‘Ex Machina’ Quick Review

In a world of complex – at times convoluted and confusing – epic sci-fi dramas looking to examine various elements of humanity, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is mostly a break from the twisting storylines and overly philosophical messages. A simple story of scientific overreach and the human heart told incredibly well, Ex Machina harkens back to the likes of 1960’s sci-fi and even Blade Runner at its most basic level. It is twisted but sweet, inspirational while also creating a sense of doom, but overall it radiates dystopic sci-fi drama from every pore, and as disheartening as the ending is, it fits better than any schmaltzy Hollywood ending ever could.


Coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the opportunity to meet his genius employer, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) at his remote home. Nathan reveals to Caleb that this is more than a holiday and that he will be assisting in Nathan’s AI research by interacting with his AI, Ava (Alicia Vikander), but what Caleb discovers about both his boss and his creation will shape the tests entirely.

Unlike most other films of this type, Ex Machina is quite simple: a rich genius drunk with power creates life and must get another human to confirm his achievement, but who is working whom? At its base, the film is a very simply story told very well, the performances and computer effects being the most complex elements of the film, and its simplicity is very refreshing. The feel of the story is very retro, but it works with the modern performances and cinematography, creating a film that is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating without delving far to deep into themes that could override the beauty of its simplicity.

Oscar Isaac is brilliant as the genius mastermind behind Ava. Just like with Caleb, Isaac draws us into Nathan’s mind and world with his charm, and he does a masterful job of creating enough of a shadow of mistrust at exactly the right time to shape how we perceive his character for the rest of the film. Despite his outward content appearance, Isaac creates a brooding, slowly drowning in his own genius figure that is fantastic.

Gleeson Isaac

Domhnall Gleeson gives Caleb that right balance between smarts and naiveté that feels incredibly real; his hero is neither one nor the other, and Gleeson’s performance is very organic, offsetting Isaac’s perfectly. His chemistry with Ava is exactly the correct balance between awkward and awestruck, something which Alicia Vikander’s Ava plays off of with disturbing ease. She plays the part of human/robot very well, knowing exactly the right places to make her movements, speech, and facial expressions one or the other, and she gives the AI a childlike innocence that draws us in just as easily as it does Caleb, an innocence that hides her inner workings.

Besides the performances and the comfortable pace of the film, it is the computer effects of Ex Machina that make it an exciting film. The effects ride under the radar apart from Ava’s body, and they are used to greatly enhance the details of the scientific pieces of the story rather than being the center of everything. They become part of the story and its characters, and all of them, especially Ava, are done to the highest standard.

Ava shadow

Overall, Ex Machina is a refreshing, chilling, and fantastic sci-fi film filled with great performances and a really good, simple story. There are moments that make us gasp and squirm that are balanced by the thought provoking and the sweet that keep the story’s dark elements from overpowering the final intent. The film doesn’t attempt to be anything other than what it is, it simply tells its story with precision and a surprising amount of emotion, and in straying away from the typical Hollywood formula, Ex Machina doesn’t necessarily surprise, but it does provide an ending that feels right.

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Film4, DNA Films)

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