ex-machina-1Isaac Asimov’s work concerning robotics has often been held as a major point of reference for Science-Fiction that concerns Artificial Intelligence. Asimov laid down a great number of laws in regards to the moral applications of artificial intelligence in human society. While these laws do not necessarily apply to Alex Garland’s directorial début, the logic of Asimov’s world-building is prescient in Ex Machina‘s style and execution, which draws upon many a touchstone of Science-Fiction, concocting a lo-fi genre picture that is as stylishly familiar as it is engaging and daring in its thematic concerns, allowing for Garland’s début to stand as one of the most thrilling Sci-Fi’s of recent years.

Young computer programmer, Caleb (Domhall Gleeson) wins the chance to spend a week with the allusive genius CEO who owns the company for whom he works, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Once he arrives, Caleb discovers that he has been selected to test out Nathan’s latest creation, an artificially intelligent robot humanoid, whom he believes may have developed conciousness. As Caleb engages with the A.I. in question, Ava (Alicia Vikander), he soon begins to learn that notex-machina-2 everything is what it seems with Nathan’s ground-breaking invention, as well as the inventor himself.

Alex Garland has carved an impressive figure for himself as a scribe of some of the more original pieces of Science Fiction in the past 15 or so years, from penning the likes 28 Days Later and Sunshine, as well as bringing Dredd to the screen in spectacularly faithful fashion (many of us hold on to the hope for a sequel one day), gesturing that it was simply a matter of time before he took the reins of one of his creations. Ex Machina feels like a very smart move for a début, as it deals with rather large themes but on a very intimate scale, never leaving the isolated abode of CEO Nathan (a sleek design brimming with a cold sophistication).

Garland’s script, and his restrained framing and movement ensures that the film never develops a condescending tone. There are a great number of concepts involving both A.I. technologies, the morality of man, as well as mankind’s significance in the grand scheme of things at work in the proceedings. There is a lot of philosophical musings, as well as developing established ideas concerning technology to be attributed to a more advanced design of Artificial Intelligence. It is a film which makes you feel smarter for having watched it, despite the fact that the information never feels spoon-fed. Screenwriters struggle to find the means to deliver exposition without it being too clunky, Garland allows the audience to learn in a fluid and natural fashion.ex-machina-3

The simplicity of Garland’s execution allows for the truly stunning visual effects work to adorn the screen in all their simulated humanoid glory. The robotic design is eloquent and provocative, allowing for Vikander to give a human physicality to Ava, who remains a very engaging presence, despite the see-through mid-drift containing the gears and cogs that keep this machine alive. Vikander is quite stunning as Ava, her beauty gives Ava a dangerous and seductive element, something which Caleb quickly falls victim to. Vikander doesn’t play to cliché; there’s no creepy robot voice, instead we have what appears to be a naive, almost child-like creation. But, much like her design, Vikander and Ava turn out to be much more sophisticated than initially meets the eye.

Gleeson, a star very much on the rise, continues a string of impressive performances, albeit simply playing a variation on the nervous, slightly awkward type. Here, he is very much a puppet within a grand scheme, with the strings (for the most part) being pulled by Nathan. As the reclusive CEO, Oscar Isaac’s delivers the freshest and most energetic performance within the cast, crafting Nathan as a charismatic ass-hole burdened with an exceptional level of genius. All three of these performers are set to have an incredible year (Gleeson and Isaac are travelling to a galaxy far, far, away), with this film allowing each actor an intimate showcase that proves why each of them are in such high demand. ex-machina-4

Ex Machina is the most impressive film I have seen thus far this year, with the past month has been truly quite special in regards to cinematic offerings. Not everything has been good, but there has been a great deal of variety, allowing for a convincing argument to be made that cinema is far from dead, it is in fact thriving. Ex Machina stands as an impressive piece of genre film-making, as well as a début which further displays the potential of Garland as a creative force, who can only grow in strength as a directing force. Whatever his next project may prove to be, I, and I’m sure many other fans of this feature, shall be eagerly anticipating the announcement. Is there any chance that it could turn out to be Dredd 2? Please? Anyone?

5/5- An elegant and sophisticated Sci-Fi, which deals with large themes on an intimate scale. Intelligent and utterly compelling.