Very few filmmakers have a resume quite as robust with such a small amount of credited works. Acting as screenwriter for films such as Sunshine, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Never Let Me Go and probably one of the biggest cult hits in the past decade Dredd, Alex Garland has worked on what can be considered some of the most under appreciated films to come out in the past decade. With Ex Machina Garland has finally made the leap to the director's chair and his Freshman effort falls right in line with all of his previous work when it comes to its ambitions but feels a little more conventional in comparison.
Ex Machina is a great looking, acted and directed film. As far as independent films go, the production is all around top notch. Where it comes up a little short however isn't with its execution, but its actual premise. The idea of the creator being destroyed by their own creation goes as far back in time as the bible with the most popular fictionalized version being Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking inspiration from such a well known and excessively overused thematic structure like that since it is the basis for so many popular works, but if you are gonna do it then you really need to add something new to the mix which Garland's Ex Machina fails to do.
It is really difficult coming off so negative because as earlier stated the rest of the film is near flawless. The three main actors are not only some of the biggest up and coming stars at the moment (both Oscar Isaac and Domhnal Gleeson are in the new Star Wars film and Alicia Vikander stars in the award darling The Danish Girl) but are also superb in their roles. Isaac in particular delivers an award worthy performance as the mad scientist Nathan who has created the ground breaking A.I. driven Ava (Vikander). You admire Nathan's ingenuity but hate him as a human being which is a difficult feat to pull off but Isaac instills just enough likability into the role the makes it all work.
The quasi romance between Ava and Nathan's stooge Caleb (Gleeson) works for the most part mainly due to the natural chemistry between the two actors but is sabotaged, much like the rest of the film, by its extremely predictable final act which can only be viewed as a let down compared to the finely tuned and far more interesting first two acts. There was an opportunity here to take a well known story and do something unique with it and the fact that it sets up the audience to expect that with a first hour filled with such a disquieting horror and methodical build up and drops the ball at the end is severely disappointing. What should have been a revelatory conclusion instead fails to deliver anything even remotely as compelling as what had come before it which actually comes more as a shock than the ending itself.
Hearing so many great things about Ex Machina during its theatrical run it was impossible to not expect great things from it, especially considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. The film even goes so far as to convince you that it is as good as everyone said with a first hour that seems to be heading in a far more interesting direction than it actually is. But when that final act concludes it is difficult to not feel disappointed or at the very least underwhelmed. While some may be dazzled by its first rate production qualities and its talented cast, the fact remains that Ex Machina fails to live up to its own potential in the end.