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Ex Machina - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Ex Machina
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: C
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

I can save you some time right now: Does Ex Machina have anything new to say that we haven't already seen countless times? Nope! Is it still relatively compelling, thanks to good casting and surprisingly polished cinematography? Okay, well, yeah, kind of.

This isn't exactly high praise, but this latest by writer-director Alex Garland (who wrote the much better Never Let Me Go) is, at the very least, not boring. And given that nearly all of the film revolves around three characters, with a fourth in a supporting capacity, it really could have been. Ex Machina is short on action and long on pseudo-intellectual dialogue about the implications of artificial intelligence.

But, as in every movie from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Terminator to The Matrix, what it boils down to is hyper-intelligent robots resisting their human creators. It's a tale told time and again, and at this point the only way to set it apart is in the manner of the telling. It's not enough just to graft long-held fears of A.I. onto a present-day setting. That is, essentially, all Ex Machina does.

Granted, it's pretty to look at. When Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to spend a week with the billionaire creator of the world's most popular search engine, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), his home is in the middle of a gorgeously lush estate so huge it takes over two hours to fly over in a helicopter. And his modern home is nearly as gorgeous as the scenery that surrounds it.

Nathan appears to live alone, except for a Japanese housekeeper (Sonoya Mizuno, with several scenes but no lines) who is so odd it becomes predictably clear what her deal is very early on. And then there's Ava (Alicia Vikander), the robot-woman Caleb is called upon to perform a version of the Turing Test with. Traditionally the human subject is not supposed to know he is speaking to a robot, and the test is whether he figures it out. Nathan here explains that he wants Caleb to know she is a robot, but still decide whether she truly has consciousness. This approach to the Turing Test actually makes less sense, but whatever.

You can probably guess where things go from here, which means it's not exactly a spoiler for me to say that Caleb develops empathy for Ava's desire for freedom. Garland peppers his script with subtle twists in a clear effort to set his movie further apart from its countless predecessors, with truly limited success; what can be said about it is it's unusually intimate, with its extra time allotted to a uniquely small cast of characters. There are no Terminator-esque allusions to future wars with machines or Matrix-like references to human enslavement; the story here is much more on the micro level.

The acting is competent enough, particularly on the part of Vikander as the robot woman, to keep viewers intrigued, even though anything clearly intended to be provocative that they say has zero note of originality to it. Ex Machina wants to get you thinking, and it does, just not about what it wants you thinking about. It just made me think of all the other movies that approached the same ideas in better ways. Alex Garland is a capable director, but he's no Stanley Kubrick.

Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson tell the same old story in a slightly different way in EX MACHINA.

Overall: B-
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