Alex Garland's directorial debut Ex Machina is a wobbly mess, balancing dark messages and hidden subtext with visual flare that's often empty and too drawn out.
Writer/Producer Alex Garland‘s (28 Days Later, Dredd, Sunshine) directorial debut Ex Machina is an often-times beautiful-looking film, full of rich visuals and modern set pieces that will make your jaw drop. But the film is also drawn out, oddly paced and rather empty for a film that presents such thought-provoking ideas and messages about what it means to truly be alive.
Nathan (Oscar Isaac) is a brilliant scientist. He’s created the world’s biggest and smartest search engine and now he’s creating self-aware A.I., which could possibly be the biggest step for man and life in general.
He’s invited Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to come and test his new A.I., which he has named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Upon arrival, Caleb instantly notices something strange about Nathan’s laboratory and the entire experiment that he has been asked to participate in.
Soon, the roles of who is truly being tested start to blur together, with the definition of life and true intelligence being tested by a man with a hidden past.
Alex Garland‘s Ex Machina is a tough film to wrestle, because it has so much potential and promise. It doesn’t squander all of it, but it does spend most of its good intentions rather quickly, leaving a film that’s supposed to be about life feeling rather cold and lifeless.
Ex Machina‘s premise is intriguing and one that could have perhaps been expanded upon in better hands. This is an odd thing to note, because Garland was responsible for writing and producing many great films, with Ex Machina being his first film sitting in the director’s chair.
Maybe wearing too many hats was what cracked the film or maybe Garland just didn’t quite nail down the film’s heavy-handed and only slightly explored material.
The film looks beautiful and often comes across as jaw dropping when Garland allows for the camera to stretch out across the film’s unique setting and stylish look and feel.
But then things settle down and the story slowly (and I mean slowly) comes into play, offering up lots of questions and good versus bad motives, but never truly explaining them or expanding upon them in a way that makes full sense and instead giving us something that works, but only on a minimal level.
Oscar Isaac‘s character is never quite established as good or bad, while Domhnall Gleeson‘s is simply confused from beginning, to middle, to end.
Even Alicia Vikander‘s Ava struggles, which might make more sense since she is playing an intelligent robot, but still not one that makes much sense in the long run.
And that’s what keeps Ex Machina from reaching its true greatness and full potential. Garland never quite nails the script, thus wasting his good and sometimes great performances on a film that looks damn cool, but never quite reaches those philosophical levels that it desperately strives for.
This makes Ex Machina feel very much like a rookie effort, which it is. Director Alex Garland definitely has visual style and the capacity of constructing a good story, but he never quite hits those marks with Ex Machina and instead settles for a weak story with lots of style and imagery, but little to be told.
The performances are mostly subdued and layered with darkness and constraint, which Isaac and Gleeson handle with ease and efficiency, but Garland never puts them to work and keeps them feeling underutilized and like two missed opportunities.
Ex Machina isn’t a bad film, but it’s also not as good as it rightfully should be. Alex Garland is a fine writer and a capable director that simply needed to spend a little more time expanding on the film’s script and several messages that it tries to convey, but fails on, especially during the final scenes, which feel beyond rushed and yet move so painfully slow.