Caleb’s role? To put Ava through a more rigorous version of the Turing Test and validate that Nathan has in fact created an autonomous, learning, conscious entity in his subterranean lair.

Both the experience and Ava are more than Caleb ever expected and soon he begins to question the entire experiment and Nathan’s true intentions, as well as whether or not Ava’s attraction to him is just programming or genuine affection – or if there’s any real difference between the two.

Ex Machina arrives at a perfect time thanks to the recent critical acclaim for the Benedict Cumberbatch biopic, The Imitation Game, which familiarizes many with who Turing was and what his test sought to achieve (if only as a sidenote to the actual plot of the feature). On top of that, it’s also a shining example of what upper tier modern Sci-Fi actually looks like, as opposed to the aforementioned Chappie and Jupiter Ascending. Instead of cannibalizing old plot devices and tired clichés, Ex Machina builds on them in a story that’s bursting with tension and ideas from the very moment Caleb arrives at Bateman’s estate. There’s a perpetual feeling of dread and wonder as the reality of what Ava really represents to the world becomes all at once clearer and murkier through her actions and the reactions of Caleb and Nathan.

While the cinematic instincts of the general audience will make it immediately clear that something just isn’t right at the Bateman compound, and some twists are telegraphed from miles away, it’s the ending that uses those twists and the larger ideas presented earlier that keeps the audience guessing as to the ultimate choices Ava makes. That, combined with the beautiful, sterile aesthetic of Nathan’s home and Ava’s mechanical body, are what turn Ex Machina from a basic exercise in Sci-Fi ethics to something much much more.

If you were looking for a solid and above par Sci-Fi film to support, Ex Machina is the best we’ve seen all year.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

A very thorough production featurette in 5 parts is easily the best extra on the disc, and there's 8 additional behind-the-scenes pieces beyond that. After that, an Ultraviolet digital copy and a Q&A from the SXSW festival round out the set.

"Ex Machina" is on sale July 14, 2015 and is rated R. Drama, Sci-Fi. Written and directed by Alex Garland. Starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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