Basically, Ex Machina is about a computer engineer who builds a female robot, then brings in a young man to see if she has the intelligence to escape.
Why in the hell would a man, ostensibly spending the better part of his entire life designing and building this thing, want to do that? So right off the bat, the film’s premise seems quite ridiculous.
In all fairness, we don’t learn this until the well into the film’s third act, when the film gets all twisty and turny with surprises and revelations that seem to be in fashion with today’s overwritten screenplays. But Ex Machina’s first hour promises some serious exploration on the subject of artificial intelligence, even though we’re introduced to Ava (the AI) far too early to develop any meaningful suspense. Combined with lush striking cinematography (of the designer’s fantastic workplace overlooking breathtaking scenery), and some nifty digital effects that are not overused, at least not at first anyway, the film starts rather intriguing.
But then it becomes clear the film isn’t much interesting in having a meaningful discussion on AI. The dialogue is heavy on information, but it’s all just window dressing: flat technospeak intended to lend credibility to the two lead characters. Instead it comes off as writer’s posturing. When Caleb, the contest winner who gets to “test” Ava, asks Nathan, the designer, why he isn’t part of a true Turing Test (when the tester doesn’t know whether or not he is talking to a computer), he isn’t given much of an answer. Nor is he for his query as to why Ava is given sexuality. Comparisons to the artist Jackson Pollack and predictions out the future of AI/human relations are dead-ends too.
And the characters aren’t particularly credible, either. At no point did I actually believe Ava was a robot, nor, for that matter, did Nathan convince me her was her builder. He spends most of the film drinking beer, lifting weights, getting pissed off, looking at all his surveillance monitors and spouting snippy phrases that are supposed to make him look intelligent. Only Caleb seems right as the contest winner, but how much praise is it that he plays a blank slate pretty well?
This surprising shallowness makes sense once we get to the big “twist,” at which time we realize it was all but a setup. And then we get some messy plot baggage involving how far Nathan has really gone with his AI toys, particularly with those of the female persuasion (really just an excuse for a lot of nudity). I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say things go South pretty badly for our fanatical programmer. And the very ending is clever enough, but it thusly turns the theme of the film into more of a cautionary parable than a novel-based story.
But it’s all in keeping with what the film truly wants: to be diverting entertainment. On that basis, it succeeds well enough. But it won’t be compared to AI classics like The Stepford Wives, Westworld, or more recently, A.I. or Her anytime soon.