Jurassic Park was not only Michael Crichton’s most popular novel, it finally allowed him to synthesize all the elements he had worked out over the course of his career into a perfect story. Crichton could easily have been the writer behind the examination of man vs. machine that is this year’s big screen release Ex Machina, now in Digital HD and Blu-ray. Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later) could have taken us on another bland adventure about man’s fascination with technology and mortality, but instead he creates a morality play that is eerily simple yet surprisingly profound. Behind Ex Machina is a modern Victor Frankenstein complete with a reclusive laboratory and spectacular creations. Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is Nathan, the uber-wealthy CEO inventor atop a Google-inspired enterprise, who secretly is using his company’s collective search data to create artificial intelligence–and more. Is he the classic mad scientist?
In the spirit of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, Nathan launches a contest for employees with the prize being a weeklong visit to his own Skywalker Ranch. The winner is the smart and amiable Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). All is not what it seems. Someone here is being played and it’s for the audience to figure it all out. Nathan has really brought Caleb to his lair to test out his new humanoid robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son), and give her a battery of ad hoc tests to see if she passes the Turing test–to confirm whether Nathan has really created the ultimate intelligent machine. Loosely inspired by more than one classic fairy tale, the seemingly simple story and strange circumstances quickly grow dark. Who is manipulating who?
Garland doesn’t need to rely on his fascinating, humanoid, robotic creations–arguably cybernetic or borg, and eminently believable–to carry the picture. Its backbone is a well-paced story with a satisfying payoff. Fans of Neill Blomkamp will love Garland’s study of class and society in the post-modern future: relations between employee and boss, scientist and subject, and master and servant. In a world of secrets and locked doors, who can you trust?
Oscar Isaac is shaping up to be a future Oscar contender with his ability to fill the shoes of a variety of characters often full of devious and unlikeable qualities. And Alicia Vikander continues to impress as she makes her pathway to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading women, soon to star in the next Jason Bourne action flick.
Stunning cinematography with its architecture and outside environmental scenes, beautiful visual effects, solid writing you might find in the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, and spot-on performances all fuse together to make a memorable film about what it means to be real. It’s not just another Pinocchio story.
The best parts of Ex Machina throw away what you’d expect from a story about a nerdy office worker and an attractive humanoid robot. In this look at humanity and robots it’s not about sex, but attraction, and what ends you might take to ensure your own survival. Definitely a contender for the best science fiction film of the year.
Stream Ex Machina on UltraViolet via Vudu and Flixter or grab the Blu-ray here from Amazon.com.
Good review; couldn’t agree more.