‘Ex Machina’: Much Different Than Your Average Robot Movie

Artificial Intelligence is a very common theme in movies. In fact, just this year there’s been at least four movies either entirely focused on AI, or at least addressing the idea in a cursory sense. These include films about a robot like Chappie, reprogrammed to feel instead of being only a brute force used by the law to keep order. There’s also been the sort of AI introduced off-hand in movies like Age of Ultron, and of course the classic “man against the machine” storyline we see in the latest Terminator film, Terminator Genisys. Ex Machina, recently released on DVD, may have something others don’t though, and it’s worth taking a look at where this movie diverges in quality, making it a worthwhile watch even out of theaters.

The depth of most of the AI films that come out is lacking, to say the very least. Terminator is replaying the same tired storyline over and over; Arnold Schwarzenegger is basically a perfect representation for the whole film at this point. Chappie, while talked about a great deal prior to coming out, was ultimately a letdown, only receiving a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes and generally not terribly well loved by the audience. Age of Ultron technically has AI themes in it, but by the very nature of the franchise it will always be 90% about the Avengers regardless of what other subject matter is drawn into it.

Ex Machina, on the other hand, is a concentrated study of the concept of artificial intelligence, but has depth and tension beyond just the potential dangers of robotic self-awareness. If you take some of the best AI-themed movies in the last few decades or so, Ex Machina has elements of each. Blade Runner, a cult classic and adapted from one of the most famous science fiction novels about robots, AI, and I, Robot, all probably fall within that category, and in the more recent cinematic releases, Her addressed the idea of a relationship with an artificial being.

In Ex Machina programmer Caleb wins a major company competition that leads him to a visit with the private company CEO, Nathan, at his personal residence. Upon arriving to the isolated home, he’s told by Nathan that he’s actually been chosen to test a new piece of technology — a robotic woman named Ava — and see whether or not she truly shows consciousness. Ultimately though, she proves more intelligent and manipulative than he’s prepared to handle.

The movie deals with the concept of humanity, self awareness and its limitations, s well as the drive to survive. It focuses on the idea of mistrust for both man and robot, and the betrayal and uncertainty that comes along with one’s humanity. Ex Machina has similarly sexual themes to those found in Blade Runner and Her, while also maintaining the thriller atmosphere you see in I, Robot, not to mention the appealing graphics.

AI shares similar themes about humanity and emotion, but Ex Machina is arguably slightly more approachable and draws the audience in better. And while it demonstrates the dangers of artificial intelligence, and man’s potential to create something smarter and more devious than itself, it does so without needing the gratuitous explosions that Terminator utilized, instead going a more cerebral route to bring across the same messages.

It has also been praised for strong acting and its disturbing quality that can appeal to even an audience not usually attracted to the science fiction genre. “The most interesting role, of course, is Ava, and Vikander (Alicia Vikander) nails it. It’s actually possible to say of this film that it’s worth seeing just for the robot,” writes CJ Johnson of ABC Radio.

Part of what helped make the film such a success is undoubtedly the directing; Alex Garland was involved with other similarly disturbing and suspenseful films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine. It’s particularly clear that he has no qualms about ending on a dark note, and is more interested in exploring the ideas and creating a mood than making a blockbuster action film that leaves the  audience happy.

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