Monday, May 25, 2015

Ex Machina

This was one of those movies with EXTREME buzz, which then cooled off, weeks before I saw it.

And that's good.

Because Ex Machina is a good movie, but not a great one. In fact, while we both agreed it didn't suck, The Boy said he preferred the thematically-similar Spanish film Eva to this. I don't object to that sentiment at all.

The story is that of a young man (Domnhall Gleeson, Harry Potter, Unbroken) who visits a secret laboratory where and odd, manipulative super-genius (Oscar Isaac) wants to use him to test his artificial intelligence. Said artificial intelligence taking the form of the lovely Alicia Vikander (Son of a Gun, A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina) in CGI makeup that's a dead rip-off of that in Eva.

Her name is Eva, too.

But where that movie played on paternal instincts, this one goes straight for the groin—er, heart, as Eva involves Caleb (Gleeson) in the shadowy underpinnings of the spooky lab and Nathan's (Isaac) ultimate plan for her.

So, yeah, it's Island of Doctor Moreau.

I mean, seriously, this isn't as blatant as the gushing over Under The Skin, but it really is just a standard mad scientist/haunted castle scenario, dressed up in Mac/iPhone styling.

First of all, though, it does not suck. And it's to be commended for that.

Second of all, it avoids most of the really terrible pitfalls of this genre of Mad Science/Old Dark House movies.

Thirdly, Isaac really does a good job as the mad scientist.

Fourth, the remaining cast is certainly up to the task. Vikander and Gleeson are appropriately vulnerable. Sonoya Mizuno is suitably exotic and mysterious.

Fifth, the ending, while overlong, mostly works.

So, with all this goodness, why weren't we blown away? Well, I think, first of all, it really is just a restyled '50s horror movie plot which, even if The Boy didn't recognize it, was full of unanswered questions and plot holes. One point, which we didn't agree on, was the implication of Nathan working on "classified" stuff. I got the impression he meant government-classified, in which case the whole setting seemed preposterous.

The setting is that Nathan is completely alone out in the Alaskan wilderness, by the way. I pointed out to The Boy that, at work, it will take a team of people to perform a relatively trivial task. (It's not always true, but generally speaking "cowboy coders" started vanishing in the '90s.) But in this case, Nathan's conquering both Artificial Intelligence and AI literally by himself. One presumes he gets shipments of supplies from somewhere but it's never discussed.

And that's a plot point. In fact, the whole point of the plot is whether or not Eva is alive in a meaningful sense. When we find out Nathan is reusing stuff, we simultaneously have to ask why since there's no reason to do so, and then later there's a strong implication that, no, he doesn't really re-use much of anything. I can't explain it without spoilers but it doesn't make a lick of sense.

There's a lot of stuff like that which, if you gave it a moment's thought as an engineer, wouldn't fly. But, you know, the mad scientist stuff never made any sense either. It still works, basically. There are a few surprises, just because you expect a major screwup at some point.

The ending's a bit too long.

Good acting all around. Vikander is a great choice for the 'bot. She's lovely, of course, but she's not a sexpot, and as a result she comes across more vulnerable than anything, which is important to the story. As Mike Nelson quipped on Twitter: "Saw the film Ex Machina, a contemplative take on Artificial Intelligence and how it's affecting our -- look, the robot chick isn't THAT hot."

Heh. No, she's not. It's not a role like Under The Skin.

So, the broad strokes? Typical goofiness. The details? Fun, clever and lively. Worth a look.

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