The summer movie season is officially upon us this weekend, with the release of the new “Avengers: Age of Ultron” leading the annual flood of superheroes, action movies and broad comedies into theatres. But while the new movie costs $250 million and features an array of star actors including Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johannsen, and Jeremy Renner in its cast, there is a more intriguing science fiction film that’s also in theatres now, called “Ex Machina.” But are they dateworthy?
The two movies couldn’t be more different in terms of style, tone, scope and the audience they’re trying to reach, but both are dealing with the same moral and ethical question: can mankind create robots with artificial intelligence (AI), and if it can, will the robots prove to be a danger to our very existence?
“Avengers” handles the topic as a backdrop to fast-flying wisecracks and high-flying action that’s fine for most kids (certainly over age 10) to handle, while “Ex Machina” is a thoughtful yet occasionally disturbing mind-bender for adults.
Avengers : Age Of Ultron
I’ll get my thoughts on Avengers out of the way first, because most of the planet is going to see this movie without giving a thought to how critics feel about it. It’s packed to the gills with about a dozen superheroes and their human allies like Nick Fury (played by the reliably cool Samuel L. Jackson). They are facing off against a giant force-field called Ultron, that Tony Stark/Iron Man hoped would help save mankind from alien attack but which becomes evil itself.
The movie is filled with frenzied action and a steady stream of hilarious one-liners that fans will appreciate in direct proportion to how much they’re obsessed with the characters and the Marvel universe they operate in.
There’s no sex or nudity, although an ongoing flirtation between Hulk’s human alter ego, David Banner, and Black Widow has a couple of mildly racy comments. The fact that Captain America is trying to navigate present-day society with a 1940s mindset provides comical reasons to remind other characters like Tony Stark not to swear, so foul language consists of a couple of S words.
A Lot Of Fun
While the movie is packed with fights and chases that I occasionally felt were a little intense for kids – and Ultron takes a robot form that’s a bit scary as its earthling persona – overall Avengers continues the Marvel tradition of good clean fun that emphasizes a strong love of the US and the positive message that even the oddballs among us can team up and save the world.
Is it dateworthy? Of course – who doesn’t want the chance to see a bunch of movie stars working together, and world-class special effects and witty dialogue to boot? It doesn’t really scream romance, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
“Ex Machina,” meanwhile, is largely a three-person tale taking place over a week in the middle of the Norwegian nowhere. Meaning, it follows the strange adventure that a brilliant young techie named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) experiences when he wins a company-wide contest. He becomes the new assistant to the brilliant inventor named Nathan (Oscar Isaacs) who owns the company at his massive Scandinavian estate. His latest project is creating an AI robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander) whom Nathan hopes will revolutionize human/robot relations.
Caleb is to test Ava and see if he can tell that she is a robot, or if she has developed so strongly that she has a genuine free will of her own. Ava has a beautiful face and a body that mixes visible wiring with alluring curves, leaving Caleb off-balance from the beginning, while Nathan is an alcoholic, anti-social recluse who treats his female Asian assistant with an utter lack of empathy.
At first, the interaction between Caleb and Ava seems innocent, and viewers are absorbed into the hypnotic rhythms of life in the middle of nowhere. But when the scientific home base starts getting hit by a string of blackouts, things get really strange. Ava secretly tells Caleb that Oscar can’t be trusted, before slipping back into fully-friendly mode the moment power is restored and the omnipresent surveillance cameras are turned back on.
A Hitchcock-Style Thriller
Thus, “Ex Machina” becomes an edge-of-your-seat mind game that one could easily imagine Alfred Hitchcock making in the 21st century, though its cold visual sense and intensely creepy atmosphere are torn straight out of the Stanley Kubrick playbook of “2001” and “The Shining.” It raises some truly interesting and frightening alarms about the ethics on the frontiers of science; at a time when in reality we are being told that scientists in real life can likely create artificial intelligence by 2050.
The movie, written and directed brilliantly by British cult-favorite writer Alex Garland (who previously wrote the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” and the zombie-movie classic “28 Days Later”), leaves the biggest moral lessons up to the viewer, which means the movie refrains from heavy-handedness in either direction and will inspire intense discussions among viewers afterwards.
There are about 20 to 30 varying levels of swear words throughout the movie (a few F words, a few milder, a few uses of God’s name in vain, but none on an excessive level), a minimum of violence (although it’s a tad bloody when it finally happens) and some graphic female robotic nudity from other robots on the estate, so Ex Machina is definitely for adults even as it is as shot as tastefully as possible.
Is it dateworthy? Well, it’s a moody, creepy, ultra-intelligent flick that might be a bit of an acquired taste as it’s destined to be a cult classic. On the one hand, it’s a great conversation-starter, as couples will no doubt discuss the issues it raises. On the other hand, it might be a little intense for a first or early date in a relationship.