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Friday, April 24, 2015

GeekRex Quick Take: Ex Machina

The Buzz: The buzz on this one begins and ends with Alex Garland, the writer of films such as 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd moving into his first directorial feature in Ex Machina. Garland has had a very impressive resume, and it could be argued that he is one of the most consistent writers in "genre cinema", and while writers don't always translate into great directors, the overwhelming praise for this film coming out of SXSW quickly turned Garland's behind the camera debut into the must see film of April.

Having a hotter than hot Oscar Isaac sure doesn't hurt.

What's Great About the Movie: Twilight Zone fans, take note: this is basically the movie you've been waiting for and the on-screen representation of Rod Serling's ideas that Black Mirror wishes it could be. Garland's screenplay is immaculately constructed while asking large-scale ethical questions about artificial intelligence's impact on humanity and what constitutes a relationship between two beings. You might say, didn't we see this in Her already? And from a macro-perspective, you wouldn't be wrong; but the key here is Garland's affinity for mass audience thrills. Where his penchant for twisting and absorbing other genres all within the same viewing experience failed to quite take off with Sunshine, he nails it here. Garland's best move is weaving in and out of horror, creating a sense of tension in every scene that could have easily been played in a more straight-forward fashion. Even when the film slows, there's a feeling of the unknown around every corner, and by the time Ex Machina reaches its climax, you'll find that (barring those who are particularly versed in this sort of big message Sci-Fi) your expectations have likely been upended. 

But beyond a wonderful premise, script, and sterilized clean art design; the real draw of this film is in its lead trio of performances. Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander each give mesmerizing performances, with Isaac particularly as a standout. Sure, you've probably seen this video of him "tearing up the fucking dance floor", but his performance throughout is wonderfully nuanced. I can't remember the last time I saw a character that I both loathed and really liked at the same time, but that's the sort of moral quandry Ex Machina finds me facing.

I also cannot go without praising the design work, particularly for Ava, which displays both innate humanity and near clockwork gear-grinding. She's both clearly a person, and not. Again, this reflects the same back and forth you feel throughout about almost every aspect of the film itself. It's worth noting, Ava's concept work came via comics artist Jock, who also worked with Garland on Dredd.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Nothing really, this is a perfectly executed science fiction exercise that does exactly what you'd hope for.

Final Verdict: If nothing else, given the upcoming slate, Ex Machina is probably the best movie about robots you're going to see this year. The fact that it has a lot more going on underneath the surface, and enough thrills to satisfy even the most jaded audience goer makes this a must see and probably the best film of 2015 so far.

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