The Machine (2013)

After thoroughly enjoying ‘Ex Machina’ earlier in the day, and not having any overly important domestic shit to take care of, I decided to embark on something of an ‘A.I.’ Double Bill. This modestly-budgeted UK film had come to my attention about a year ago, and sounded like something I’d be interested in. It’d been sitting in my ‘queue’ for a while and since the girlfriend was out getting a start on Christmas shopping (goddamn…that came fast!), I decided to fire it up and see what’s what.
In an unspecified near-future, the UK is evidently locked in a military skirmish with China. As a result, the British Defense Ministry sinks a multitude of resources and cash into the design and development of ‘smart’ machines; machines with possible military applications. Part of this research team is lead by ‘Vincent’ (Toby Stephens); a compassionate man who has been dealing with the ‘bettering’ of war veterans lives via developments with prosthetics and mental augmentation to help repair battle-induced brain damage. While he pursues this endeavor, he’s also screening for candidates who can come aboard with provable evidence of progress in the field of ‘artificial intelligence’. After a successful demonstration of her apparently sentient program, we meet ‘Ava’ (Caity Lotz), an American scientist who impresses ‘Vincent’ enough to be asked to join the team. She accepts. Not long after arriving at the base (she gets arrested at the gate on her first day), ‘Ava’ (weird, another ‘A.I.’ movie…another character named ‘Ava’) begins poking around where she’s not wanted, leading to discoveries that she shouldn’t have discovered. This brings her to the attention of ‘Thomson’, (Denis Lawson, ‘Wedge’ from ‘Star Wars’!), a ruthless bureaucrat who’s sole purpose is to turn out ‘smarter’ and more lethal instruments of warfare. Just as a budding relationship between “Vincent’ and ‘Ava’ begins to show itself (she respects him because he’s secretly using DoD resources to find a cure for his daughter’s terminal illness), the two of them are ambushed one night, a short way from the military research facility. ‘Vincent’ is roughed up, but ‘Ava’, the real target, is stabbed and shot to death. Don’t fret…this isn’t much of a Spoiler. For some reason (probably because she originated the A.I. program in the first place), it’s decided to take the digital copy of ‘Ava’s personality that they had conveniently just saved, and insert it into a technologically cutting-edge android body, that uses her A.I. as it’s Operating System. While ‘Vincent’ strives to ‘connect’ with the personality of ‘Ava’, ‘Thomson’ sees the potential for a lethal killing machine and secretly makes moves to ensure her loyalty to him. The android, caught between the two opposing influences, comes to her own conclusions…and acts on them.
This movie was decent. Not overly great…but certainly not awful. Like ‘Ex Machina’, it asks some interesting questions, but unfortunately lacks the subtlety and base intelligence of that film. This is more of a techno thriller with some pretty impressive gore thrown in the mix. Hell, the first scene, which was handled effectively (a war veteran with a cerebral implant loses it and violently kills a few people during a medical interview), has enough spurting and splashing red to let you know what you’re in for.
On-screen violence aside, the acting is serviceable and, at times, even decent. It was funny to see Caity Lotz’ name appear in the beginning credits, as I seem to be stumbling across that chick everywhere these days (‘Arrow’, ‘The Pact’ etc). I still don’t know how I feel about her acting ability, but I will say that THIS performance went a fair ways to convince me that she does, actually, have reserves of talent. After ‘Ava’s brutal murder, when she becomes ‘Machine’, I liked the robotic mannerism and expressions that she took on. Lotz really did get two play two distinct characters in this story and I thought the juxtaposition worked well. Toby Stephens, who I thought at first may have been ‘Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber, was ok in the role. I just didn’t find myself sympathizing with him as much as I suspect the filmmakers wanted me to. I wasn’t given enough about his character to be able to fully relate to or sympathize with. He wasn’t awful…just not terribly effective. Denis Lawson was one dimensional as the main Villain…but I didn’t care cuz he was ‘Wedge’!…and I don’t think I’ve ever consciously seen him in anything outside of the ‘Star Wars’ universe.
On the down side, this flick had a couple problems. On a technical level, the movie was too dark. Not in tone…but actually too dimly lit to make use of detail. It wasn’t like ‘AvP: Requiem’ levels of incompetent lighting, but it was dark enough to be somewhat distracting and, at times, annoying. Added to which, most of the story takes place in a vast underground research facility…which one might think would be well-lit, something like a hospital maybe. But nope…darkness and shadow all around. Had they chosen to light it brightly, some of the action scenes involving the spilling of Human Bean Juice would’ve played far more effectively. Crimson smeared and sprayed on bright white surfaces can be very effective in a violent action scene. But not here. I get that they were going for ‘moody’ and ‘atmospheric’, but they also may have been trying to hide the potentially visible budgetary constraints. Regardless of the reason…in my opinion, it worked against the movie, not for it. Secondly, some aspects of the script were kinda dumb. Like why is ‘Vincent’, who had really just met ‘Ava’, SO gung-ho to have her digital ‘self’ injected into the prototype body. It seemed like an ‘out of the blue’ decision, born out of deep affection, that no one challenged. There was also another small detail that bothered me, in the 3rd Act. While ‘Machine’ goes on an inevitable rampage through the base, soldiers open fire on her at every turn. There is NO physical damage. I mean none. They MAY have mentioned somewhere that she could conveniently regenerate, thus healing traumatic damage to her body (I honestly don’t remember any mention of this trait though), but if that was the case, explain how the fuck it is that her black tank top emerges COMPLETELY UNSCATHED!! As in, there isn’t a mark on her! She literally takes dozens of large- calibre bullets to the torso, often at close range…and there isn’t a mark on the shirt!! We see damage to the exposed parts of her…that heals mysteriously right away, but the fabric of the tank top suffers no rips, punctures, burns or tears. It looks freshly laundered through the whole fight. I had to laugh at that one. I understand if they didn’t want to force prolonged full-frontal nudity on Lotz (as welcome as that may be), as realistically the shirt would be shortly reduced to confetti from the barrage of gunfire, but come on!…I’m sure a happy medium could’ve been found!
All that being said, ‘The Machine’ was an ok time-waster that failed to challenge me the way that ‘Ex Machina’ did. Whereas THAT film was an effective ‘slow boil’ of a story, with a haunting and contemplative tone, this one went for the action / thriller route. It hit a number of points we’ve all seen before, in other films of this type. Some, it hit well…others could’ve used a bit more effort. But speaking of effort, I do have to give some credit to the flick for keeping me entertained through the majority of the 91 minute run-time. I realized as soon the first scene turned into a mini bloodbath that this movie was not here to challenge my intellect and perceptions…it was just here to ultimately give me a ‘hot chick robot’ killing the shit out of a slew of faceless goons in a sci-fi-friendly setting. Sure, it asked SOME interesting questions, but they were really just there to propel us toward the next (hopefully) shocking and exciting scene of carnage or intrigue. This was a total B-movie concept, on a B-level budget, with some nice visuals, some shocking content, an appropriately committed and serviceable cast, and some interesting ideas both visually and conceptually. It just played it a little loose and lazy with the narrative, and some of the characters could’ve used some more ‘layers’ and motivations. I needed to feel like I was invested, and that there was something actually at stake for the movie to work toward. I didn’t feel that. And no…the ‘saving the dying child’s digital ‘self” plot wasn’t enough for me. If I have to recommend one of the two ‘A.I’-themed flicks I watched today…’Ex Machina’ will win every time. It’s easily the superior film…in pretty much every way. But if you happen to come across THIS one, and nothing else has struck your fancy for a ‘turn off your brain and vegetate’ kind of evening (or Sunday afternoon, in my case)…you could definitely do worse than ‘The Machine’.


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