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  • <I>Ex Machina</i>: Can Two Wily Men Outsmart a Gorgeous Robot?

Ex Machina : Can Two Wily Men Outsmart a Gorgeous Robot?

Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina

Correction appended: April 10, 2015

After Eve: Ava. “She” is an advanced species of robot in female form, her flawless face encased in a Plexiglas skull, her arms and legs an efficient tangle of wires . Her creator, the Internet genius-entrepreneur Nathan (Oscar Isaac), has invited Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), one of his bright employees, to submit Ava (Alicia Vikander) to the Turing Test and determine if the android is self-aware. “If you’ve created a conscious machine,” Caleb marvels, “it’s not the history of man. It’s the history of gods.”

“Deus ex machina” is the phrase applied to the climactic moment in a classical Greek tragedy when gods would descend from the skies to resolve all knotty human problems. And god, or God, is the word that hovers over Ex Machina , Alex Garland’s pristinely creepy science-fiction film. Nathan could be the Old Testament God, who created man (Adam-Caleb) in His image, and woman (Eve-Ava) in man’s. So exactly do Ava’s flawless face, sensational figure and sweet demeanor match Caleb’s notion of the perfect woman that he can’t help wondering if Nathan, in designing the robot, “accessed my pornography profile.”

At 13, Nathan devised the code for Bluebook, “the world’s most popular Internet search engine.” Now he runs the company, and dreams up new cool things, from a remote aerie deep inside a forest about the size of the King ranch . Giant crevices form the walls of his home and lab, which the hairy genius lords over like some troll deity, dividing his spare time between working with weights and getting angrily drunk. Having formulated Ava by simultaneously hacking everyone’s personal computer, Nathan has summoned Caleb for a week’s worth of sessions with Ava, one each day. The young man will probe Ava’s mind while Nathan messes with his.

Garland wrote the novel The Beach , which Danny Boyle filmed in 2000 with Leonardo DiCaprio, and penned the original scripts for two other Boyle movies: 28 Days Later… (zombies) and Sunshine (space epic). He also adapted Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go , a story about human clones starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield who think they’re human. This early work, and perhaps his parentage — his mother is a psychoanalyst, his father a political cartoonist — well prepared Garland for his first effort as writer-director, which carries the echo of many horror, sci-fi and adventure tales while speaking in its own distinct, quietly commanding voice.

A chamber piece about the first causes and ultimate effects of grand scientific experiments, Ex Machina may remind you of Duncan Jones’ Moon (a human stranded in a space station with his clone) or Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (a brilliant plastic surgeon who imprisons a creature of almost unreal beauty). Ava could be a sister of sorts to three Scarlett Johansson entities: the OS voice in her , the alien in Under the Skin and the turbo-evolving heroine of Lucy . She surely qualifies as “more human than human,” like the androids in Blade Runner (which also had a kind of Turing Test). Look back just a month and find Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie , about the search for human identity of a robot not nearly as dishy as Ava.

The scenario of a ruthless man captivating people in a remote location for his science or sport recalls both H.G. Wells’ 1896 The Island of Doctor Moreau and Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” both of which spawned many movies. And before all these was Frankenstein , the Mary Shelley novel that celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2118, and whose theme of the scientist playing God can accommodate any number of updates, including this one. Nathan, drunk on his own brilliance, is the savant who would breathe a soul into his new machine. Caleb is the ambitious assistant who fancies he can free the lovely automaton from her creator. In this Olympian chess game, Ava also has a role: as pawn, queen or grandmaster.

Nathan has programmed Ava to be appealing, beseeching, vulnerable. “What will happen to me if I fail your test?” she asks Caleb in one of their early sessions. “Do you think I might be switched off?” We too come to think of Ava not as a rat in a maze, hoping only to survive and escape, but as the woman the lonely Caleb must desire. When her relation to her tester warms up, she dons a wig, a print dress and white stockings — to fully simulate human femininity — telling him, “This is what I’d wear on our date.” Nathan seems amused: “Can you blame her for getting a crush on you?”

We might ask: Can a robot fall in love? Could Caleb, or any young human male, resist her requests? By adding sexual attraction to the artificial-intelligence equation, Garland steers his movie into a caustic meditation on the power that men believe they have over women. Nathan has created Ava; Caleb thinks he can be her lord and mate. They should be mindful of Ava’s status: the deus ex machina who might emerge as a dea , a goddess from a machine.

Garland has distilled these big themes into a hyperbaric chamber piece — one location, three main characters, seven days — with a born auteur’s command of actors and atmosphere. Ominous electronic music (by Ben Salisbury, a composer of music for TV nature documentaries, and Geoff Barrow of the jazz-rock band Portishead) pulses through Mark Digby’s lab set — a suitably sterile habitat that is also a wonder of design. Garland is also bold enough to break the tensely contemplative mood with a frenetic dance that Nathan and Ava perform to Oliver Cheatham’s 1983 R&B hit “Get Down Saturday Night.”

Garland also had spectacular acuity or great luck in choosing his actors. Isaac contributes another portrayal in his gallery of overbearing outsiders, after Sucker Punch and Inside Llewyn Davis ; his Nathan thinks that boorishness is an emblem of his superiority. Gleeson, who graduated from playing a lesser Weasley in the last two Harry Potter films (his actor father Brendan was Mad-Eye Moody) to starring as the time-traveling romantic in Richard Curtis’s About Time , is splendid as the questing naïf who gains a backbone to battle Nathan, in the hope he can be Theseus in the Minotaur’s cave.

But the miracle performance is from Vikander, the 26-year-od Swedish actress who starred in the Oscar-nominated Danish film A Royal Affair and made a beguiling international impression as Kitty in the Keira Knightley Anna Karenina . Trained as a dancer, Vikander lends Ava a grace and precision of movement that could be human or mechanical, earthly or ethereal. We can almost watch Ava’s mind work, not because of the see-through plastic casing but because of the actress’s command of each minute stage in her character’s evolution. As a spectral eminence yearning to be a woman beyond Nathan’s or Caleb’s dreams, A.V. makes a great Ava.

She is also the gleaming Exhibit A in the devious experiment that Garland is conducting on the scientist, his acolyte, his robot — and on the viewers. It’s not hard to feel grateful to be his lab rats. Ex Machina is the year’s most seductive high-IQ drama.

Read next: See the Most Iconic Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Film

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the plot of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go . It is a story about human clones.

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Film Review: ‘Ex Machina’

Alex Garland's brittle, beautiful directorial debut is a digital-age 'Frankenstein' refashioned as a battle of the sexes.

By Guy Lodge

Film Critic

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Ex Machina Movie

While multiplex fantasy remains an extravagantly caped boys’ club, a stealthy gender inquiry is taking place in more specialized sci-fi territory, with Alex Garland ‘s brittle, beautiful “ Ex Machina ” its latest slyly thoughtful line of questioning. A worthy companion piece to “Under the Skin” and “Her” in its examination of what constitutes human and feminine identity — and whether those two concepts need always overlap — 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. Exquisitely designed and electrically performed by Alicia Vikander , Domhnall Gleeson and particularly Oscar Isaac , this uncomplicated but subtly challenging film requires strong word of mouth from its January U.K. release (and its March SXSW premiere) if audiences abroad are to tap its porcelain surface.

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“I’m hot on high-level abstraction,” brags 24-year-old Internet coder Caleb (Gleeson) early on in the proceedings — a qualification as necessary for the position of protagonist in an Alex Garland narrative as it is for the mysterious mission he’s assigned in the film’s opaque opening reel. Much of Garland’s fiction and screenwriting work is built on austerely abstract hypotheses, yet peopled by comparatively fragile characters unequal to the challenges of their story world. In its dramatization of a literal love affair between human and artificial intelligence — the same unsolvable conundrum that haunted the recent “Her” — “Ex Machina” follows suit, its updated mad-scientist study showing man’s capacity for invention exceeding his reserves of empathy. (In this case, at least, the gender-biased pronoun feels appropriate.) One might call it a cautionary tale, though Garland isn’t necessarily on humanity’s side.

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Indeed, the film’s very first frame serves to distance viewers from their own: D.p. Rob Hardy’s camera peers at Caleb in his office as if from the reverse side of his computer screen, while muted audio suggests we’re observing him from a quarantined realm. As it turns out, he’s soon to join us there. It emerges that Caleb has won a competition staged by his employers, the world’s largest Internet provider, to spend a week with enigmatic CEO Nathan (Isaac) at the latter’s expensively hermetic woodland lair — dazzlingly envisioned by production designer Mark Digby as a palatial blend of Philip Johnson severity and Scandinavian laboratory chic.

Upon arrival, however, the wet-behind-the-ears nerd discovers that his golden ticket is no luxury perk: Rather, he’s been recruited to participate in a cloistered research experiment, testing the limits and limitations of Nathan’s stunningly advanced new developments in AI technology. The boss’ most recent breakthrough takes the form of Ava (Vikander), a female-gendered robot whose expressive, peach-soft facial features belie her transparent synthetic form and complex exposed wiring. And so, during the first of Caleb’s seven planned consultation sessions with her, do her casual conversational ability and dry, even flirtatious sense of humor; somewhat surprisingly, Nathan has designed an organism as delicate and genial as he is brusque and self-absorbed.

Caleb’s task is to perform a Turing test on Ava, determining whether her thinking and behavior is, at any level, distinguishable from that of a human being — and if so, where the disconnect lies. (That, of course, makes “Ex Machina” the second film of recent months, following the much-garlanded “The Imitation Game,” to concern itself with the research of computer scientist Alan Turing. Furthermore, it arguably does a better job of honoring his intellectual legacy.) As the interloper falls hard and fast for the android, the test would appear to be passed with flying colors. But is she the only case study? And has her precise degree of consciousness and calculative ability been programmed by her creator, or has his expertise in this department exceeded his control?

As the balance of power wavers between human and humanoid intelligence, a second dividing factor appears in this uneasy, quasi-incestuous love triangle, as Ava exhibits hints of a feminine intuition that the jockish Nathan seems unlikely to have formatted himself — even if, in a provocative detail that opens up further consideration of sexual hierarchy, he made sure to grant her functioning facsimiles of genitalia. “Ex Machina” turns out to be far wittier and more sensual than its coolly unblemished exterior implies; it’s a trick that mirrors Ava’s own apparent Turing-test-defying evolution. As further intricate psychological possibilities unfurl, the pic extends questions of mortality and human construction raised by Garland in his deft 2010 adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s genetic sci-fi parable “Never Let Me Go” — principally that of what humanity is worth if it can be so soulfully replicated.

Isaac has been in such a rare run of form recently that one fears for his ability to surprise, but it’s still intact here. Cutting a more baleful figure than usual with his dense beard and scalp-skimming buzz cut, his Nathan responds to the world around him — the limited world he’s curated for himself, at least — with unfazed-sounding comebacks and laid-back swagger that ultimately betray the strenuous effort behind them. It’s the piercingly funny sendup that the “tech-bro” elite has had coming for too long, but Isaac is too nuanced a performer to leave it there, never neglecting the petulant brilliance that finally makes this designer Dr. Frankenstein a tragic figure.

Garland’s script doesn’t grant Gleeson and Vikander quite the same liberty to play, but both actors turn in remarkably disciplined work, articulating a burgeoning romance in which the boundary between real and simulated feeling is kept teasingly ambiguous throughout. Swedish export Vikander, whose shimmering physical presence increasingly recalls that of her compatriot Ingrid Bergman, aces a particularly tough assignment in Ava, a cipher whose every gesture and vocal inflection renders her at once more human and less explicably alien.

Filmed on an approximate budget of just $15 million, the film looks and sounds immaculate at every turn, with its contained, interior-based three-hander structure permitting the money to be lavished less on locations and more on eerily vivid digital and prosthetic effects. (The film’s sporadic attempts to “open out” proceedings, as when a dialogue-driven scenes is situated by a waterfall rather than one of Nathan’s airtight suites, are more a distraction than an asset.) The effects and makeup teams have made Ava a robot of strikingly brutal grace, her flesh bluntly disrupted by metallic components.

Fresh off his elegant work on period dramas “The Invisible Woman” and “Testament of Youth,” Hardy brings equivalent visual propriety and composure to a more futuristic mood piece, while composers Ben Salisbury and Portishead frontman Geoff Barrow contribute a bristling electronic score that swarms and simmers with the characters’ own emotional surges. Given Barrow’s presence, one half expects the film to close with his band’s signature hit “Glory Box,” the key refrain of which — “Give me a reason to be a woman” — would aptly sum up its hybrid heroine’s own state of mind.

Reviewed at Vue West End, London, Jan. 12, 2015. (In SXSW Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.

  • Production: (U.K.-U.S.) A Universal release of a Universal Pictures Intl., Film4 presentation of a DNA Films production. Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich. Executive producers, Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Tessa Ross.
  • Crew: Directed, written by Alex Garland. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Rob Hardy; editor, Mark Day; music, Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow; production designer, Mark Digby; art director, Denis Schnegg; set decorator, Michelle Day; costume designer, Sammy Sheldon Differ; sound (Dolby Digital), Mitch Low; supervising sound editor, Glenn Freemantle; re-recording mixers, Ian Tapp, Niv Adiri; makeup designer, Sian Grigg; visual effects supervisor, Andrew Whitehurst; visual effects, Double Negative; stunt coordinator, Andy Bennett; line producer, Caroline Levy; associate producer, Joanne Smith; assistant director, Nick Heckstall-Smith; casting, Francine Maisler.
  • With: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani, Lina Alminas.

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Summary Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test—charging him with eval ... Read More

Directed By : Alex Garland

Written By : Alex Garland

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Movie Review: “Ex Machina” puts the Fear of God into us, about machines

machina

“Ex Machina” is an “Island of Dr. Moreau” for the singularity era. It’s a cerebral, chilling and austere thriller that stokes our fears about digital privacy and artificial intelligence, a film that works largely thanks to a breakout mechanically empathetic turn by Alicia Vikander (“A Royal Affair,””Seventh Son”). Domhnall Gleeson (“Frank”) is Caleb, a top-notch computer coder who has been summoned to the remote Norwegian retreat of his reclusive search engine mogul boss. Nathan (Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) is a little eccentric, a genius who lives alone, save for a silent Japanese servant (Sonoya Mizuno) in a bunker of a house in a sylvan, mountain setting. He’s approachable, calls Caleb “bro” and likes his beer and his workout routine. Caleb has won a contest that singled him out for a special job. Nathan’s latest breakthrough is a sentient robot, artificial intelligence that could be “the greatest event in the history of man.” “History of gods,” Caleb corrects. “It’s Promethean, man.” The film’s title has told us that much, taken from the Greek “Deus ex machina,” “god in the machine.” Nathan needs Caleb to administer a week-long series of questions, a “Turing Test” to determine if this machine has a conscience, thinks for itself, etc. Ava (Vikander) is a wonder. We can see the metallic components that make up her innards, hear the servos whirr with every movement. But the little skin that is there covers an expressive face, her head twitching like a curious bird, her voice nuanced to create empathy as she picks up on Caleb’s social signals. She is complicated, fascinating, and as Caleb notes, “non-autistic.” She has empathy and flirts. “Are you attracted to me?” Caleb can talk tech with Nathan and talk about life with Ava and that takes him “through the looking glass,” wondering just who is manipulating him, and to what end. Nathan has callously ignored Asimov’s laws of robotics that might protect humanity from the grave threat that everyone from Arthur C. Clarke to Stephen Hawking has warned us about. Context is key, as a film about this subject with another in a long line of shapely robots comes after “Her” and the Euro thriller “Eva” (a robotic child). Is Ava a mechanical cure for loneliness among the technorati, or an agent of our doom? No actor is making more consistently interesting choices than Isaac, these days. Nathan is menacing and charming, condescending and encouraging. The Irish Gleeson unleashes an impeccable American techie accent here and lets us see the wheels turn as Caleb tries to reason out where his sympathies should lie and who the greater threat is. But Vikander and the effects that erase a big chunk of her body make “Ex Machina” work. Thanks to her, the directing debut of writer-producer Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”) is a movie that’s another emphatic flag of caution about digitally surrendered privacy and digital submission to a fate Big Tech seems pre-ordained to sentence us to.

3stars2

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno Credits: Written and directed by Alex Garland. An A24 release.

Running time: 1:45

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The Review Geek

Ex-Machina – Release Date: 23rd January 2015

A stunning film without a hint of deus ex machina

Playing heavily on the psychological implications of an artificial being gaining human-like sentience, Ex Machina is a stunning piece of science fiction that grips from its opening moment to its shocking finale. Full of tension, horror and fascination, Ex Machina’s trio cast deliver an incredible performance to elevate this film to the forefront of the sci-fi genre. It’s intelligently written script and isolated setting really elevate the film and its social commentary about artificial intelligence and its affect on the human psyche is devastatingly powerful when the credits roll on this epic film.

The story focuses on Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer who wins a competition to go and see CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) in a private mountain resort. Upon learning he’s to be the human part of a turing test for robot Ava (Alicia Vikander), Caleb begins questioning everything around him including his own existence and what it means to be human. Its a clever story; there’s enough twists and turns to break up the suffocating tension that grips almost every scene. Even the hypnotically bizarre dance number delivers just enough surrealism, keeping itself tonally focused on building tension. Every scene is tense and right up until the explosive climax, you’re not quite sure what will happen. Its helped by a tight script that stays intelligently routed in its sci-fi origins while asking questions around humanity and what it means to truly be human.

All of this is helped along by some fantastic acting. Although Oscar Isaac is outstanding as unpredictable alcoholic Nathan, I’d argue that Alicia Vikander is the real stand out here. Her wide eyed stares and robotic mannerisms help to bring the AI to life and you really get a feel for the sheer scope of the project and close to being human she is. Not only does she manage to act and sound robotic, there’s enough humanity thrown in to sometimes switch off, forgetting this is a robot that Caleb is speaking to and its here that Ex Machina really thrives. An uneasy, surreal score helps to unsettle the picture further and some slick camera work and great lighting help bring each scene to life.

The beautiful setting of the remote mountain resort is the perfect location for the film and the majestic open beauty juxtaposes perfectly with the claustrophobic and suffocating setting for the vast majority of this title. It works well too and with such a well executed film, its hard to find faults with Ex Machina. Quite simply, this is one of the best science fiction films in recent memory and its ending is one that will leave shivers down your spine.

  • Verdict - 9.5/10 9.5/10

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‘ex machina’: film review.

Screenwriter Alex Garland makes the move into directing with a futuristic psy-fi thriller about sentient robots fighting for survival.

By Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton

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The potential existential threat to humans posed by the dawning era of artificial intelligence is the theme chosen by British screenwriter Alex Garland for his stylish directing debut. The subject may be familiar, but Garland has a track record of rebooting and revitalizing pulp genres, most notably his “fast zombie” script for Danny Boyle ’s dystopian thriller 28 Days Later. He also worked with Boyle on the screen version of his own cult novel The Beach , and the futuristic space adventure Sunshine .

Despite its modest budget — reportedly around $13 million —  Ex Machina looks sleek, shiny and remarkably slick for a directing debut. But it also suffers from the same kind of third-act slump that marred some of Garland’s previous work, promising a psychological depth and dramatic punch that it never quite delivers. That said, this is still a classy piece of cerebral sci-fi, with high production values and hot media buzz that should propel it beyond fanboy circles. It opens in Britain next week, with a U.S. launch planned for SXSW in March followed by an April release through niche distributor A24.

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Already on course for sci-fi immortality in the next Star Wars movie, rising young Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson stars as Caleb, a geeky 24-year-old coder for a Google-like Internet company who wins an office lottery prize to spend a week with his reclusive genius boss Nathan ( Oscar Isaac ) at his remote fortress of solitude in the Alaska mountains. Essentially, Caleb is Charlie to Nathan’s Willy Wonka. But soon after he arrives by helicopter, it becomes clear Caleb’s golden ticket was planted by Nathan, who needs a human lab rat to assist in his top-secret research project to build the world’s first free-thinking android, Ava ( Alicia  Vikander ).

Initially informal and laid back, Nathan’s forced bromance with his new house guest soon takes an ominous turn when he presses Caleb into subjecting Ava to the “Turing Test” (as seen in Blade Runner ), which is designed to differentiate humans from smart machines. But Ava has other plans, running her own sly tests on Caleb as she flirtatiously recruits him for a robot mutiny against Nathan. This three-way battle of wits eventually becomes a lethal fight for survival. Caleb is forced to choose between the seductive Ava and the bullying Nathan, both of whom appear to have murky motives.

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. The delightfully unexpected scene where he breaks into synchronized disco dancing with his mysterious Japanese partner Kyoko ( Sonoya Mizuno ) is one of the best in the movie, a welcome shot of humor in an otherwise self-serious project.

But Vikander is the heart of the film, her poised performance combining mechanical implacability with troubling emotional undertones. The Swedish-born ex-ballerina moves with a dancer’s precision, incorporating subtle hints of cybernetic stiffness as she extends her lean biomechanical limbs to the soft whirr of internal servo motors. Conceived by a team led by production designer Mark Digby and costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ , Ava’s graceful humanoid form is the film’s chief visual trump card, scoring maximum eye-popping impact with a transparent wire-mesh jewel-case midriff and luminous cranium that were added in postproduction. She looks like a walking, talking, next-generation Apple product: the first iHuman maybe?

Artfully spartan in its use of digital effects, Ex Machina looks great, forging a strong visual aesthetic from a limited budget. All glass walls and stripped pine, Nathan’s remote mountain retreat is elegantly sketched out as a modernist, minimalist holiday cabin perched atop a high-security subterranean bunker. Interiors are clinical and sparse, with muted colors and discreetly embedded technology. With Norway standing in for Alaska, the landscape framing the action is elemental and vast, awesome in scale but chillingly devoid of human life. It could be prehistoric, or even postapocalyptic.

Grounded in real cutting-edge science, Garland’s talk-heavy screenplay has the crisp feel of a three-handed stage play. Imagining the imminent future of sentient machines that many computer experts now deem to be inevitable, he speculates how the birth of a “singularity” like Ava might spell doom for clunky old analog software like Homo sapiens . Garland also pointedly sets aside the famous Three Laws of Robotics drafted by pioneering sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, which forbade machines from harming humans.

The technology in Ex Machina may be current but the story belongs to a long screen lineage spanning from Metropolis  to The Terminator to The Matrix ,  and dozens more besides. Garland brings little fresh to this familiar man vs. machine theme, aside from explicitly sympathizing with the robots over the humans. He also signals far too soon that Nathan is a mad scientist in classic movie tradition, Doctor Frankenstein with a hint of Colonel Kurtz, but never provides any plausible explanation for how he ended up so damaged.

Garland’s screenplay is linear and low on tension, with too few of the dramatic swerves and shock twists that many sci-fi fans will be expecting. There are promising hints of a Stepford Wives feminist subtext in the male human/female robot power play, especially when Ava’s potential as an expensive sex toy is briefly discussed, as well as a teasing Blade Runner -style sequence about robots who believe themselves to be humans. Sadly, both these intriguing tangents lead nowhere.

The story ends in a muddled rush, leaving many unanswered questions. Like a newly launched high-end smartphone, Ex Machina looks cool and sleek, but ultimately proves flimsy and underpowered. Still, for dystopian future-shock fans who can look beyond its basic design flaws, Garland’s feature debut functions just fine as superior pulp sci-fi.

Production companies: DNA Films, Film4 Cast: Alicia Vikander , Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Issac, Sonoya Mizuno Director-screenwriter: Alex Garland Producers: Andrew McDonald, Allon Reich Executive producers: Scott Rudin , Eli Bush, Tessa Ross Cinematographer: Rob Hardy Editor: Mark Day Production designer: Mark Rigby Music: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon Differ Visual effect supervisor: Andrew Whitehurst Casting: Francine Maisler

Rated 15 (U.K.), 108 minutes

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A quiet place just made john krasinski's death much darker 6 years later, where to spot the real s.j. tuohy's hidden cameo in the blind side, ex machina  is memorable and downright challenging, full of sharp performances that blur the lines between humanity and programming..

In the near-future, young computer coder Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), working for the world's most powerful tech company, is selected to assist in an unorthodox experiment. Caleb travels far from his office job to an isolated homestead, and research facility, of the company's reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) for a weeklong visit. However, when the eager employee actually meets his employer, Caleb finds that, in his isolation, Nathan has become unhinged and obsessive - rarely seen without an alcoholic drink in hand.

Nevertheless, when Nathan reveals to Caleb the purpose of his visit, the coder dismisses his initial discomfort (and fear) in favor of jumping head-long into scientific discovery. Hidden away in his compound, Nathan has been working on an advanced artificial intelligence named Ava (Alicia Vikander) - and has brought Caleb in as a consultant, hoping the programmer can successfully administer a Turing Test: intended to determine if an A.I.'s personality and self-awareness is equal or greater than a flesh-and-blood human (meaning the A.I.'s "artificial" intelligence is imperceptible to "normal" people).

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina

Ex Machina  marks the directorial debut of 28 Days  writer Alex Garland - a name that should be familiar to viewers of other fan-favorite genre stories: Sunshine and Dredd , especially. While Garland didn't spend much time in a director's chair prior to his work on Ex Machina (depending on how much you believe about the upheavals on Dredd 's set), the acclaimed novelist and screenwriter has collaborated closely with several high-profile filmmakers (including Danny Boyle). As a result, while certain moviegoers might be skeptical that a freshman filmmaker could deliver a thought-provoking, visually arresting, and outright haunting sci-fi story, Ex Machina is definitive proof of Garland's talent on the page and behind the camera.

Indicated by Garland's choice of titling (a play on the latin phase: deus ex machina, "a god from the machine"), audiences should proceed with clear expectations: Ex Machina  is not a mainstream sci-fi thriller, it's a contemplative character study that juxtaposes intelligence and the "human" soul - in a stream of dense philosophical and technical rumination. Garland doesn't abuse his viewers with technobabble but he does expect them to keep up. Beyond three engaging leads and brainy sci-fi storytelling, Ex Machina is a movie about questions and debate - both layered into the subtext and full-on portrayed in scenes of interview as well as, at times, interrogation.

Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in 'Ex Machina'

Fresh off a well-received performance in About Time (and gearing up for a lead role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens ), Domhnall Gleeson is an absorbing and empathetic stand-in for the film's audience - a wide-eyed optimist quickly enamored by Nathan's creation. In most scenes, Gleeson is playing the straight man, a sounding board to educate and challenge viewers but, even though the actor offers a quality performance, he's often overshadowed by his co-stars - especially Isaac. Even in a film starring a sentient artificial intelligence, Isaac's Nathan is a fascinating and entertaining addition - a man that embodies the conflicted nature of humankind: a creative savant, crippled by his own intellect, exiled in a prison (both mental and physical) of his own invention.

In any other movie, Isaac's tortured genius would steal the show but, unsurprisingly, Ex Machina 's Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) succeeds as the main attraction - and the crux on which the film comes full circle. Vikander's layered performance required a subtle touch (she is, after all, a person playing an artificial intelligence that is near-indistinguishable from a real human) - to ensure that Ava is neither too human or too robotic. It is Vikander's vulnerable portrayal that keeps Ava locked in a captivating middle ground - forcing Caleb, Nathan, and Ex Machina 's audience to face a range of complicated human emotions: wonder, uncertainty, and fear, along with some flat-out challenging questions that our world (outside of the theater) will inevitably have to ask in the not-too-distant future.

What happens to me if I fail your test?

That said, after a brave and alluring performance from Vikander, android Ava was brought to life through an inventive mix of live-action and CGI (via the combined efforts of Millennium FX, Double Negative, and Milk VFX), as well as beautiful cinematography from Rob Hardy. It's fair to say that in addition to being one of the most thought-provoking science fiction films of late, Ex Machina is also one of the most visually arresting.

Ex Machina  is memorable and downright challenging, full of sharp performances that blur the lines between humanity and programming - as well as twists that playfully defy the film's audience. It's an art-house movie, one that may move too slow or spend too much time in subtle reflection for casual viewers, but that doesn't mean Garland has missed his mark. Tracing a careful line between good and evil, genius and insanity, as well as soul and soullessness, Ex Machina  is a captivating viewing - one that will leave moviegoers with plenty to contemplate.

_____________________________________________________________

Ex Machina  runs 108 minutes and is Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence. Now playing in theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our  Ex Machina  Spoilers Discussion .

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Ex Machina  episode of the  SR Underground podcast .

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deus ex machina movie reviews

Young computer programmer Caleb is selected to participate in a groundbreaking experiment by evaluating the human qualities in a new and improved female artificial intelligence. But in the luxurious, isolated mansion of the man who created this technology, all may not be as it seems.

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There are three main characters in “Ex Machina,” and one of them is Ava (Alicia Vikander). She is not just a pretty face. The rest of her head, too, is very pretty: a dome of fine metallic mesh, atop a delicate stalk of clear neck, through which we see the glow of blue diodes and the play of mechanical muscles. The pattern continues below. Parts of her, like the bust, are politely encased, while others, like the legs and the stomach, are transparent, with luminous coils and loops where her guts should be. When Ava walks or turns, she gives off sounds—tiny whirrs and hisses, as of rods and pistons sighing into place. If necessary, her frame can be robed in strips of flesh, to fashion a complete young woman. In all, she seems absorbingly real, enough to overshadow the non-robotic people she meets. That is both the coup and the pitfall of “Ex Machina”: the humanoid is more human than the humans.

Ava’s creator is Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a loner of bottomless wealth. At the age of thirteen, he wrote the code for Bluebook—“the world’s most popular Internet search engine.” Now he is a guru with all the fixings: cropped hair, a thicket of black beard, a burning stare. He resides, with Ava, in a research facility, among meadows and mountains, attended by a silent servant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno). One day, a helicopter brings Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), “the most talented coder in my company,” according to Nathan. Beware of movies that jack themselves up with superlatives, as if straining not merely to catch but to merit our earnest attention; in “Ex Machina,” the strain increases as Caleb declares, “I’m hot on high-level abstractions,” and as Nathan beguiles him in return. “You’re good with words, you’re quotable,” he says. Sorry, guys, that’s for us to decide.

Caleb’s task is to put Ava through the hoops: to determine, in a series of interviews, whether she can truly think, and even feel, for herself. If so, she will represent—you guessed it—“the greatest scientific event in the history of man,” as Nathan modestly claims. There are seven conversations (titled “Ava: Session 1,” and so forth), and they are the endoskeleton to which the story clings. To begin with, they have the lurch of an unsuccessful speed date. “You like Mozart?” Ava inquires. “I like Depeche Mode,” Caleb replies. During the second session, however, there’s a power cut, and, under blood-red emergency lighting, and with Nathan unable to listen in, she murmurs to Caleb, “You shouldn’t trust anything he says.” The plot is in motion, although who is pulling the strings—Pinocchio or Geppetto, so to speak—becomes ever harder to decide. Ava has no doubt that she exists, but she fears that such existence can be terminated. “What will happen to me if I fail your test?” she asks Caleb. “Do you think I might be switched off?”

That faint tapping you can hear is scholars already drafting their lectures on the mind-body problem in “Ex Machina,” adding it to the roster of films, from “Metropolis” to last month’s “Chappie,” that make philosophers go soft in the hard drive. But a movie can tackle a host of interesting themes and still be a bad movie, as anyone who saw a befuddled Johnny Depp grope his way through “Transcendence” can attest, and there are times when the gears of “Ex Machina,” which was written and directed by Alex Garland, begin to grind. The third session is particularly glum, proving that the spirit of screwball has yet to descend upon robotics. “How do I look?” Ava says. “You look,” Caleb begins, and there follows a long hunt for the mot juste: “Good.”

And yet “Ex Machina,” despite the stutters, slowly finds its grip and starts to squeeze. Garland, whose scripts have often prowled the zones of science fiction (he wrote “28 Days Later,” “Sunshine,” and “Never Let Me Go”), is making his début as a director, and his method feels patient to a fault. There is little excitement, even at the climax, but the creepiness of the setup generates its own hum of suspense, and you hunger for more details of exactly what Nathan has devised. “I had to get away from circuitry,” he tells Caleb, showing him a manufactured brain—a beauteous clump of gel, the size of a conch, its innards writhing with synaptic sparks. Oscar Isaac is someone filmmakers turn to for a cautious intensity, and here he dials it up, leaving us nicely uncertain whether Nathan is a dauntless pioneer or a dangerous loon. Hanging over him—and also over Kyoko and Caleb, who at one point slices his own arm as if to cry, “Do I not bleed?”—is a suspicion, inherited from “Blade Runner,” that anyone can be a replicant, perhaps unwittingly so. Hence the great sequence in which Nathan and Kyoko start to boogie, their rhythms so seamlessly attuned that you wonder if dance can be downloaded, like an app. If perfection is inhuman, though, what should we make of Fred Astaire?

In the end, “Ex Machina” lives and dies by Alicia Vikander. The film clicks on when she first appears, and it dims every time she goes away. She will be much in evidence this year, with six movies set for release, but Ava may be hard to beat. Her initial “Hello” to Caleb, with half a question mark hovering after it, echoes the “Hello” with which another Ava marked her ominous entrance. Viewers of “The Killers,” in 1946, saw Ava Gardner swivel on a piano stool, greet Burt Lancaster, size up the poor lunk, and let him know with a single smile, to his infinite delight, that he was doomed. You would think that the new Ava, being man-made, would be less of a femme fatale, but she can still unmake a man with her imitation of a femme—putting on clothes, shoes, stockings, and a wig, then removing them, in semi-silhouette, when she is sure that Caleb is watching.

That is pure calculation, of course, easily arranged by a programmer as dexterous as Nathan, yet Vikander, brimful of an eagerness not so much to engage with the world as to toy with it, does suggest that Ava has slipped the bonds of her inventor. Such is the dream of movies like “Ex Machina,” “I, Robot,” and “A.I.”: an intelligence that sloughs off its own artifice. The components of Spielberg’s movie didn’t quite slot together, but the leading androids—Haley Joel Osment, as the kid, and Jude Law, as the smooth-skinned gigolo—were touching in their aspirations, and Vikander somehow twines them both, the innocent and the decadent, into the figure of Ava. We are reminded (and this is why such films, strong and weak alike, keep coming along) that the goal of robots is not merely to serve us without causing harm, as Isaac Asimov proposed, but to play a part. They are Method humans, reaching deep into their software to beget a replica of truth. Ava doesn’t just need to get out of Nathan’s house, and fast. She needs an agent.

Happiness, in the first half hour of “About Elly,” is passed around like the flu. A bunch of college friends get together for a weekend away, most of them with spouses and small children. The friends are no longer young, yet their spirits seem buoyantly high, and the movie is keen to join in—glancing at face after face, and eavesdropping on the overlapping chat. Characters dance without warning, answer a question with a line of song, and play charades. They have to shift from one rental villa to another, but the move doesn’t faze them, even though the new place has broken windows and no beds. Besides, it’s right on the beach. You can hear the crash of the surf.

At what point we realize that disaster awaits, and that these contented lives, like all lives, can be caught in a riptide, is hard to specify. Suffice to say that something happens, and that husbands, wives, and old pals who felt inseparable descend into a roiling recrimination. It’s difficult and upsetting to behold, but we shouldn’t be surprised; the director is Asghar Farhadi, who mapped out the pangs of divorce in “A Separation” (2011). “About Elly” was made two years before that, but only now is it being released, and, perhaps because the action is confined to Farhadi’s native Iran, it’s a better movie than “The Past” (2013), which was set, more tentatively, in Paris. Here, by the treacherous sea, Farhadi is at home, and, as is his custom, it is women who emerge from the crowd of characters and come, heavy-laden, to the fore.

One of them is Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), the only single woman in the group, described as “warm and calm.” She is also inscrutable, and, when she recedes from the action, whereabouts unknown, the mystery darkens. She was invited by Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), who, despite barely knowing her, was hoping to marry her off to one of the guys. As the plot proceeds, we get an unnerving sense that the whole film, whose early stages bore such a modern and liberated ease, is gradually re-rooting itself in old, tenacious beliefs—in a world where honor and shame run deeper than the mere matter of whether a person is alive or dead. “About Elly” both clutches us tight and shuts us out, adding wave upon wave of secrets and lies. Charades were just the beginning. ♦

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What is Deus Ex Machina in Film?

Deus Ex Machina is a storytelling technique that has roots in the ancient Greek Theatre. Let’s see how it applies to film.

what is deus ex machina film

D eus Ex Machina is a Latin phrase that translates as God from the Machine . It is also one of the oldest plot-developing techniques. For example, the protagonist is trapped, facing death without any chance of survival or he is facing defeat without the slightest chance of victory. All of a sudden, someone or something comes along, changes the situation, and saves the main character. Out of the blue, an unsolvable problem is suddenly and conveniently solved, often in a way that seems unrealistic.

The Origin of Deus Ex Machina

deus ex machina movie reviews

The origin of Deus Ex Machina as a concept goes back to the ancient Greek Theatre . In ancient tragedies, a God willing to save the day or the main hero often provided the solution. The Deus Ex Machina was played by an actor who descended onto the stage and represented a deity. Back in the day, this plot device served as a method to resolve conflicts, primarily safeguarding the protagonist and offering a satisfying moment for the audience. For instance, in Sophocles ‘ tragedy Oedipus Rex , the true identity of Oedipus comes from a plot intervention that resolves the central mystery through one of the first uses of Deus Ex Machina ever.

deus ex machina movie reviews

Over the years, the Deus Ex Machina technique has shifted to a more metaphorical thing. While it used to involve a Deity providing the solution to the plot, in its modern version, Deus Ex Machina is often associated with overly convenient and, some might say, lazy undertakings that consistently protect the protagonist at the very last minute. The audience bonds with protagonists who create their destinies through choices and actions that lead to a culmination. Carelessly and chaotically separating the film climax from the protagonist diminishes the plot’s significance, rendering the story meaningless for the audience.

Aristotle’s and Robert McKee’s perspectives 

deus ex machina movie reviews

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The use of Deus Ex Machina as a narrative device has often been criticized for being an easy way out. Employing this specific technique can often set a trap for aspiring writers. Numerous critics and dedicated cinephiles believe that it should be avoided. Aristotle , the renowned Greek philosopher , criticized this technique of storytelling. He argued that the resolution of a plot should be based on the inherent logic of a play rather than on external elements that diverge from its internal logic. Aristotle once said: “ It is evident that the solutions of plots should come about from the plot itself and not from a contrivance .”

deus ex machina movie reviews

Another storyteller guru of modern times, the famous screenwriter Robert McKee, analyzed and expressed the idea of an active protagonist who can overcome any kind of struggle. In his advice on storytelling, Robert McKee emphasized the significance of keeping the protagonist engaged in the climactic resolution. McKee embraced creativity in writers and scriptwriters worldwide through his celebrated seminars and his book Story .

The active participation of the protagonist when resolving the problem during the plot’s climax crisis is often the key to a successful storyline. However, the protagonist is likely sidelined from the main action when the solution arrives through an external intervention. In that case, the result can be catastrophic for the story, as the importance of the protagonist himself diminishes in the eyes of the audience.

On the other hand, when protagonists devise a solution using the abilities and traits we learn about at the start of the story, the audience experiences feelings of pleasure and justice. Ultimately, the gratification and validation that arise from protagonists harnessing their abilities and traits rely on finding the right balance between the character’s development and successful cinematic storytelling.

deus ex machina movie reviews

In the grand tapestry of storytelling, Harry Potter and James Bond stand out as dynamic examples of famous protagonists with distinct abilities and inherent traits that lead them to magnificent triumphs that bring joy to their fans. In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, his identity as the Boy Who Lived is interlinked with his magical prowess and courage. As challenges arise, Harry’s skills in spell-casting, his determined loyalty to his friends, and his inner need to stand up against evil push him to navigate dangerous scenarios and ultimately defeat all the dark forces.

Meanwhile, the iconic James Bond operates in a world of espionage. From the very beginning, his persona as a sophisticated and creative secret agent shapes his perspective on problem-solving. Bond’s sharp intellect, fighting skills, and charismatic charm are vital tools in his arsenal. Traditionally, he gives the audience a sense of satisfaction after every single victory that he achieves on the silver screen.

Finally, it appears that establishing a well-structured narrative with a thoughtfully regulated concept of catharsis serves as a gratifying reward for any viewer who has embarked on a storytelling journey, spanning from the ancient world to the present day.

Deus Ex Machina Blessing or Plot Device Curse?

deus ex machina movie reviews

A modern storyteller or a visionary filmmaker has to maintain the internal logic of a film. The audience can then trust a film’s structure and understand the plot. Once the rules of the story have been established, they cannot be changed. Otherwise, the plot development can seem dishonest, with the risk of alienating the audience from its meanings and messages. In numerous films, there’s a moment when the main characters find themselves clueless about overcoming obstacles. At times, a solution that appears to come out of nowhere can erode the audience’s trust in the story.

deus ex machina movie reviews

Finally, another common cliché happens when the cavalry suddenly comes to save the day. In that case, the timing is always too convenient. Out of the blue, this helpful intervention solves the problem for the protagonist without any contribution from the main character’s side. This use of Deus Ex Machina can destroy the suspense and kill the thrill felt by the viewers.

Commonly, real-life coincidences often carry an inherent allure, eliciting surprise and excitement. However, in a structured film script, where every coincidence appears abnormal, the audience can perceive these coincidences as lazy ways to resolve the plot. Reducing the use of coincidences in a script is fundamental to crafting a successful story.

Every story in cinema’s history sets specific frameworks that establish an informal contract between the storyline and the audience. The boundaries and rules of comedy are more easily bent than in any other genre. Audiences tend to be more forgiving and tolerant when it comes to comedies. On the other hand, in a more serious dramatic film script, when Deus Ex Machina is necessary for the plot’s progression, only a sacrifice or a significant loss can bring balance back to the story.

deus ex machina movie reviews

Balancing a sense of plausibility in both comedy and drama is crucial. Sacrifices, losses, and well-developed characters can lessen the potential disruptions caused by the Deus Ex Machina effect, ensuring emotional engagement from the audience throughout the story. The audience must be convinced that the story was worth their time and their money. Nothing is worse than a viewer who is disconnected from a film and sees the story as predictable. Excessive use of the Deus Ex Machina effect is considered a risk for any contemporary filmmaker. However, this is a reminder of the power of Deus Ex Machina and as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

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By Theo Kapetanakis MA Film Studies, BA Cultural Technology & Communication Theo is a filmmaker and author with tremendous passion for storytelling. He holds an MA in Film Studies from Middlesex University, London (1st Scholarship Award), and a BA in Cultural Technology & Communication from the University of the Aegean. His work includes, film directing, audiovisual arts, video editing, and scriptwriting. Furthermore, Theo is a Graphic Designer & Media Editor at TheCollector. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.

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Real science fiction is about ideas, which means that real science fiction is rarely seen on movie screens, a commercially minded canvas that's more at ease with sensation and spectacle. What you more often get from movies is something that could be called "science fiction-flavored product"—a work that has a few of the superficial trappings of the genre, such as futuristic production design and somewhat satirical or sociological observations about humanity, but that eventually abandons its pretense for fear of alienating or boring the audience and gives way to more conventional action or horror trappings, forgetting about whatever made it seem unusual to begin with.

"Ex Machina," the directorial debut by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (" 28 Days Later ," "Sunshine"), is a rare and welcome exception to that norm. It starts out as an ominous thriller about a young programmer ( Domhnall Gleeson ) orbiting a charismatic Dr. Frankenstein-type ( Oscar Isaac ) and slowly learning that the scientist's zeal to create artificial intelligence has a troubling, even sickening personal agenda. But even as the revelations pile up and the screws tighten and you start to sense that terror and violence are inevitable, the movie never loses grip on what it's about; this is a rare commercial film in which every scene, sequence, composition and line deepens the screenplay's themes—which means that when the bloody ending arrives, it seems less predictable than inevitable and right, as in myths, legends and Bible stories. 

The scientist, Isaac's Nathan, has brought the programmer Caleb (Gleason) to his remote home/laboratory in the forested mountains and assigned Caleb to interact with a prototype of a "female" robot, Ava ( Alicia Vikander ), to determine if she truly has self-awareness or it's just an incredible simulation. The story is emotionally and geographically intimate, at times suffocating, unfolding in and around Nathan's stronghold. This modernist bunker with swingin' bachelor trappings is sealed off from the outside world. Many of its rooms are off-limits to Caleb's restricted key card. The story is circumscribed with the same kind of precision. Caleb's conversations with Ava are presented as discrete narrative sections, titled like chapters in a book (though the claustrophobic setting will inevitably remind viewers of another classic of shut-in psychodrama, Stanley Kubrick's film of " The Shining "). These sections are interspersed with scenes between Caleb, Nathan, and Nathan's girlfriend (maybe concubine) Kyoko (Sonoya Mizono), a nearly mute, fragile-seeming woman who hovers near the two men in a ghostly fashion. 

Because the film is full of surprises, most of them character-driven and logical in retrospect, I'll try to describe "Ex Machina" in general terms. Nathan is an almost satirically specific type: a brilliant man who created a revolutionary new programming code at 13 and went on to found a Google-like corporation, then funneled profits into his secret scheme to create a physically and psychologically credible synthetic person, specifically a woman. This is a classic nerd fantasy, and there is a sense in which "Ex Machina" might be described as "Stanley Kubrick's Weird Science."  But despite having made a film in which two of the four main characters are women in subservient roles, and making it clear that Nathan's realism test will include a sexual component, the movie never seems to be exploiting the characters or their situations. The movie maintains a scientific detachment even as it brings us inside the minds and hearts of its people, starting with Caleb (an audience surrogate with real personality), then embracing Ava, then Nathan (who's as screwed-up as he is intimidating), then finally Kyoko, who is not the cipher she initially seems to be. 

"Ex Machina" is a beautiful extension of Garland's past concerns as a screenwriter. Starting with Danny Boyle's " The Beach ," based on his novel, and continuing through two more collaborations with Boyle, "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine" and the remake of " Judge Dredd ," Garland has demonstrated great interest in the organization of society, the tension between the need for rules and the abuse of authority, and the way that gender roles handed down over thousands of years can poison otherwise pure relationships. The final section of "28 Days Later" is set in a makeshift army base where soldiers have taken up arms against hordes of infected citizens. No sooner have they welcomed the heroes into their fold than they reveal themselves as domineering monsters who want to strip the tomboyish women in the group of their autonomy and groom them as concubines and breeders in frilly dresses, in a skewed version of "traditional" society. The soldiers, not the infected, were the true zombies in that zombie film: the movie was a critique of masculinity, especially the toxic kind.

Likewise, "Ex Machina" is very much about men and women, and how their identities are constructed by male dominated society as much as by biology. Nathan actively rebels against the nerd stereotype, carrying on like a frat house alpha dog, working a heavy bag, drinking to excess, disco dancing with his girl in a robotically choreographed routine, addressing the soft-spoken, sensitive Caleb as "dude" and "bro", and reacting with barely disguised contempt when Caleb expresses empathy for Ava. It's bad enough that Nathan wants to play God at all, worse still that he longs to re-create femininity through circuitry and artificial flesh. His vision of women seems shaped by lad magazines, video games aimed at eternal teenagers, and the most juvenile "adult" science fiction and fantasy. 

As Ava becomes increasingly central to the story, the movie acquires an undertone of film noir, with Nathan as the abusive husband or father often found in such movies, Caleb as the clueless drifter smitten with her, and Ava as the damsel who is definitely in distress but not as helpless as she first appears (though we are kept guessing as to how capable she is, and whether she has the potential to be a femme fatale). The film's most intense moments are the quiet conversations that occur during power blackouts at the facility, when Ava confesses her terror to Caleb and asks his help against Nathan. We don't know quite how to take her pleas. Despite her limited emotional bandwidth, she seems truly distressed, and yet we are always aware that she is Nathan's creation. Her scenario might be another level in the simulation, or another projection of Nathan's twisted machismo. There is also canny commentary, conveyed entirely through images, which suggests that "traditional" femininity is as artificial and blatantly constructed as any android siren, which makes creatures like Ava seem like horribly logical extensions of a mentality that has always existed. (This movie and " Under the Skin " would make an excellent double feature, though not one that should be watched by anybody prone to depression.)

Throughout, Garland builds tension slowly and carefully without ever letting the pace slacken. And he proves to have a precise but bold eye for composition, emphasizing humans and robots as lovely but troubling figures in a cold, sharp mural of technology. The special effects are some of the best ever done in this genre, so convincing that you soon cease marveling at the way Ava's metallic "bones" can be seen through the transparent flesh of her forearms, or the way that her "face" is a fixed to a silver skull.

Garland's screenplay is equally impressive, weaving references to mythology, history, physics, and visual art into casual conversations, in ways that demonstrate that Garland understands what he's talking about while simultaneously going to the trouble to explain more abstract concepts in plain language, to entice rather than alienate casual filmgoers. (Nathan and Caleb's discussion of Jackson Pollock's "automatic painting" is a highlight.) The performances are outstanding. Isaac's in particular has an electrifying star quality, cruelly sneering yet somehow delightful, insinuating and intellectually credible. The ending, when it arrives, is primordially satisfying, spotlighting images whose caveman savagery is emotionally overwhelming yet earned by the story. This is a classic film.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Ex Machina movie poster

Ex Machina (2015)

Rated R for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence

108 minutes

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb

Oscar Isaac as Nathan

Alicia Vikander as Ava

  • Alex Garland

Director of Photography

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deus ex machina movie reviews

Person of Interest: "Deus Ex Machina" Review

Trial by fury..

Person of Interest: "Deus Ex Machina" Review - IGN Image

"Deus Ex Machina" was commanding and shattering. A truly giant way to take us out of Season 3. And while the entire trial may have wound up being even more of a farce than we originally expected, it was still an effective tension-builder that actually made me downgrade, in my mind, the level of Root's mission with Samaritan. Which was totally the point. Because that made it even more surprising when Samaritan came back around in the end as the main threat. And finding out that our heroes' fates were already sealed after Reese and Shaw refused to kill the senator back in "Death Benefit" really helped shed a light on how important that episode was. And how important and desperate The Machine's order to kill someone was. That was The Machine's cold-hearted play and they opted not to carry it out. And now there's a new God in charge. [poilib element="accentDivider"] Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/Showrenity .

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'He Wanted to Protect Me': Shazam! Star Meagan Good Defends Jonathan Majors Relationship Amid Controversy

M. night shyamalan's new horror film gets its rating, 10 best sci-fi movie endings, ranked.

Sometimes filmmakers leave themselves in a bit of trouble when writing movies . They've set up likable characters that they want to keep alive, but have also created an impossible obstacle that has to be overcome. When ideas run dry, writers have the delicate tool of the Deus Ex Machina, a sort of  "hand of God " to dig the heroes out of danger.

RELATED:  10 Movie Endings That Make No Sense Even On A Rewatch

As handy as this plot device can be, it should be used sparingly. When creators don't think a Deus Ex Machina through it can completely ruin an otherwise great film, but there are times when it has to be used. While some films have fallen flat due to a Deus Ex Machina, others have become famous for them.

10 War Of The Worlds: The Writers Didn't Consider How Disappointing H.G. Wells' Ending Could Be (Ruined)

Ray and Rachel Ferrier avoiding the chaos between soldiers

Steven Spielberg had experience in making sci-fi films before he adapted H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.  Though the film overall received praise, the one problem viewers constantly return to is the anticlimactic ending. While Spielberg is recognized for staying true to Wells' original work, the ending is surely something that needed improvement.

The onslaught of the aliens is marked by their impressive intelligence, technology, and brute strength, however, their demise from the microorganisms of planet Earth is too abrupt, and for many, very confusing. It contradicts the antagonist's strengths as intelligent beings and the focus on evolution doesn't fit with Spielberg's changes to the film.

9 The Mist's Ironically Depressing Rescue Still Has Fans Talking (Improved)

David kills his family in the climax of The Mist

While Stephen King 's original novel The Mist , is beloved by his fans, he gave the approval for a changed ending to the film adaptation. Originally, after the main characters make their escape from the chaotic grocery store, King wrote that they drive off into the fog together in spite of the impossible odds against them.

RELATED:  10 Movies With Satisfyingly Sad Endings

In the film, hopelessness gets the better of their judgment, and the father in the group agrees to kill everyone else to avoid the pain of a brutal death while he accepts his fate from the monsters that surround them . After the deed is done, the father is ready for what's to come but is surprised with a rescue from the military. Though there are complaints with the buildup of motivation toward suicide, the twist ending is more often given praise and gives the film as a whole more meaning.

8 The Abyss' CGI Spectacle Of An Ending Was Only Impressive On A Superficial Level (Ruined)

the abyss

One of James Cameron 's specialties is showcasing brilliant visuals , but that doesn't always mean that the meaning behind those visuals is thought out. Cameron reveals this weakness of his with The Abyss , a movie following the undersea mission of Navy Seals soldiers and two engineers.

The story is given a twist with the emergence of unknown water-based beings that lurk through the trenches of the deep. As frightening as they are, they are friendly in the small moments they share with the main characters. There isn't much else known about these odd creatures, so when they suddenly decide to save the main characters out of nowhere in the end, the film as a whole becomes solidified as a contrived mess.

7 Jurassic Park's Final Save Reminds The Audience How Chaotic This New World Is (Improved)

The T-Rex roaring between the tour cars in Jurassic Park.

The premise of  Jurassic Park 's plot draws the audience in, but the acting and the visuals keep viewers' full attention throughout. As the stakes are raised higher, and the horrors grow , this survival of the fittest campaign of a story had to end on the right note.

While some are against the heroes being saved by their former enemy, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, calling it too coincidental, that's what makes it work. Not only is the poetic irony a boost for the film, but it just goes to show how unpredictable this new world is. The story goes from nightly terrors to peaceful moments, and back to more danger in a heartbeat, so to end the film on such frightful irony and hope for the heroes, who seem so small compared to their momentary savior, is fitting.

6 Howl's Moving Castle Is A Fun Ride Up Until Its Abrupt Resolution (Ruined)

turnip head prince justin

It's very common for Japanese films to have an abrupt ending, however, it becomes an issue when the resolution to the main plot is resolved with a lazily planned coincidence, or in Howl's Moving Castle 's case, a bad deus ex machina. The central conflict of the film is the war happening over the missing Prince of the country, but finding this important character who could end the madness is never a focal point until the end.

The story focuses more on the relationship between Sophie and Howl and their heartwarming romance. Fueled by magnificent animation , the audience is led to forget about the war and the Prince in the middle of it all, until at the very end when Sophie kisses her scarecrow friend and it's revealed that he is, in fact, the prince everyone was looking for.

5 Raiders Of The Lost Ark: Indiana Jones Reveals His Greatest Strength Against His Deus Ex Machina (Improved)

raiders of the lost ark

Throughout  Raiders of the Lost Ark , the Ark of the Covenant is built up as the greatest mystery and the main goal for both Indiana Jones and the Nazis he's trying to stop. While the Nazis wish to abuse the hidden power of the Ark, Indiana wants to prevent the dangers from being used by anyone.

By the end of the film, Indiana and his beloved are captured and left to watch as the enemy unleashes the Ark's power. When the haunting ghosts fly out of the Ark, the Nazis are enamored and thrilled, but Indiana knows to look away. This small action of Indiana shows his great intelligence and is why he survives the apparition's onslaught. Though the heroes were saved by the Deus Ex Machina of the ghosts' emergence, the save wasn't so outlandish, tied the film together, and succeeds at building up the hero and justifying punishing the villains.

4 Rise Of Skywalker: The Save From Past Jedi Was Sorely Lacking (Ruined)

Rey Using The Force

Though there were already a lot of mixed feelings and thoughts from fans as Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker was released, there was still some potential that even the biggest fans could hope for. The film was a treat for those who refused to question the rollercoaster ride presented, but for those who couldn't look away, the confusion of lore and thematic clarity made for a lackluster finale. The deus ex machina that was produced made the negative reviews even worse.

While the film's deus ex machina was inspiring in the sense that it brought back beloved characters from movies past, Rey's sudden ability to reach into the cosmos and attain help from every single deceased Jedi was farfetched. Again, due to confusion with lore as well as a natural buildup to such an event, the save was too contrived and overdone.

3 Mars Attacks' Comeback Win For Humanity Is Charmingly Hysterical (Improved)

A still from Mars Attacks

While there have been many films about an alien attack on mankind, there's been nothing quite like  Mars Attacks . Tim Burton 's strange quirks as a filmmaker shine with this unorthodox film that's both horrifying and hilarious. As unsettling as it can be to watch this film from beginning to end, the surprise ending makes the wild ride worth it.

As the aliens scourge the Earth, viewers watching are left to wonder what could possibly spare humanity, until a few alien soldiers come across an innocent Grandmother listening to her favorite song  "Indian Love Call" . Perhaps it's the high pitch of Slim Whitman's voice that does the trick, regardless it fits with the film's over-the-top humor and leaves the audience with the relief of a happy ending, and a good laugh.

2 The Matrix Revolutions Ended On Too Much Of A Convoluted Finale (Ruined)

Machine City from Matrix Revolutions

After all the incredible fight sequences and insane gravity-defying stunts throughout the trilogy, the conclusion of The Matrix  trilogy was resolved with a simple bargain with the machine, not so subtly, named Deus Ex Machina.

RELATED:  10 Great Movies With Rushed Endings

In spite of the fact that Neo proclaimed that he could take Agent Smith down in the Matrix, it was the Deus Ex Machina that drew the final blow. Looking deeper into the story and lore, it does make sense that baiting Smith into taking over Neo's body while Neo has a direct link with the Machina would make for a good plan, but at first glance, that plan is too hard to see. Many viewers were downright confused as to why all the Smiths simply blew up after defeating Neo, and even those who had a grasp of what happened had to rewatch a few more times.

1 Toy Story 3: The Alien Trio's Save Tied The Pixar Saga Together (Improved)

Toy Story 3 - Woody

As realistic as Pixar tries to be, they are still producing entertainment for children, so there are routes that they are surely unwilling to go down. Killing off their entire cast of animated characters is one of them, however, toward the end of Toy Story 3 , viewers were pushed to the edge of their seats watching as their favorite characters were trapped with no escape before a garbage dump incinerator.

The danger was already heightened when the Alien Trio was swept away by a garbage truck and believed to be destroyed, but their demise was never confirmed, making for a perfect return to save their friends. Best of all was their use of a giant claw to save the heroes, a callback to their introduction in the first film.

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Movie Review: Deus Ex Machina: A review of ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’

Wanggo Gallaga

  • July 13, 2023

One amazing thing about the Mission Impossible franchise is that it always leaned in towards its fictional world so while it can mirror real world events, it never really feels overtly political. It’s enemies were all vague and opaque so as to not upset anyone in politically. If it ever did, I don’t remember it but it doesn’t bother me. You could enjoy it for what it is: a straight-up, fun, action spy adventure. It was good versus evil and always executed in the most amazing ways possible in cinema.

deus ex machina movie reviews

So when you consider the fact that ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ began filming in 2020 and wrapped up filming in 2021, then you will understand how prescient the filmmakers were in the crafting of this movie. This time, Ethan Hunt and the rest of the Impossible Mission Force (the IMF) are battling advanced technology – one that carries no allegiances and has no recognizable agenda. The enemy is an advanced AI that has global internet access and can disrupt, distort, and disable any of our digital devices. When you consider that the IMF and all the spies and governments in the world use digital technology for everything, you can understand the power this AI holds.

deus ex machina movie reviews

If this film gets political, it’s basically within the context that instead of stopping it, all governments and institutions are after its control. It seems only Ethan Hunt has the moral fortitude, and the experience and skill sets to put this AI down and ensure that no one gets it. This puts the IMF as the biggest enemy of the nations of the world; not to mention that AI itself is out to protect its own best interest. Interestingly enough, this premise is so believable, how it hinges upon our belief that governments and people with power do not fear the dangers of such an AI existing. In this current age of AI art and AI written materials, director and writer Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendressen somehow predicted how AI would be received by a general public. They seem to have made a film, unlike the message of ‘Terminator’ or ‘The Matrix’ with regards to sentient machines. Here, the enemy, once again, is us and the people in power who would rather try and take control of a powerful tool regardless of the dangers and the cost than err in the side of caution.

deus ex machina movie reviews

The premise is so strong that it highlights the heroism of a character like Ethan Hunt. Here is a man who is so capable and the world of Mission Impossible is so lucky to have him because he is so morally constant. It’s such a fictional approach and the film indulges in this mode. There’s even a scene where members of the American security council are trying to understand the whole purpose of the IMF – even to the point of making fun of its name – that amplifies the ridiculousness of the whole concept. That one scene underlines the absurdity, but it also impresses upon us that it takes a person of Ethan’s inherent, unmoving goodness to survive the temptations of this sort of work. It’s idealistic and completely unrealistic but it’s also fun to watch onscreen.

deus ex machina movie reviews

McQuarrie knows how to keep all of this interesting. The story is straightforward and simple – like most of the films in the franchise – and he keeps the plot moving. In the first hour alone, we have a submarine fight, a foot chase in an airport, a battle in the desert during a sandstorm, and a car chase in the streets of Rome – the pace is relentless, it only stops to contextualize the mission and what is at stake and even that is done in a way that is exciting. The tensions are high, the urgency is always evident, and the characters are always on the move.

When there are quiet or still moments, McQuarrie is only using it as a build up for a bigger, more explosive scene later on. And he never lingers. The relationships between Hunt and his crew are so ingrained in previous installments that the film confidently just shows us enough to remind us but keeps the narrative in motion.

deus ex machina movie reviews

So, while the film is filled to the brim with exciting action pieces whether they are car chases, shoot outs, hand-to-hand combat, and whatnot, McQuarrie and his amazing actors deliver all of this with such speed and brutality that it is just enjoyable to see on screen. They are not even above taking a moment to have a visual, slapstick gag about a pumped-up fiat in the streets of Rome. It had everyone laughing for the sheer silliness of the scene.

deus ex machina movie reviews

Tom Cruise has really made Ethan Hunt his own. They are almost completely interchangeable at this point. You either like it or you don’t but he knows this character in and out and still manages to find new places to bring him. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are back as Luther and Benji and are always such capable support teams. But say what you will about Cruise, he has populated the later installments of the Mission Impossible franchise with a lot of interesting and capable women and while Haley Atwell and Pom Klementieff is a new addition to the franchise, we see the return of Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby, both are excellent in their respective roles of Ilsa Faust and White Widow.

deus ex machina movie reviews

While Klementieff gets to show a different side of her this time round (and a lot more of her athletic skills), it is Haley Atwell who gets the biggest role here. Atwell’s Grace is an interesting character because her story is an origin story, so to speak, and somehow we will discover that it parallels that of Ethan, Luther, and Benji. Her introduction sort of gives us an insight into the backstories of the three veteran IMF members. It feels like a full circle even if we never saw how it began (though the film touches upon Ethan’s origin, teases us with it in this installment).

deus ex machina movie reviews

In a cinematic landscape that is overfilled with franchises and sequels, I’m actually always eager for another Mission Impossible story. There’s something about the Tom Cruise stamp that what we’re going to get will always set a new bar in what we can see in terms of action sequences and explosive thrills. Unlike other action stars who try to put socially relevant story points in their franchises to justify its continued existence or overstuff later installments with too much CGI and big-name cameos, ‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One’ proves that all you need is to just constantly be serving up simple stories told extremely well. Mcquarrie and Cruise, as a partners, just have that magical touch to deliver the goods.

The fact that they turned this story into one about AI and the danger of advanced technology seems so timely but, really, it’s just prophetic. Another testament that these two filmmakers are still at the top of their game and have their hands on the pulse of the world.

My Rating :

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here .

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Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum flop when they should soar in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

Houston, we have a problem: too much plot and not enough chemistry.

Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in "Fly Me to the Moon."

“Fly Me to the Moon” is five movies in one, and they’re all bad.

It’s a romantic comedy, a commentary on advertising, a space picture that chronicles the moon landing using real and created footage, the story of one man coping with the tragic deaths that occurred on his watch, and a sinister conspiracy drama with a malevolent Woody Harrelson standing in for the Nixon government.

It takes nearly an hour before the film gets to the fake moon-landing plot you’re being sold in the trailers. The buildup to that story isn’t worth it. What passes as the payoff isn’t worth it, either.

Navigating the plots of this bloated 132-minute film is like herding cats. But there’s only one actual cat in this movie. It’s used for jump scares and comic relief. The kitty also serves as a portent of doom (it’s black) and as the film’s deus ex machina.

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Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in "Fly Me to the Moon."

I hope the agile animal was paid as well as its costars Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson. They play NASA launch director Cole Davis and advertising expert/con artist Kelly Jones. These potential lovebirds meet in a diner scene that’s so badly written I can’t call it a meet-cute; it’s a meet-ugly. Davis tells Jones she’s on fire, which she misinterprets as meaning she’s hot stuff.

Of course, she really is on fire because, by accident, her book touched the candle on her table. After putting out the flames, Davis leaves quickly, only to return to ramble on about how pretty she looks. Not even Sam Cooke crooning “These Foolish Things” on the soundtrack could make this romantic; Tatum and Johansson are charismatic actors who have zero chemistry together. A brief scene between Jones and a nerdy senator played by Johansson’s husband, Colin Jost, has more heat!

The screenplay by Rose Gilroy does none of the actors any favors. It’s a hot mess, veering from broad, stereotype-filled comedy to haunting real-life tragedy with no sense of direction. These disparate elements only work if there is a firm handle on the sudden tonal shifts required by the material.

Scarlett Johansson in "Fly Me To The Moon."

But it’s clear from the first 10 minutes that director Greg Berlanti lacks the ability to pull everything together. We jump from a re-creation of the Apollo 1 astronauts burning to death to an unfunny scene where Jones, wearing an unconvincing fake pregnancy pillow under her dress, pitches sports cars with seatbelts to board members who are simultaneously terrified and turned on.

Jones’s ability to sell the unsellable attracts the attention of Moe Berkus (Harrelson), a shady government agent who never reveals his organizational affiliation. Since NASA is losing public and congressional support for going to the moon, Berkus wants Jones to market the moon to the American people. Jones has a past as shady as Berkus’s methods, so he blackmails her into secretly shooting a fake moon landing; if Apollo 11 fails, the networks will get that footage instead.

Instead of hiring Stanley Kubrick , Jones brings on temperamental commercial director Lance (Jim Rash). Lance is a raging gay stereotype armed with scathing quips about everything. He’s also cruel to the actors playing the astronauts in his simulation. The performance would be less concerning if Lance’s over-the-top mannerisms and actions weren’t played for easy laughs.

Meanwhile, Jones tries to win Davis over with her successful astronaut-based ad campaigns, including one for Tang. You may remember that astronauts drinking Tang was a selling point of that disgusting orange powder. “Fly Me to the Moon” scores some points for mocking the gullibility of the American consumer and how easily we can be taken by a good marketing campaign. But this subplot is quickly abandoned.

Channing Tatum in "Fly Me To The Moon."

Davis wants no part of this chicanery. He’s still grieving Apollo 1, tending a small garden beneath a plaque honoring the men who died, Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. His colleague Henry (Ray Romano, good in a small role) offers him support and guidance. It feels exploitative to use this tragedy as motivation for a fictional character, but Tatum handles these dramatic scenes well.

Still, “Fly Me to the Moon” misses the chance to focus on Tatum’s true calling. Like George Clooney and Cary Grant before him, he is a handsome bloke who isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself onscreen. In fact, the early scenes of him and Johansson working at NASA have a “Bringing Up Baby” vibe — she’s the force of nature bringing chaos into his orderly, scientific world.

That’s the perfect recipe for a successful romantic comedy, but this film fails to capitalize on it. Instead, we get one-dimensional characters, familiar space footage we’ve seen a million times before, and a climax that’s just confusing. Everything onscreen is slathered with Daniel Pemberton’s overbearing score.

The reason romantic comedies fail so often is that they attempt too much. “Fly Me to the Moon” may be the busiest example I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the worst, despite its eclectic needle drops convincing me that I need to buy its soundtrack album.

FLY ME TO THE MOON

Directed by Greg Berlanti. Written by Rose Gilroy. Starring Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Woody Harrelson, Jim Rash, Ray Romano, Colin Jost. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, Alamo Drafthouse Seaport, AMC Causeway, suburbs. 132 minutes. PG-13 (profanity plays among the stars)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.

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