The Ghost in the Machina

I’ve been watching a lot of cyberpunk/AI/etc stuff recently. Well, I’ve been watching a huge amount of The Ghost in the Shell, but I also finally got around to watching Ex Machina too, and going back a bit there’s The Machine and a few giant-robot Anime… I’m soaking up the cyber.

So… here’s the inflammatory question: Can anyone explain to me what’s so good about Ex Machina?

I spent a good couple of hours knowing more or less exactly what was coming. There were no surprises. The special effects were very good, I’ll give it that, but Ex Machina explored nothing, gave no new insights, gave nothing new to the genre… I don’t get all the really amazing reviews, I simply don’t. I checked out Rotten Tomatoes for a round-up and found one critic saying pretty much what I just did; all the rest seemed to think it was some sort of genre classic. I won’t go into the gaping plot hole, because it would spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it.

So, nothing new there. The Machine is in some ways very similar, but I thought it was more visually appealing and more accessible. It didn’t get the exposure Ex Machina did, which is a shame, in my opinion.

And so to GitS. Let just face facts here: I am a big fan of Ghost in the Shell. Not actually of the original movie, but of the Standalone Complex series. I like the movie, though I could have lived without the sequel, but being able to play out and develop storylines across several hours instead of 90 minutes often works better. Even so, GitS:SAC suffers a little from what the movie does (and a lot of Asian movies do, actually): exposition.

If you read a book on wiring, one of the things that you’ll pick up is that you should research your material. “Write what you know” is an over-used axiom, but researching things which can actually be researched is a good thing. There is, however, an addendum: your readers don’t need to know about all that research you did. GitS suffers a lot from long-winded, frankly boring sections of conversation where the writers demonstrate how damn clever they are through their characters. GitS:SAC suffers from it to, generally in the scenes where various characters quote authors at each other (hilariously sent up, maybe not intentionally, at the end of Saints Row IV). Last night a friend of mine summed this up very nicely with regard to the recent battle between Batman v Superman and Civil War by saying that one of the differences was that it took 20 minutes to establish Bruce Wayne’s problem with Superman, and 15 seconds of amazing character acting to set up the same dilemma for Tony Stark. (Thinking about it, it’s a bad example since it took an entire movie, Age of Ultron, to setup for the great character acting, but the point stands.) Movie’s are a visual medium, and they need to be treated as such. Exposition is really bad in movies.

That said, I’ve been through two GitS movies, both series of GitS:SAC plus Solid State Society, and the five new Arise films (and will someone put Pyrophoric Cult out in the UK, please!) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them. They’re all way more thought-provoking than Ex Machina.

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6 responses to “The Ghost in the Machina

  1. Cecil Montague

    Big GiTS:SAC fan too. If you haven’t already check out Appleseed as well. The second movie, by twist of fate subtitled Ex Machina, was directed by John Woo.

    It has doves, it has jumping sideways while firing, it has slow motion, it has jumping sideways whilst firing in slow motion with doves!

    • I’ve seen Appleseed Alpha (I think it’s called) and did enjoy that. Aside from anything, it’s a beautiful piece of CGI. I may give the other two a go. I mean… doves…

  2. I’m inagreement with you on Ex Machina. It a nice looking movie but nothing special. To be honest when it comes down to it I found both BvS and Civil War to be mediocre. I didn’t come out of ether thinking that I was glad I didn’t just wait and rent it. BvS did an awful job of finding a reason for Batman and Superman to fight. Civil War did better there but in the end the only part that really felt deserved the fight between Capt. And Tony was the end.

  3. I found Ex-Machina underwhelming as well. Much like Moon loved by the critics but not original at all.

    I was introduced to the GiTS universe early while working in an animation studio, we gathered around a tv in the studio and watched the original with open mouths, before it’s release. I didn’t think so much of the second movie but loved Standalone Complex, except when it over indulged in the Laughing Man storyline. My favourite episode is where the team go to the atomosphere cleaner complex to “rescue” the little girl who is embedded with terrorists. What a kick-assed episode that was.

    I’ve by and large given up on team superhero movies. Although I do fancy seeing Suicide Squad.

    • Generally, I prefer the 2nd Gig of SAC, and the standalone episodes in almost all of them. The episode you mention in season 1 is one of my favourites too, though I think my favourite of them all is the Cash-Eye episode in season 2, and not purely because of the massive amount of fan service.
      Yeah, I’m hoping Suicide Squad is a good one, though I admit to some worry over what they’ll do with it. They could really mess it up.

  4. While I’m on, I feel like mentioning Mardock Scramble, which I bought before Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s maybe a little too fantasy to be called cyberpunk, and the ending is a little weird, but it’s a great watch.

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