In the future, brain damaged soldiers have a shot at a second chance thanks to Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens, Black Sails), a scientist dabbling in new area of technology which aims to reconstruct the brains of soldiers injured in war – turning them into part human, part robot cyborgs. His results prove to be a mixed bag, with the patients unable to cope with their second chance at life. Patient number one, for example, takes a particular disliking to McCarthy’s assistant in a bloody opening scene. To help him make a breakthrough with the new science, McCarthy enlists the help of Ava (Caity Lotz, Arrow), who not only guides his scientific discovery, but also begins to uncover the darker goings on at their research facility.
Those darker goings on, however, are pretty vague. The villain of the piece, McCarthy’s boss Thomson (Denis Lawson, Return of the Jedi) stomps about the place barking orders, and glowering sullenly, but honestly I couldn’t tell you what his deal is. Just a twirly moustache away from being a walking stereotype, he adds very little to the film, in fact confusing matters somewhat with his presence. Likewise, a subplot in which those McCarthy has treated begin banding together through a new form of speech has no particular end game, it would seem, proving to be a fruitless excursion. Between the film’s big villain, and its slow-burning, go-nowhere subplot, there are plenty of irritants in The Machine, and unfortunately so, as there are parts at the core of the film which do work, and are quite intriguing in their own right.
The Machine of the film’s title, you see, is an amalgamation of Ava’s mind and likeness, in robot form (with Lotz playing both The Machine and Ava). An early departure for Ava sets in motion a sharp turn in the plot, delving deeper into the more “sciencey” aspects of the film’s science fiction, as McCarthy uses a scan of Ava’s brain to create a self-aware Machine. Explorations of ethics and love ensue, raising questions and moral dilemmas that begin to push the film in a positive direction, but a mixed tone and a lack of focus knock it back again and again. Whilst McCarthy and Ava’s relationship isn’t really given a great deal of time to be explored in depth (with some bizarrely out of place character moments from McCarthy distracting from their budding friendship), the relationship between McCarthy and The Machine is where the film finds its footing most frequently.
As assured as Caity Lotz’s performance is, bringing charm to Ava, and humanity to The Machine, an ending that falls flat, plot threads that don’t pay off, and schlocky action set to a goofy, 80’s inspired, Terminator-esque score marks The Machine firmly as a B movie, in spite of its higher aspirations and solid ideas.
Looking at the most basic elements of The Machine, as a tale of a relationship between man and machine, it actually does work at its core. The disappointingly uneven and disjointed narrative, and the miscalculated villain on the other hand do not work in the slightest.
Rating (out of 5):