Movie Review - Ex Machina

This movie is about a man testing the artificial intelligence of a robot that he's built. When it comes to movies or TV shows about robots, this idea of testing them or exploring how to make them more human has been done to death. There's nothing new here or original. It thinks it's clever because it constructs a puzzle box, a literal puzzle box in the form of a computerized house tucked away in a remote compound in the mountains, but there's nothing more to it. The motivations of the characters are unbelievable or seem so contrived and fake, and this movie also builds to an ending that can be shrugged off with a "So, what?"

Domhnall Gleeson (About Time and Frank) stars as Caleb, a programmer at a Google-like company who is chosen to participate in a Turing test of a new robot built by Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac (Drive and Inside Llewyn Davis). Gleeson himself did a version of this in an episode titled "Be Right Back" from Black Mirror in 2013. He was better in that British series and the ideas in that episode were better fleshed out, meaning I felt for the robot in that TV show. I didn't feel for the robot here.

In terms of a Turing test, even though it's not ever articulated as that, the best example to which I can point is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in its second season entitled "The Measure of a Man" back in 1989. It's the best example because it considers more and addresses the implications of actually proving the Turing test in a way that's not just juvenile thinking of robots will kill humans.

Writer-director Alex Garland doesn't provide much context to the outside world, as far as how along in robotics science and technology are. There's no context over what year it is. Should we be amazed at all at how much Nathan has done or is he just one of many scientists racing to the finish line on this robotics front? If the question is if the robot named Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, passes the Turing test, the answer is a definitive yes, which is reasonably determined within the first minute of interaction with Ava.

The question isn't really the artificial intelligence inside Ava. The question is the artificial intelligence inherent in Garland's screenplay. It's not if Ava can pass the Turing test. It's if Garland's script can pass the Turing test and the answer to that is no. A so-called romance between Caleb and Ava lacks all intelligence. Each character in fact becomes so manipulative and conniving that everything by the end felt so artificial and contrived. The final moment, emotionally, feels completely hollow. It's a literal, "Why should I care?"

There's also a hole in the plot. This will be a spoiler alert!

It's learned that Ava is the most recent of several attempts by Nathan to perfect his artificial intelligence. All previous versions of Ava have gone mad trying to escape the compound, specifically the glass cage underground to which Nathan keeps Ava confined. Given that, it seems irrational that Nathan wouldn't allow Ava some freedom, at least the ability to leave her glass cage. The area around the overall compound is all mountains and the only real way out is via helicopter. Also, the fact that we see video of previous versions literally trying to claw their way out is an indication that his artificial intelligence worked and no Turing test is even needed at all.

One Star out of Five.
Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.


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