Over the past few years, some of the best British sci-fi films have been written by Alex Garland. Between 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd, I’ve always been impressed by Garland’s output and when I found out that he would be making his directorial debut, I was excited. This excitement grew after I saw the trailer and found out the film would be starring Domhnall Gleeson (one of my favourite rising stars), Oscar Isaac (who’s made a lot of really interesting films) and Alicia Vikander (who I’m happy to see in more stuff after her brilliant performance in A Royal Affair). The film itself is one of the best British sci-fi films made recently.
The plot concerns Caleb, a programmer at BlueBook (this universe’s version of Google) who wins a contest allowing him to spend a week with the head of the company, Nathan, in his isolated estate. After arriving, Nathan reveals the real reason why Caleb is there: to be the human component in a Turing Test with Ava, an incredibly advanced AI that Nathan has developed. Throughout the course of the film, we see the interactions between Caleb and Ava and Caleb, as well as the audience, has to decide if Ava has genuine consciousness, with this raising a lot of questions regarding the nature of consciousness, especially during the latter half of the film. There’s also a lot of interesting stuff regarding manipulation and how the mind can be easily manipulated into doing anything, with there being a sense of distrust throughout the whole film regarding Nathan and the extent to which he is manipulating the events of the film. I don’t really want to talk about the plot in any more detail as I fear that I’d spoil the film by doing so, so let’s leave it at the plot being incredibly interesting and engaging, creating a lot of allegories to our current relationship with technology.
The cast in the film is also excellent. Domhnall Gleeson continues his strong track record in sci-fi here as Caleb. Throughout the film, we know how intelligent Caleb is, with the intellectual conversations he says being delivered incredibly naturally, showing how much the character knows about what’s going on. It’s also clear that Caleb is a good person throughout the film, with him being incredibly caring and thoughtful, with this being a major factor in the final act of the film. Oscar Isaac meanwhile is a lot of fun as Nathan. Nathan is shown to be an incredibly arrogant, egotistical, fun loving drunk and Isaac relishes every moment of screentime he has. All of the best lines in the film are given to him and seeing his laid back persona interact with Gleeson’s more analytical persona is a lot of fun to watch. At the same time, Isaac makes sure you know that Nathan is hiding something from Caleb throughout the film, which works brilliantly with his overall persona. The standout though is Alicia Vikander as Ava. Aided by brilliant effects work from Double Negative and due to the way her scenes are shot by Garland, you always know throughout the film that you are looking at a robot rather than a human and Vikander brilliantly shows the way a mind like this works, one where you know that you’re not human but you still have thoughts and intelligence. Her desire to be free is made clear throughout the film, along with her desire to know more about the human experience and the conversations she shares with Gleeson regarding this are brilliantly handled. The real strength of the performance though comes in the last 10 minutes, which I won’t spoil here, needless to say, this aspect of the performance completely changes your perception of Ava’s actions throughout the entire film.
Overall, Ex Machina is an incredible, intelligent sci-fi film and will probably end up being the best sci-fi film of the year. Alex Garland’s brilliant direction and script, along with the excellent performances from Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander, make this one of the most thought provoking and engaging sci-fi films that has been released in recent years.
My Rating: 5/5