The title of Andrew Garland's directorial debut, [Ex Machina](movie:8171) tells you everything you need to know. It comes from the commonly used trope, deus ex machina, which literally translates to "god from the Machine." In Garland's view, however, God is removed from the equation, and man has taken His place.
When Caleb, a programmer with an everyman appeal played by Domhall Gleeson, wins a company-wide lottery at Blue Book (a stand-in Google), his prize is life-changing. He gets the opportunity to meet Blue Book's idea man and technological whiz, Nathan (a customarily brilliant Oscar Isaac), at his private compound. With no other probing eyes around, Nathan invites Caleb to run a Turing test on his newest innovation: an emotionally conscious A.I. named Ava.
Ava is (an) astounding (sight). And so is Alicia Vikander. This is a role that could be swallowed up by another actress, made hollow and cheesy with a looser handling of the character's situation. Vikander's Ava is captivating but never gratuitous, powerful but never intimidating. It may be too expected to say that the performance breathed life into a robot, but that intricately human touch is what makes the movie work.
I don't want to spoil too much of the plot—since much of it hinges on what you learn about Ava—so I'll try to refrain from any more revealing disclosures about her. But, I will say that in terms of the experience, you can expect a suspenseful ride with equal parts potent contemplation and full-blown amazement.
Ex Machina definitely weighs heady concepts and their chilling possibilities over spectacular visual effects, but that formula simply works here. Don't get me wrong, the special effects are incredible (Ava's body encourages so much cognitive dissonance), but writer/director Garland makes a point to foreground the ethical, psychological, and even cultural implications of creating true artificial intelligence. It's clear that he has a passion for this subject matter, and he invites you to consider his darkly meditative take on it.
In short, Ex Machina is easily the best sci-fi film of 2015 so far, and, beyond genre, it's right up there among the best movies too. I've filed it away among some of my other thrilling favorites like The Skin I Live In and [Under The Skin](movie:211051) for when I want my head to throb (in a good way). Go see what happens when man creates consciousness, just don't expect too much faith.