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'Ex Machina': The reviews are in...

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The theme and threat of artificial intelligence is poised to dominate the summer box office when The Avengers: Age of Ultron opens next week. But another, much smaller film that shares some of the same A.I. DNA has been making its own mark in limited release for the last two weeks. Ex Machina expands nationwide on Friday, and writer-turned-first-time-director Alex Garland might have a stealth indie hit on his hands. 

The stylish, paranoid thriller stars Domhnall Gleeson as a low-level computer programmer who’s invited to his billionaire boss’ (Oscar Isaac) isolated estate to take part in an enhanced version of the Turing Test—an imitiation game to determine whether the quirky genuis’ new humanoid invention, Ava (Alicia Vikander), is advanced and sophisticated enough to pass for human. Ava is an enchanting and sensual being, and she apparently passes the test with flying colors—winning Gleeson’s affection in the process and dangerously shifting the relationship dynamics. 

“Garland specializes in stories where the future and the present collide head-on like trains speeding down the same track,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty, who gave the film a B grade. “The collision tends not to go well. Whether it’s the adrenalized zombie apocalypse of 28 Days Later, the doomed space mission of Sunshine, or the chilling alternative reality of Never Let Me Go, he seems to regard humanity with the same rueful skepticism that genre predecessors Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick once did.”

To read more of Nashawaty’s review and a sampling of other critics from across the country, click below:

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“As they say in screenwriting seminars—and in the corner suites of Hollywood studios—the movie has ‘third-act problems.’ Ex Machina is beautiful and ominous and features another delicately nuanced performance from Isaac, who’s quickly making a habit of them. But in the end, for all of Garland’s ambition, his reach winds up exceeding his grasp. The film is as synthetic as Ava.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“Despite its sci-fi trappings, Ex Machina winds up being much more of a heated, tormented gothic than a futuristic spectacle, ably brought to life by the three leads, each operating on their own wavelength. The fact that Garland manages to cram in speculative ideas about the perils of a society that relies too heavily on technology is a bonus.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

“In Ex Machina, Garland balances absurdist humor with the throb of imminent disaster and just a hint of forlorn romanticism. It’s hard to imagine another director squeezing as many shades and colors from his screenplay as Garland did, and from now on, it would be understandable if he insisted on directing everything he writes.”

Guy Lodge (Variety)

“A worthy companion piece to Under the Skin and Her in its examination of what constitutes human and feminine identity … Garland’s long-anticipated directorial debut synthesizes a dizzy range of the writer’s philosophical preoccupations into a sleek, spare chamber piece: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein redreamed as a 21st-century battle of the sexes.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ++

“As a cinematic mash-up of Metropolis2001: A Space OdysseyMy Fair LadyBlade Runner, and Her, among other films, and with one of the most impressive CGI/human characters I’ve seen, this is a dizzyingly effective sci-fi/thriller. It’s a small film with big ideas.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) ++

“There are more than a few dollops of body horror in Ex Machina, which winds up veering into pop revenge pulp. But even at its bloodiest, the film succeeds at ratcheting up the mood of quiet unease, provocatively engaging everything from intimacy, identity and agency to such hot-button issues as corporate surveillance, sexual orientation and male privilege.”

Wesley Morris (Grantland)

“After a while, you realize that [Garland] has relied entirely on mortifying atmosphere to get him through. The red hell lighting that crops up makes you feel like you’re at one of the parties in Rosemary’s Baby. Meanwhile, something on Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s effective electronic soundtrack is nearly always throbbing. You don’t know whether to climb the walls or phone a cardiologist.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

“There’s more here than slick genre moves, including Mr. Isaac and Ms. Vikander, who suggest complexities not on the page. While Nathan’s charisma throws the triangulated drama off balance, “Ex Machina” belongs to Ava, whose depths of meaning enrich the movie and then engulf it.”

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

Vikander—a Swedish actress seen in Anna Karenina and The Fifth Estate—has a placid inscrutability that can pass for either naivete or artful manipulation. Rather than a female Frankenstein, she’s this movie’s Pinocchio, a mechanical puppet who aches to be a real girl. At least, that’s what she says.”

David Edelstein (New York)

Vikander was a ballet dancer, and she has what Mikhail Baryshnikov had in his too-brief career as an actor: a lightness of tread, a lift that makes you sure the normal rules of gravity don’t apply to her. The movie’s design and special effects are, indeed, marvelous, but what makes Ava amazing is all human.”

Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter)

Gleeson is excellent at conveying brainy beta-male vulnerability, and handles his American accent convincingly, but he still feels a little too wan for leading man duties. Heavily bearded and barely recognizable from previous roles, Isaac is more impressive. His Method-style immersion in Nathan combines the Zen intensity of Steve Jobs with the party-hard muscularity of a surfer dude.”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 78

Rotten Tomatoes: 89 percent

Rated: R

Length: 108 minutes

Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson

Directed by Alex Garland

Distributor: A24