Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coder at a gargantuan tech company—think Google. He wins a company lottery to spend a week at the estate of the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). While there, Caleb will test Nathan’s latest tech breakthrough. The estate covers several square miles of land and the only way in and out is by helicopter. When Caleb finally arrives, he finds the reclusive Nathan, who comes across as a brilliant functioning alcoholic. However, Caleb cannot test the new tech until he signs a very extensive non-disclosure agreement. Once he does, Nathan reveals that he has been working on an automaton with functioning artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Nathan tells Caleb that he will be conducting a Turing Test on Ava to see if she can pass as fully human. Upon meeting Ava face to face, Caleb is immediately drawn to her, perhaps even falling in love with her. She reveals to him that Nathan isn’t all that he seems and Caleb begins to question his own sanity as he continues interacting with both Nathan and Ava in the isolated research center. What does it mean to be human and can love truly blossom between man and machine?
That’s all I’ll reveal of the plot—basically what’s in the trailers—because I don’t want to reveal any of the nice twists that take place. The film is well-plotted and very topical as technology continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. It’s also one of the much better science fiction movies we’ve gotten in theaters in quite some time. There were some nagging plot holes at the end and a few moments that felt like convenience, but they were not enough to negatively impact my enjoyment of the film.
The cast members give absolutely stellar performances. Alicia Vikander is a revelation as Ava. Her performance is filled with curiosity without ever making her come across as completely childlike. She’s also sexy as hell. I first became aware of her in Seventh Son earlier this year and I think that Ex Machina will serve as her breakout role. She’ll also appear in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. this summer. She’s worth the price of admission herself. Isaac and Gleeson are quickly becoming two of my favorite actors and they deliver their usual great performances. Gleeson is usually quite likable on screen, but here he shows some darker dimensions to himself, while Isaac plays the cold and logical Nathan to perfection. Both will be appearing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens late this year. Sonoya Mizuno is also very good as Nathan’s assistant Kyoko.
Overall, while it’s not perfect, Ex Machina is a great science fiction film with fantastic performances from the three leads. There are a few elements that may leave you scratching your head at the end, but they are not enough to not recommend this film. It broaches a subject that has been explored in other movies—Spike Jonze’s Her, among others—and one that will become more and more relevant as time goes on.