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Ex Machina clearly wants to be taken seriously. Between the many scenes of Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac discussing scientific theories with no concession for the layman and even the films very title, which is pretty alienating to the mainstream, Ex Machina sees itself as above the blockbusters that have started to dominate the sci-fi as of late.
So it’s strange that Ex Machina starts to feel increasingly conflicted in just how smart it really is. Particularly towards the end, where the absurdity level is off the charts and the ending has such large holes that it’s almost an insult to the audience. It’s not that the many, many, twists and turns of the third act are even all that poorly handled (except for the last one) it’s just that they feel so at odds with the first two acts.
It’s as if the studio sat writer/director Alex Garland down and said “This intellectual stuff is all well and good, but please throw something marketable in.” That what the films third act feels like, pandering to a more mainstream audience which leads to an inconsistent tone.
Ex Machina also seems almost afraid to really explore its concept. The conversations between Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb and Ava, an AI android (brought to life by Alicia Vikander) never go pass simple pleasantries. There’s very little conversation surrounding human consciousness and what it really means to be human. Sure the film touches on these concepts but for a film all about trying to perfect artificial intelligences it’s a shame that the more morally grey aspects of that goal are never fully explored.
Domhnall Gleeson has always been an extremely likeable actor and that’s the best quality he brings to Ex Machina. Unfortunately Caleb isn’t really developed as a character and the oh so predictable arc that he is given doesn’t really help much.
Oscar Isaac plays Nathan who is a frustrating character, being the creator of Ava, he’s a millionaire shut in who lives in the middle of nowhere with nobody but his maid, who doesn’t speak English, for company. Alex Garland seems only interested in developing Nathan, neglecting the other two leads in the process. There are some nice touches such as Nathan’s alcoholism being hinted at but there are plenty of missteps and a disappointing amount of clunky dialogue.
The final piece of the puzzle is Ava. Most of the first act is spent admiring the really quite slick aesthetic design of this android. Once this wear off however there really isn’t much to her character, sure she’s an AI computer after all but it would have greatly improved the film if Ava was more interested in her own creation rather than Caleb’s favourite colour.
Ex Machina does have its moments. Once you accept how out of place the third act feels compared to the rest of the film it’s actually quite enjoyable. There’s enough twists to satisfy and one scene in particular feels very cathartic. If nothing else Ex Machina is very pretty to look at, with plenty of washed out shots and some really nice nature focused slow pans.
Perhaps if Ex Machina had explored its admittedly interesting concept to its full potential then it could have been something special. As it stand it feels like a movie that is afraid to really commit, instead trying to appearing intellectual but really lacking substance, till it veers off the rails in the third act which contains the best of what the film has to offer but undoubtedly feels ill fitted.