The Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris comic book series Ex Machina is getting a big screen adaptation through Legendary Entertainment. The film will be called The Great Machine, with a screenplay by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel. The duo recently scripted the biopic Seberg, starring Kristen Stewart. Vaughan is attached as a producer.
Published from 2004 to 2010, Ex Machina followed Mitchell Hundred, a jetpack-wearing superhero who is elected mayor of New York City after stopping the second plane from hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11. As a superhero, Hundred called himself The Great Machine, and has ability to control and communicate with electronic devices. The series ran 50 issues, with an additional four specials. As pointed out by Heat Vision, changing the name from Ex Machina to The Great Machine helps avoids confusion with the 2014 Alex Garland film Ex Machina.
I thought Ex Machina was a good comic series, but not on the same level as Y: The Last Man (with artist Pia Guerra), Runaways (with artist Adrian Alphona), or Vaughan’s current series-on-hiatus Saga (with artist Fiona Staples). Ex Machina ends strong, but it felt like it rode its high concept without ever quite kicking into high gear. This makes me want to catch up with Vaughan’s Paper Girls (with artist Cliff Chiang), which I’ve heard a lot of good things about. Vaughan’s got a pretty good batting average as a comic book writer, especially with his first issues/first arcs.
Two things about an Ex Machina movie strike me immediately.
First, I’m surprised that they’re going for a big screen adaptation of Ex Machina rather than a streaming or cable series. The comic focused more on Mitchell Hundred’s political career than his superheroics, and the arc of his mayorship lends itself to serialized, long-form storytelling. Vaughan has a way with cliffhangers and last-page reveals, which also lends itself better to weekly installments and hour-long chunks. Given the success of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen, it seems especially peculiar that Legendary would turn this into a feature film rather than wring a season worth of stories from the source material. Vaughan’s works have a history of TV adaptations. Runaways ran for three seasons on Hulu, and TV shows for Y: The Last Man and Paper Girls are in the works.
Second, I wonder how they’ll update the politics of Ex Machina. The comic is reminiscent of The West Wing, and filled with the political sentiments of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. That Aaron Sorkin-y blend of quippy idealism, walk-and-talk trivia, and optimistic speechifying seems so quaint compared to the current climate of the Donald Trump administration. Gone are the days when a spirit of compromise and high-minded centrism seemed like the ideal course for a country, let alone the world. Striking that tone again in The Great Machine is naive at best given that so many political norms and institutions are in the process of an ugly erosion. I’d be curious to re-read the series and see how (if?) its ideas about politics from a previous decades hold up.
Have you read Ex Machina? What did you think of it? Do you feel it should be a film or a show? Are you similarly devastated by that last issue of Saga before its break? Let us know in the comments below.
Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘Ex Machina’ Heading to Big Screen With ‘Seberg’ Writers (Exclusive) [Heat Vision/The Hollywood Reporter]