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The UnPopular Opinion: Ex Machina

03.24.2016

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Every so often, a genre film defies convention and becomes a critical and commercial success. Often, those films explore lofty ideas in a way that is different than every other film like it to create something special. 28 DAYS LATER is a film like that. SUNSHINE is another. Even DREDD, which I found to be highly overrated, delivers something outside of the norm for science fiction and action movies in general. What do those three films have in common? Screenwriter Alex Garland. Garland has become the go-to writer for deep genre films which take B-movie characteristics and mold them into something loftier and far more thought-provoking. EX MACHINA was acclaimed as a film like those named before but it is not worthy of being considered great. EX MACHINA is instead a movie that aims to break the mold of science fiction but instead plays by the numbers and gives us a story that is far too safe and far too conventional for all of the talent involved.

I recently listed Alex Garland as a director on the verge of becoming a household name and I stick by that assessment. He was a phenomenal screenwriter and a talented novelist before that. I implore you to read The Beach and The Tesseract and tell me this guy doesn't know his way around the English language. But, when he took on dual duties as writer and director on EX MACHINA, the writing suffered. From a conceptual point, EX MACHINA is a brilliant story: a genius inventor brings along an employee to assist in testing his latest creation, an artificially intelligent android. The young man begins the test with apprehension but soon begins to feel an emotional pull towards the woman who is not a woman at all. What this story has to it's credit is a rich narrative idea that is perfect for deliving into the hard science fiction that is overlooked in mainstream studio films. Instead, EX MACHINA descends rather abruptly into a cliche genre movie.

There is a surrealistic and nightmarish feel to many of the sequences in Garland's film. From Nathan (Oscar Isaac) shows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to his windowless room or Nathan's erratic behavior including late night dancing with Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), EX MACHINA has a feeling of foreboding that keeps you on the edge of wondering just what is going on. Could Caleb himself be a machine like Ava (Alicia Vikander)? Is Nathan plotting something far more nefarious than the Turing test? Caleb begins a spiral as he spends more and more time with the attractive and sensual Ava that forces him to question his own humanity. It is when he is just on the brink of madness that...nothing happens.

EX MACHINA is the very definition of a slow burn and for the majority of the 108 minute run time, it moves very deliberately and draws the viewer into this isolated and confined world. Garland does a great job of putting us in a similar place as the trapped Ava and we feel the same desire to free her as Caleb does. Nathan, who starts the film as a bit eccentric, quickly becomes a mad scientist by the film's end. We want to see Caleb and Ava escape. While the decision to have Ava leave Caleb and set off on her own quest to become more human is not an issue for me, the execution is. I do not fault Alex Garland in any way from a director's standpoint, but as a writer he dropped the ball big time. The final act of the film is rushed and a jumble of unresolved questions and plot points that leaves us questioning why many elements were introduced into the story only to be abandoned.

The final act also delves into many cliches of the science fiction genre rather than exploring new ground. Continually through the film, you are able to anticipate what the characters will say or do next and it almost always turns out to be exactly that. There are really no curveballs in this movie despite the fact that it sets up multiple moments that could have knocked audiences on their asses and left them scratching their heads. Instead, you get exactly what you get and not even the stellar acting from the trio of Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson can save it. I wanted badly to feel some connection with Ava or Caleb beyond their confinement but it never develops. When Nathan is murdered by his own creations, it didn't even register as much more than what was to be expected. We should have felt that suckerpunch feeling that comes with investment in the movie but instead it just plods along to the next sequence.

It is a shame that EX MACHINA doesn't make it all the way over the bar it set for itself as the visual film is quite excellent. Garland makes great use of cinematographer Rob Hardy who films the films with beautiful helicopter shots and brilliant framing. The special effects are second to nome with the effects used to make Alicia Vikander look synthetic achieve the desired result of forcing the viewer to pause and question if what we are seeing is real or not. With all of these positives, I am not shocked at the acclaim heaped on this movie by critics and audiences alike. But, when you really delve into the film, doesn't it come up short?

Like Neill Blomkamp's DISTRICT 9, this is a debut feature brimming with talent and potential. But whereas Blomkamp's science fiction held a great deal of humanity that helped the central message of acceptance and racial tolerance, EX MACHINA ends up being a generic B-movie with outstanding visual effects. Take this film apart and you can include numerous elements on any number of best of lists, but taken as a whole, EX MACHINA is mediocre at best and vanilla at worst. This is a movie with so much story to tell that it is a damn shame it doesn't have a satisfactory ending. Alex Garland is far too talented to let himself get in the way, so here is hoping that he either relinquishes the scribe duties to a co-writer for his next big idea or sticks to one job or the other.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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9:02AM on 03/25/2016
I totally agree.This film was bad.Not an awful one but a mediocre movie that misses almost all its points.I'm still wondering about all the good reviews it got.
I totally agree.This film was bad.Not an awful one but a mediocre movie that misses almost all its points.I'm still wondering about all the good reviews it got.
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7:01PM on 03/24/2016

So I guess if you disagree with the assessment you get down voted?

Ex Machina was easily one of the best films last year, and one of the best sci-fi movies of all-time. It seems all the criticisms being brought up here about the third act being cliche don't provide an alternative for how things should have gone instead. And in reality, the ending avoided some of the trappings commonly associated with the genre--the guy saves the beautiful woman after falling madly in love with her within a few days.
Ex Machina was easily one of the best films last year, and one of the best sci-fi movies of all-time. It seems all the criticisms being brought up here about the third act being cliche don't provide an alternative for how things should have gone instead. And in reality, the ending avoided some of the trappings commonly associated with the genre--the guy saves the beautiful woman after falling madly in love with her within a few days.
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12:02AM on 03/25/2016
That's what happens. I'd bet that if the girls in the movie had huge boobs it would've been praised.
Such a great movie.
That's what happens. I'd bet that if the girls in the movie had huge boobs it would've been praised.
Such a great movie.
6:21PM on 03/24/2016
I kind of agree with the author on this one. I really like the movie from a technical stand point (the writing, acting, and visuals are pretty solid all around), but for some reason didn't really connected with me beyond the technical merits. Glad I watched it, but have no desire to see it again.
I kind of agree with the author on this one. I really like the movie from a technical stand point (the writing, acting, and visuals are pretty solid all around), but for some reason didn't really connected with me beyond the technical merits. Glad I watched it, but have no desire to see it again.
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4:12PM on 03/24/2016

Thank you!

I've said for months that I thought Ex Machina was the most overrated film of 2015. It was ponderous, boring, and I saw the "surprise" ending 30 minutes before it happened. While it wasn't all bad (I give it a 6) and I liked the intellectual approach to the film, the execution was poor and Domnhall Gleeson was God awful.
I've said for months that I thought Ex Machina was the most overrated film of 2015. It was ponderous, boring, and I saw the "surprise" ending 30 minutes before it happened. While it wasn't all bad (I give it a 6) and I liked the intellectual approach to the film, the execution was poor and Domnhall Gleeson was God awful.
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4:04PM on 03/24/2016
one of the most overrated films of the last year. It's just an OK film.Nothing great except Oscar Isaac's performance
one of the most overrated films of the last year. It's just an OK film.Nothing great except Oscar Isaac's performance
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-2
3:19PM on 03/24/2016

Respectfully Disagree

I think the movie was outstanding. The ending was brilliant. While some of the ideas weren't new (what is these days), they were delivered in ways never before explored.
I think the movie was outstanding. The ending was brilliant. While some of the ideas weren't new (what is these days), they were delivered in ways never before explored.
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12:35PM on 03/24/2016

Ex Machina was awesome, you're opinion is dumb

Loved every moment of this movie. Without hesitation one of the best sci-fi movies or even movies in general in the 15 years. I thought it stayed away from traditional safe/ dumb audience film making. I find it hard to believe unless you were trying not to like this movie that you didn't absolutely love it. Some people are a more quality vs quantity i guess so maybe this writer is more of a twilight breaking dawm part 4 kind of person. who knows.
Loved every moment of this movie. Without hesitation one of the best sci-fi movies or even movies in general in the 15 years. I thought it stayed away from traditional safe/ dumb audience film making. I find it hard to believe unless you were trying not to like this movie that you didn't absolutely love it. Some people are a more quality vs quantity i guess so maybe this writer is more of a twilight breaking dawm part 4 kind of person. who knows.
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12:49PM on 03/24/2016
You called the writer dumb and then proceeded to type some pretty dumb things.
You called the writer dumb and then proceeded to type some pretty dumb things.
12:31PM on 03/24/2016

Nope and nope

The dance scene alone elevates this movie to perfection.
The dance scene alone elevates this movie to perfection.
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+0
12:20PM on 03/24/2016
I found this movie to be a well shot film that didn't really bring any new ideas to the table or ask any questions that hadn't been posed a million times before. It was enjoyable but ultimately nothing particularly new, or memorable.
I found this movie to be a well shot film that didn't really bring any new ideas to the table or ask any questions that hadn't been posed a million times before. It was enjoyable but ultimately nothing particularly new, or memorable.
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12:06PM on 03/24/2016
Wait, what? This is a perfect movie from start to finish. I agree with the below comment, if you are going to make a statement like something doesn't work, should probably list why it doesn't work, because I'm missing where this one went wrong.
Wait, what? This is a perfect movie from start to finish. I agree with the below comment, if you are going to make a statement like something doesn't work, should probably list why it doesn't work, because I'm missing where this one went wrong.
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11:29AM on 03/24/2016

You know what you can do with that opinion, right?

And "taking it to the bank" ain't it.
And "taking it to the bank" ain't it.
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11:21AM on 03/24/2016
I guess it wasn't Fantastic Four enough, maybe they should have gotten Tim Story to direct it.
I guess it wasn't Fantastic Four enough, maybe they should have gotten Tim Story to direct it.
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11:20AM on 03/24/2016

Total disagreement here.

I loved this one, I actually liked it a lot more the second time around then the first time. As you say it's a slow burn. I think it's greatest achievement is that it was not another science-fiction movie involving and A.I. system, that as been done and done before. That alone was refreshing chance of pace for me. Also, it had a focused and coherent story, unlike Chappie. I think this movie definitely is more thematic as oppose to story based which could make the ending feel like it has less of
I loved this one, I actually liked it a lot more the second time around then the first time. As you say it's a slow burn. I think it's greatest achievement is that it was not another science-fiction movie involving and A.I. system, that as been done and done before. That alone was refreshing chance of pace for me. Also, it had a focused and coherent story, unlike Chappie. I think this movie definitely is more thematic as oppose to story based which could make the ending feel like it has less of an impact. Maybe even a little unsatisfactory. I'm not trying to sound pompous or anything like that, and I'm not saying you missed the point. I'm just saying that I enjoyed what this movie did. It did go through some of the same motions that many stories before it go through, I just liked the matter of how it tackled those elements. Plus I really liked the performances from the three actors. Sitting here thinking about it, this movie makes me kind of wonder if Garland himself has gotten burned by a woman before. Given how the movie ends.
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11:19AM on 03/24/2016

While I disagree with everything you said...

It would be cool to hear more about how this movie "drops the ball" in the third act. You say that it does because things become predictable, but you mainly just mention Nathan's death. I couldn't love this movie more, but I enjoy these articles as a type of devil's advocate. Is there more you could say to your thoughts on the third act?
It would be cool to hear more about how this movie "drops the ball" in the third act. You say that it does because things become predictable, but you mainly just mention Nathan's death. I couldn't love this movie more, but I enjoy these articles as a type of devil's advocate. Is there more you could say to your thoughts on the third act?
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11:22AM on 03/24/2016
I've tried fixing my title many times to zero success, but it should say, "While I disagree with almost everything you said". Obviously I don't disagree with your opinion on the acting, effects and overall look of the film being fantastic.
I've tried fixing my title many times to zero success, but it should say, "While I disagree with almost everything you said". Obviously I don't disagree with your opinion on the acting, effects and overall look of the film being fantastic.
1:11PM on 03/24/2016
I am of the same mind as you, I would like to know what the author means by "dropping the ball". I found the story to be an intricate game of cat and mouse that explored familiar tropes, but through the lens of the voyeuristic near-future that society could be headed towards. It is one of my favorite movies in recent memory, so I'm curious about these "unresolved questions".
I am of the same mind as you, I would like to know what the author means by "dropping the ball". I found the story to be an intricate game of cat and mouse that explored familiar tropes, but through the lens of the voyeuristic near-future that society could be headed towards. It is one of my favorite movies in recent memory, so I'm curious about these "unresolved questions".
2:34PM on 03/24/2016
internet tough guy......must get your blow up doll as hot and bothered
internet tough guy......must get your blow up doll as hot and bothered
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