by Catie Robbins
Ex Machina (2015) is what we all expected : juicy-good visuals in crisply designed settings, references to our latest lifestyle trends, human imperfection vs. “surprising” A.I. imperfections, sexy tension but lacking in sexy sex. Can’t fault it for all but the last.
At a villainnaire’s (Nathan played by Oscar Isaac) splashy luxe lair hidden somewheres in the forested part of the CEO’s massive acreage, our young tech nerd Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) helicopts in for more than he bargained for. Once alone with the lonely Nathan, Caleb finds out he’s there to test the humanness of his new A.I. (Ava, played by Alicia Vikander) which he doesn’t mind much since she’s practically a Natalie Portman lookalike (though he never mentions this, this is just some subconscious shit we’re all super turned on by throughout the film).
In titled parts, the film continues, structured to a pleasantly slow beat by parts such as Ava: Session 1 and Ava: Session 2. There are a few laughs to be experienced, though I can’t remember when now that I’m thinking of it, so perhaps even fewer than a few. Humor is a hidden richness in drama, much like butter in very good pie crust, and it’s possible that this is a source of the lack that is felt, but difficult to justify, upon finishing the film.
The only truly justifiable justifications for said lack is Caleb’s unsteady performance and the production design which is too obvious. The score was spot on, the cinematography the film’s likely raison d’etre, the story is awesomely potential-heavy and the script very nearly sets that potential up for success. Yet Caleb is possessing of a swiftly tilting personality. Beginning the film, he is pushing hard on the hubris heavy nerd smiles, and with an overconfident parlay in his Ava sessions, he is wholly dissonant next to her calm nature. If he was as sensitive as the script says he is, with his lonesome backstory and lady-less tech-life, it would be easier to believe that he cares whether or not Ava has a fatty crush on him—this being a major plot hinge during the story’s culmination. Jessie Eisenberg would have been hilarious, sensitive, and abominably overconfident in this piece, but I don’t even want to be saying that, because I prefer that they used someone new, and I’m probably just saying that because I’m thinking Social Network and The Double. So I take that back. As is, Domhnall Gleeson plays one side of Caleb, but misses a very important aspect of him. He comes off as the type of guy who whines about being friend-zoned and thus actually hates the women he crushes on in weird and un-crush-like ways. Plus, nothing feels true about Nathan’s assertion that he chose Caleb to test Ava because of his efficacious moral compass.
Nothing feels true about much of what Nathan says, which is a strength of the film, brought to us quite dependably throughout by Oscar Isaac, playing a totally dubious guy whose varying versions of why Caleb is testing Ava and how Caleb is testing Ava oscillate madly. His lies stir the plot into deeper paths, sloshing the action forth on the crest of his sad beer binging and sweaty solo-boxing sessions. It works well to have someone be lying and to be found out, but I’m not saying that Ex Machina didn’t overdo this once or thrice. It becomes a bit boy-cried-wolf, with the weird caveat that the main character keeps actually thinking there’s a wolf, pointlessly proving wrong that particular parable.
Still, this is a modern, fun to watch, not overly tropey villain. I would have liked him a bit more likable; a bit more humanized, but to be deeply honest with myself, he was pretty round with his drinking problem, his loneliness, his misogyny, his juice craze, his love of nature…I guess I just need to admit he wasn’t a bad villain. If the overzealous gifting to his character of broad quirks by the screenwriter feels sometimes heavy handed, (the owning of Jackson Pollacks and Klimts, in addition to bro palaver and green juice) let’s at least try to remember this is Hollywood, and his character is xtra round by Hollywood standards. Characters don’t need to be real rounder than that to make mons. A lot of us would watch anything with budgets enough to make sci-fi films look as shiny as they need to.
With little to say about Ava’s performance, I wonder if it’s an ovation or a criticism to be mum. Alicia Vikander was certainly spotless in adherence to her role, but was it interesting? I hate to say no, but she could have given more, and seeing as what she did was good, blaming the script for not giving her more is decidedly the answer.
Without spoilers, the ending of the film is one of the top ten things we love to hate, but I have to say that for Ex Machina, there was no other possible ending, and that I suppose is high praise. In total, Ex Machina satisfied my sci-fi hungers, without ever truly surprising.