Ex Machina Review
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Books and movies have long been exploring the possibilities of artificial intelligence—usually with disastrous results. And the closer we come to turning science-fiction into reality, the more fascinating the topic becomes. With Ex Machina, writer/director Alex Garland challenges audiences’ perception of humanity and technology while telling the story of a robot and her first human friend.

Ex Machina journeys into the wilderness with Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb, a talented young programmer who won the opportunity to spend a week with his reclusive boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). When Caleb arrives at Nathan’s mountain getaway, he discovers that he’s not just there to hang out for the week; he’s there to test Nathan’s super-secret project: an A.I. named Ava (Alicia Vikander).

As Caleb gets to know Ava, he discovers that not just smart; she also seems shockingly human. And he soon finds himself caring about her—and about what might happen to her after his tests are complete.

Ex Machina is a kind of sci-fi mystery—a twisting tale of secrets, lies, and suspicions. From the beginning, it’s quite obvious that Nathan is hiding something behind his happy-go-lucky attitude. Maybe it’s just the same paranoia that caused him to live a reclusive lifestyle in an underground bunker in the middle of nowhere—or maybe it’s something darker. And as Caleb spends more time with Ava, the robot and her creator both go out of their way to make him suspicious of the other.

With each new revelation—and each new accusation—the story becomes more complex. Just as Nathan isn’t as simple and straightforward as he’d like Caleb to think, Ava might not be, either. After all, Nathan didn’t design her to compute and respond to commands; he designed her to be almost human—and that could mean that she’s thinking and plotting and manipulating the humans around her.

In that way, Ex Machina’s minute cast is filled with captivating characters. Nathan is laid-back yet egotistical and sometimes amusingly crazy. Caleb is sweet and charming and adorably nerdy. But while the human characters are fascinating in their own ways, the film revolves around Ava—and on Vikander’s remarkable performance. She gives Ava the right mix of complexity and naiveté—of maturity and childlike wonder. Though her deliberate movements will remind viewers that she’s a robot, her innocence and astonishment at the world around her make her irresistibly lovable.

Of course, if you’re thinking that the latest A.I. adventure can’t possibly add anything new or surprising to the genre, you’re [generally] right. Though the story is sure to keep you guessing—considering the implications and possibilities—it seems to run out of ideas toward the end, eventually making its way to a rather anticlimactic conclusion.

Still, the unremarkable ending doesn’t make Ex Machina an unremarkable film. Thanks to its challenging story and clever characters—both human and robotic—it’s every bit as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. And while it may be simpler than the big-budget sci-fi thrillers that you’ll see in theaters this summer, it’s most likely a whole lot smarter, too.

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