This review is a little behind the times but that’s life for ya. I had the extreme pleasure of going to see Ex Machina when it released just about a month ago. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
Let’s start with the actors. With three main leads in Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander everyone was on point. Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb) continues to show that he is a rising star. We’ll see him later this year in The Force Awakens but in just about every role that he’s come into, he has fully enveloped it. This time is no different. Playing opposite him is Oscar Isaac (Nathan) who has been making waves himself. To put it bluntly, the moment he came on screen you immediately disliked him. Everything about his performance just resonated a smug jerkiness. It’s hard to explain but in the real world, he’s the guy that walks into a room and his smugness just instantly puts him on your shit list. You kinda just want to punch him in the face.
Now between these two phenomenal performances was Alicia Vikander. A fairly new name to me but about the same level as Domhnall Gleeson in terms of celebrity awareness opinion. Out of the three performances, she blew the other two out of the water. With a serene ability to somehow be menacingly comforting, you’re left guessing just what her true intentions are until the end. Her performance was ethereal which worked sublimely for her AI character.
Beyond the performances, there was something interesting going on with the directing choices. The directorial style reminded me of a documentary. It had title cards to differentiate the different sessions that Caleb participated in. Scenes of b-roll footage often were interspersed between the more traditional scripted sequences. While this film would lend itself to a documentary style, having the two styles often felt jarring. Sometimes it worked while other times I was just confused as to the director’s vision.
This being said, I have to congratulate the director on a truly chilling AI film. As I’ve already stated previously, you’re left guessing as to the true intentions of each character. Not really sure who’s good and who’s bad. Each story beat was masterfully told to keep the audience guessing and always wondering how it will turn out.
In terms of the ending, which I won’t spoil, it is not a happy ending. In fact, there is a moment where the director gives you a moment of hope just to bring you crashing down minutes later into the melancholic ending. After all, the ending is happier depending on whose perspective you choose from. Before I spoil anything, I’m just trying to say this isn’t the typical Hollywood happy ending.
I would remiss if I didn’t take sometime to focus on the visual effects. Alicia Vikander’s robot has see-through arms, legs, and a mid-section which are largely visible for a majority of the film. I’m not a VFX expert but I feel like making see-through parts believable is somewhat difficult. The best part is that they still look realistic when seen against the flesh and blood humans. Again, something really hard to do.
All in all, this is a great film hands down, especially for sci-fi fans. It reminds me a lot of I, Robot, the book not the film adaptation. In a time where sci-fi is often synonymous with laser guns and explosions, it was refreshing to see a film that focuses on the intrigue and broader concepts found in classic sci-fi. Think Isaac Asimov meets Blade Runner. If you haven’t yet, go see Ex-Machina you won’t be disappointed.