Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I’ve been a fan of Alex Garland since I read his novel The Beach years ago. The Danny Boyle adaptation was lame, but I did enjoy the Boyle-Garland collaborations 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE. Oh yeah, the Garland-written-and-partially-directed DREDD reboot was pretty boss, too. So I was primed to enjoy EX MACHINA and did for the most part. The movie plays like HER meets FRANKENSTEIN but written as a European chamber play/sex thriller. But the movie could’ve lost 20 minutes and I thought the ending was predictable. The actors are all interesting. The growing sexual tension and manipulation between Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander is fun to watch, and I particularly liked Oscar Isaac, here playing a cross between Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs. This is the third movie I’ve seen with him (the other two being INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS and THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY) and I’ve come to like him quite a bit. He has those sad, angry, contemptuous eyes that make me wonder what he’s going to say and do next.
Eddie Pensier writes:
EX MACHINA surprised me on several levels. First of all, the pace is fairly meditative: not a lot strictly “happens” in the first hour, and it’s definitely more talk than action. (It could, without a lot of trouble, be converted into a stage play with three speaking roles not unlike SPEED-THE-PLOW.) Secondly, it operates on an intellectual level higher than most sci-fi movies. There are some pretty deep meditations on the nature of consciousness and humanity, and the film doesn’t pretend to have the answers to every question–the ending leaves a lot of ambiguity in the viewer’s mind. Garland and his cinematographer Rob Hardy produce some stunning visuals, my favorite being the (mild spoiler) Bluebeard-like scene where Caleb discovers closetsful of Nathan’s previous, discarded AI experiments (end mild spoiler).
Of the three excellent main actors, I was most impressed by Alicia Vikander’s Ava, who pitches her performance at just the right level of is-she-or-isn’t-she to intrigue us (and Gleeson’s appealingly schlubby Caleb). However, her bird-like head movements, each accompanied by tiny electronic sounds, along with the glowing plasticky sheen of her artificial skin, never lets us forget what (who?) she really is. Oscar Isaac too manages to keep the smarmy technobro trappings to a minimum while bristling with obvious intelligence.
Sax von Stroheim writes:
Based on his previous works, my take on Alex Garland was that he was trying to smuggle in ideas, themes, and characters from J.G. Ballard’s science fiction novels into more standard genre movies. This was clearest with his screenplay for SUNSHINE, partly because the turn from Ballardian sci-fi to a last act that devolved into standard scary movie shtick was so pronounced. So, I thought that on his own movie, working on a smaller scale, without the need for the conventional tactics that marred the end of SUNSHINE, he’d give us something that hewed closer to the Ballard novels that seem to be his major inspiration. And that’s kind of what we get in EX MACHINA: an Everyman engaging in a battle of wills with a Man Who Would Be God, with the evolution of humanity (or post-humanity) at stake. But it’s only “kind of” what we get, because, as it turns out, even on his own, working on a smaller scale, Garland goes for a turn towards more conventional genre fare by the end, which doesn’t quite mar the movie, but makes it more familiar, and more comfortable, than the sci-fi novels (by Ballard and others) that inspired it. While I can’t say I didn’t like it — it’s smart, the acting is terrific, there’s a low-rent Edgar Ulmer vibe to the production that I really dig — I also wasn’t terribly moved by it — it engaged my intellect more than my imagination (it doesn’t help that it looks pretty cruddy). It’s one of those movies that I didn’t mind sitting through, but where, on the way home, I couldn’t help think of other, similar movies that I had liked better (Ulmer’s own, for example, or, thinking of other recent small scale indie sci-fi, Brandon Cronenberg’s ANTIVIRAL). And, although it’s completely unfair and unreasonable of me, I guess I’m a little disappointed that Garland’s own ambitions aren’t quite as grand (or at least as refined) as I had imagined them to be.