In the future, a cold war has broken out between China and Britain and Britain's Ministry of Defense has decided the best way to combat China's threat is in the development of artificial intelligence and androids. After his new assistant, Ava, is killed, Vincent decides to replicate her brain pattern and include it with the new AI technology to generate the first official android. Even though she was intended to be built as a weapon, Vincent develops a bond with The Machine as she tries to understand what it is to be human.
I don't know if there has been resurgence in quality science-fiction films in the past couple years or if I merely stopped paying attention to the genre for so long that I forgot what it had to offer. I remembered seeing the teaser trailer for Caradog W. James's "The Machine" and instantly became interested in the movie. I wasn't sure of the plot, but stylistically and tonally, the teaser was exceptional.
Amidst a cold war with China, Britain's Ministry of Defense is putting its focus on robotic and android technology in order for them to win the war. Vincent McCarthy is in charge of developing the artificial intelligence to be used in the androids and he tests other engineers in the field of AI to find a suitable partner for his work. This leads to the discovery of Ava and her software, but shortly after she begins working Vincent, she is murdered. To continue moving forward, Vincent decides to combine Ava's physical appearance and brain pattern with the completed AI software to create the first android with artificial intelligence. Now Ava, the android, is being pulled away from Vincent and her desire to understand what it is to be human and is forced to become the weapon she was always meant to be.
I know the concept of a robot or an android -- which ever terminology you prefer -- wanting to become human is not wholly original in the realm of science fiction, whether it be in book or movie form. However, "The Machine" is one of those examples where it's not about the concept but the execution of the final product, and the final product was exceptional.
I will get out of the way and say that, yes, "The Machine" does have some inherent flaws and isn't a perfect movie (not that there is such a thing, anyway). The biggest issue I have with the movie is that at certain points it does degrade into typical sci-fi schlock territory due to the plotline of androids being developed for warfare. Anyone can see where that was going to go and it is not surprising that the movie eventually turns into a robots vs. humans scenario. Even though it wasn't surprising it was disappointing since that was not the part of the story that makes "The Machine" exceptional. And, unfortunately, the subplot for the Vincent character and his daughter, who is suffering from Rett Syndrome, also seemed unnecessary. To an extent, at least.
It gives reason to the actions Vincent takes within the movie and why he develops a bond with Ava. For that reason alone, there is justification in that subplot and shows why it was needed but often times the scenes of Vincent and his daughter seemed shoehorned in. The scenes feel emotionless and forced; we already understand Vincent's motivation but the movie almost comes to a stop to feature scenes where often nothing more is done than having Vincent looking at his daughter with concern.
With that being said, what I thought made "The Machine" great is the relationship between Vincent and the android Ava. Or more specifically, the character Ava as she develops to understand what is to be a human. Even though it is a tired concept it was done very well in both the writing and the performance that it not only carried the movie, but allowed it to work. Caity Lotz in her performance of Ava is nothing short of astounding as she is able to capture that naivety and innocence that you would expect to find in what the character is. It makes moments, such as when she is first made to kill and then goes and hides in a dark corner out of shame and fear, gut wrenching and heartbreaking. It's the same reason why the ending of "Blade Runner" is held in such high regard. Those moments of humanity. Yes, part of the fun in science fiction is the technology and the general fantasy and escapism it allows, but those humanistic scenes are what makes the genre great. Where it becomes less about fiction and fantasy and is more about reflecting the human condition.
I would like to note that while I was watching "The Machine", it reminded me a lot of a short film (technically a demo, but I digress) from video game developer David Cage called "Kara": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhoYLp8CtXI
And posting the link to "Kara" further proves my point that it's not about the concept but how it is executed, and while "The Machine" has its flaws, it was still a good movie because it captured the key parts astonishingly well. In general, "The Machine" is a great looking movie that features plenty of style and uses technology and the more overtly sci-fi elements appropriately throughout -- it doesn't detract from the story or the characters. What does get in the way is when the movie focuses on the aspects of The Machine (Ava) being designed as a weapon and using her as such. It is an important factor in the character but unfortunately the scenes of her demonstrating her abilities or the inevitable uprising seemed less important to the overall emotional dynamic of Ava. It's the only thing that keeps me from calling "The Machine" great since I wish it would have focused more on the emotion and the drama than anything else. Regardless, "The Machine" was an excellent watch and gave me more than what I was expecting.