Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ex Machina (2015) ***

There's an amazing British TV show called “Black Mirror,” which explores, in Twilight-zone-like stories, how we interact with technology. “Ex Machina” star Domhnall Gleeson appears in an episode, which I remembered as I was thinking about how “Ex Machina” is like a longer version of a “Black Mirror” episode, although not as incisive.

Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer programer who wins a week's retreat at his billionaire boss's house. When he arrives at the remote complex, he learns that he isn't just there to vacation. His boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac) wants him to help do a Turing Test on his new robot, Ava, to determine if it has true Artificial Intelligence. Caleb finds himself falling in love with Ava (Alicia Vikander), who turns out to be smarter than either Caleb or Nathan.

My complaint about “Ex Machina” is that it's twice as long as an episode of “Black Mirror,” but only half as interesting. That's not to say it's a bad movie at all; I just wish there were more to chew on. The best-developed character is Nathan, who is also the least sympathetic. He sees himself as a Bro, an athletic, beer-drinking, guy's guy who happens to be good with computers. He is, in fact, just another in a long line of mad scientists, with all of the megalomania and misanthropy of the breed. Actually, he is more of a misogynist. He views himself as simply an inventor, but he imbues his creations with clearly female qualities, then mistreats them. Caleb and Ava, ostensibly the most important characters, are never very well developed.

As retellings of the Frankenstein story go, “Ex Machina” is impressive primarily for its visuals, including Ava's feminine body, made up of transparent panels and glowing cables. We can see right through Ava, but it still feels like we don't get very far below her surface. We never get to delve far into the rich implications of Ava's existence. “Ex Machina” is a movie that never explores all its possibilities.

3 stars out of 5

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