Ex Machina Is A Tense, Engrossing Sci-Fi Thriller

- Advertisement -

Thanks to the movies, I know to be immediately suspicious if I am ever invited to the secluded home of an eccentric billionaire genius. Unfortunately, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young computer programmer, has no such predispositions when he wins a contest at work that allows him to spend a week with the company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Caleb is flown deep into the mountains, and at one point asks the helicopter pilot when they will be getting to Nathan’s estate. “We’ve been flying over it for two hours,” the pilot tells him.

Ex Machina, the engrossing new science fiction thriller from writer/director Alex Garland, takes place exclusively in the home of Nathan, a brilliant programmer, rich beyond belief, and living seemingly alone in his house built into the mountainside. Nathan is eccentric, but not played as expected by Isaac. He has the conversational rhythms of a frat boy with the build of a cage fighter, he drinks heavily every day, but beneath the facade is a mastermind. The vibe is immediately threatening when Caleb arrives, and before long he is told why he “won” the contest. He is here to administer a test to Nathan’s new creation, Ava, a robotic organism who may or may not have conscious artificial intelligence. Caleb’s observations will help Nathan decide whether or not he has succeeded.


Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, is about 80% robot with a human face, hands, and feet. She stays in a room while Caleb remains on the other side of a glass box, conversing. The discussions are benign for a while, playful from Caleb as he is overwhelmed with excitement at this groundbreaking revelation. Ava shows glimpses of A.I., but Caleb isn’t sure how much is honest and how much is manipulation from Nathan. Because, it appears, Nathan is not entirely truthful.

- Advertisement -

Nathan seems to know everything going on in his house, a cold modern-art setup with all the implementations of modern surveillance technology. Cameras operate everywhere under the eye of Nathan, that is, except for these strange power cuts. But beyond his all-seeing eye, Nathan works to control Caleb in conversations, remaining aggressive enough to manipulate discourse in his favor. Isaac creates a fascinating character in Nathan, both threatening and charismatic enough to keep the audience off balance, and on guard.

Things begin to unravel, as expected. As Alex Garland weaves this complex morality play together, paranoia and tension grows to a fever pitch. Is Nathan lying to Caleb? Is Ava truly cognizant of her intelligence? I won’t say anymore here, because the twists are vital to enjoy the film. While there are no sweeping revelations, there are twists in this tale, albeit subtle twists that propel us to the final moments where interpretations are open ended.

Ex Machina is something rare, an adult thriller here at the launching pad of the summer movie season. It is a refreshingly original take on a familiar story, i.e. the eccentric millionaire and artificial intelligence. Oscar Isaac dominates the film, and embellishes in a fascinating dance sequence in the middle of the film that seems to spring from nowhere. But Gleeson, as the impressionable Caleb, is not without his moments. As for Vikander’s work as Ava, hers is perhaps the most difficult. She remains robotic enough to keep the story in tact, but she must inflect moments of humanity to keep us guessing. It is a subtle and well crafted, as is everything else.

Save 50% on graphic novels, statues & more!
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.


If you want your BUSINESS to be part of something bigger than itself, you might be a good fit to partner with Monkeys Fighting Robots.

Ex Machina Is A Tense, Engrossing Sci-Fi Thriller 4


Ex Machina Is A Tense, Engrossing Sci-Fi Thriller 5

Are you a creator looking for a review of your book?
Use the form below to end us a message.

Are you a fan of the website and have a comment, question, or concern? Drop us a line, and we will gladly answer all your questions.


Monkeys Fighting Robots is looking for passionate writers to drive the site’s coverage of the comic book industry. Authors will be responsible for a particular niche, providing reviews, opinion and news coverage, while building a reader community using his or her multimedia storytelling skills. The best candidates have solid writing skills, WordPress knowledge, and are engaged on social media. Do you love comic books and have a strong opinion, then we would like to speak with you.

Ex Machina Is A Tense, Engrossing Sci-Fi Thriller 6


COMIC REVIEW DIGEST, sign up today! At Monkeys Fighting Robots, we strive to talk about ALL aspects of a comic book, instead of just giving you a recap of the story.
  • Did you notice how epic the colors were?
  • That was a wicked panel layout by the artist!
  • What was the letterer thinking?
  • How did this comic book make you feel?
  • Most importantly, should you buy it?

Every Wednesday you will receive an email with our latest reviews and analyses, as well as our original comic strips and exclusive editorial content.
Thanks for signing up!