Archive (2020) Review
GREAT VISUALS IN A
SOMEWHAT FORMULAIC A.I. TALE
Stories of artificial intelligence have always been at the forefront of science fiction inspired narratives; sparking ideas of revelations and consequences of bringing to life robotic automatons. Bridging futuristic technology and with sometimes philosophical idealism, tales of artificial intelligence showcase the cautionary and mentality takes on such constructs; projecting the existence of computer programmed creation with bestowed self-awareness / sentient consciousness that’s usually shows the pros and cons of such science. The questionable morals also give rise to their respective characters; examining of “playing god” persona that can bring revelation to such universal discoveries or render them in turmoil with dire consequences. Given this fascination with A.I, Hollywood has certainly taken this idea and created both original and / or adapted feature films for this science fiction narrative, with such famous films being 1982’s Blade Runner, 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, 1999’s The Matrix, 2004’s I, Robot, 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2015’s Chappie, and 2015’s Ex Machina just to name a few. Now, Vertical Entertainment and director Gavin Rothery present the latest cinematic sci-fi take on A.I. ideas with the movie Archive. Does the film take the “deep dive” into the artificial intelligence and sci-fi ingenuity or is it just a run-of-the-mill story that never gets off the ground?
In 2038, George Almore (Theo James) is in command of an worn down research facility in an isolated region of Japan, tasked with engineering work assigned by his boss, Simone (Rhona Mitra), the VP of Internal Development of Artisans Robotics. George’s reclusive solitude is alleviated by his daily interactions / presences of J-1 and J-2, Almore’s two generations attempts of artificial intelligence who help George execute various repair work and keep in company, with J-2 programmed with a special sensitivity that keeps the machine aware of her builder’s feelings, while it struggles with dreams of a life it fully doesn’t comprehend. Within the remote facility is an Archive Machine, which stores the remaining life of those who’ve been lost, turning consciousness into communication for a short amount of time. For George, his late wife, Julie (Stacey Martin), lies within his archive; wrestling with thoughts of her tragic death and inspiring him to secretly find a way to transfer her dwindling time in the archive to a robotic body, leading him to build upon to create J-3, a half-bult robot who can’t bear to play such a part for her creator. With such dangerous decision to make, George faces scientific disaster of playing god; blinded by seeking to embrace Julie once more.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I really do definitely agree with that opening paragraph. While I do like fantasy over sci-fi, tales of science fiction still definitely intrigue me, especially with ones that involve the creation of robots and of artificial intelligence. As one can surmise, some cinematic tales can provide some of a more straightforward constructs of A.I.; such as prime candidates can stem from the Terminator movies or something like an old B-rated sci-fi flick. However, ones that interest me more are the more philosophical / psychology narratives. Movies like Ghost in Shell, Chappie, and Ex Machina are such prime examples as well as Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (a bit long and bizarre, but really good). Of course, Hollywood has taken such strong ideas within this concept narrative that certainly translates well into their sci-fi films (i.e. like the ones mentioned above), but they’ve also taken A.I. stories for a more different approach…. like in the 2015 superhero blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron or in more off-beat / comedy endeavor such as 2013’s Her and 2019’s Jexi. Regardless, the narratives found within artificial intelligence generates curious intrigue from both its fascination of science fiction elements and in the possibility of the near future.
Naturally, this brings me to talking about Archive, a 2020 sci-fi film that takes the mindset of artificial intelligence as the primary narrative focal point. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this beforehand. In truth, I actually just heard about a few weeks ago. With most of Hollywood still shuttering their 2020 releases because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the closing of movie theaters, I’ve been slowly glancing at several smaller indie film projects; glancing at a few movie trailers within this category. One such film was Archive, which definitely looked appealing within its sci-fi premise as well as a decent job of providing a sort of visual aesthetics (at least from a smaller scale film project). So, I was definitely intrigued by what I saw in Archive’s trailer and decided to give the movie a try; renting the movie on Vudu a week ago. Now, after a few long days at work (got to make that money), I finally have the chance to give my opinion on Archive. What did I think of it? Archive definitely has an ambitious aim / goal to work for, but, while its aim is true, it sort of gets entangled within its own mess; causing the sci-fi feature to partly lose focus on what it wants to achieve. It’s a decent film to watch, but it’s nothing revolutionary to behold.
Archive is directed by Gavin Rothery, who previously works include in various roles in Art Department for several projects such as Fable, Battalion Wars, and Moon. While he directed the short film The Last Man, Rothery makes his theatrical feature length film debut with Archive; approaching the film with a sense of eagerness of making his “big splash” in the director’s chair. Indeed, Rothery certainly does succeed in making his directing abilities known throughout the feature and, as a first-time director for a full-length film, I say he actually does a pretty good job. Yes, Rothery makes Archive have that arthouse artistic flourishes in the shaping of the feature, but I think that’s part of the genetic make-up of a lot of these films (i.e. something similar to what director Alex Garland did with Ex Machina). Effectively, Rothery certainly channels a lot of intrigue into the movie; imbuing the tale with a sort of “sci-fi” take on a Dr. Frankenstein motif with questionable motives. The real “heat and fire” of the feature is when Rothery focuses the camera lens on Almore’s second robot creation, J-2, who certainly shines and carries a lot of the dramatic / heartfelt moments (more on that below. As well as directing the film, Rothery also pulls “double duty” on Archive; contributing to penning the film’s script. Of course, like many sci-fi tales out there that deal with robotic creations and in artificial intelligence, Rothery delves into the machinations of choices and consequences of creating such automatons beings, with a sense deeper meaning. In Archive case…. the choices that George Almore undergoes in trying to perfect his creation of the J-3, a robotic being that’s suppose to house the consciousness of his late wife. In addition, the movie’s script showcases that past iterations of Almore’s works (most notably in J-1 and J-2) and how he (as a human and their creator) interacts with them and how they feel towards him.
In terms of presentation, Archive is does really look good and certainly gives off that science fiction motif and nuances throughout the feature. From the opening scene to the closing moment, the film is steeped in a more not too distant future and in a fictious sci-fi take on it what the future could possible and by blending those two (i.e. one foot in practical and the other in fanciful), the movie creates a hybrid “look and feel” that offers up plenty of nifty and cool background aesthetics and set layouts in the film. However, its not all sleek edges of chromes and glowing perfections as Rothery, who has a background in the art department, and his filmmaking team make the most of their limited film budget and pull off a film that has plenty of dirt and grim in making the feature feel slightly believable within the locations. This is mostly notable in many of the rooms and corridors in the research outpost that George Almore dwells in. Thus, the talents of Juci Szurdi (art direction), Robin Lawrence and Rothery (production design), Panni Lutter (set decorations), and Laurie Rose (cinematography) are well-represented in the film and certainly add to the likeability of Archive’s visual appeal. Even the film’s score, which was composed by Steven Price, hits all the right marks (melodically speaking); creating a futuristic sounding soundtrack that adds plenty of dramatic cues that definitely works within its softer / tender moments.
There are a few problems that I had with the movie that, while not completely hamper the feature, made Archive feel little bit of criticisms throughout the film. Perhaps the most prevalent and noteworthy drawback that the movie faces is in its pacing and overall story / plot progression, which is mixture of being predictable and slow. As one can easily surmise, narratives like this have been done quite some time and done in a little bit of better light, with Archive’s script (again, which is done by Rothery) does little to color outside the lines of similar nuances situations / scenarios of either robotics and in artificial intelligence storylines. Thus, there are plenty of clichés (plot points and philosophical ones) and stereotypical tropes scattered throughout the movie that, while adds layer to the film, does make for a somewhat straightforward sci-fi tale, especially if you seeing several other A.I. movies out there. Also, there are few areas (in the story) that are left a bit unexplained and / or vague by the time the film ends, which is never a good thing and a additional material could’ve sufficed in the handling of the script as well as directing the feature.
Even looking beyond that, the film’s pacing is utterly slow. With a runtime of one hour and forty-nine minutes (109 minutes), Archive does have a lot to unpack from start to finish, but it certainly takes awhile for things to get going or rather on how it tries to present certain things. This causes the film’s pacing is to be sluggish in many crucial areas (most notable in the beginning) and makes the movie have a “slow-burner” feeling right from the get-go. Thus, if the movie doesn’t grab you within the first couple of minutes, you’ll find yourself bored with the film and how it proceeds. It didn’t bother me as much as I kind of expected this to be the case, but Archive’s pacing did drag many times in the movie. Thus, I feel like Rothery’s lack of experience as both as a director and film script writer is part a contribution to these two points of criticisms.
Additionally, there is the film’s “big twist”, which is tagged at the end of the feature’s finale moments. This particular thing is a bit of a good and bad as I did appreciate the sudden “turn” in the story with shock and awe tensions, but it comes off as a bit of abrupt ending feeling as well as leaving a bit of sour taste walking away from the film together. It’s not completely terrible as some viewers out there will probably like it, but Rothery sort takes a lot of the established proses and ethical setup he builds upon throughout the movie and dismisses it all for more a cheap narrative ploy at the film’s final minutes. I just think that a better build up and overall conclusion would’ve been better handled in the film’s script shaping / handling. Again, I just have mixed feelings about it.
The cast in Archive is relatively small, with the main bulk of the various characters only being a handful, but all of talents involved are pretty good, despite most being sidelined to minor supporting players out there. Who definitely holds the movie up (in terms of acting / screen presence) are the feature’s two key main players of the feature, with actor Theo James playing the role of George Almore and actress Stacey Martin playing Julie Almore as well as the robotic lifeforms of both J-2 and J-3. James, known for his roles in The Divergent Series as well as Underworld: Blood Wars and Downton Abbey, was supposed to be one of those actors that Hollywood was trying to be a “up and coming” in mainstream theatrical releases. However, much like others (i.e. Jai Courtney, Taylor Lautner, Taylor Kitsch, etc.), James never made it “big” in Tinseltown as a leading man. Still, the young actor still continued to pursue his career in acting and James has continued to appear in numerous movies and TV shows. Such is the case with Archive and I do have to say that James actually does a really good job in the movie by giving his character of George Almore a sense of loneliness and determination to retune his work into J-3’s rendering / creation in matter that steps behind the lines of obsession and madness. It’s definitely a classic “Dr. Frankenstein” motif to be sure, but it definitely works in the context of the movie and James is quite capable of handling the film’s various scenes that require of him.
That being said, Martin, known for her roles in Vox Lux, High-Rise, and All the Money in the World, does perhaps a better job than James and certainly is the somewhat “beating heart” of Archive more emotional moments. In truth, Martin does a lot of heavy lifting in the movie by playing not one, not two, but three different characters in the movie. Of course, her performance of Julie Almore is certainly one with enough tragedy, especially what befalls her in the story, while her iteration of J-3 is one of a complexity and frightened with subtle nods of curiosity and anger. However, its Martin’s portrayal of J-2 (her voice) is who offers the most crucial and critical emotional beats in the movie; offering up plenty of dramatic moments of her character’s affection for her creator (i.e. George) and the jealousy she shares with his sudden attention he gives J-3. I personally think that Martin is the better of the two main leads of Archive.
The rest of the cast, including actress Rhona Mitra (The Last Ship and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) as Artisan Robotics VP Simone, actor Peter Ferdinando (The Letter for the King and High-Rise) as the subtly capricious associate of Artisan Robotics named Mr. Tagg, actor Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Atomic Blonde) as executive of the Archive company, Vincent Sinclair, and actor Richard Glover (Darkest Hour and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Mr. Sinclair’s associate named Melvin, are delegated to more smaller supporting roles in the movie. With majority of the film focusing on James and Martin, these particular characters are sidelined for only one or two scenes. Though, I do admit that most of these acting talents in this category do give fine performance in their limited capacity in Archive.
How far would you go to bring back the one you love? Such is a question pose in character George Almore’s research into artificial intelligence in the movie Archive. Director Gavin Rothery’s directorial feature length debut film takes cinematic look on approach artificial intelligence within a sci-fi arena that’s a mixture of high brow science fiction and a few philosophical prose of life and death. While the movie does struggle with its pacing as well as a few clichés of formulaic nuances, the film still succeeds to be a noteworthy feature for Rothery’s direction, a slick visual presentation, and in some of the movie’s performances (most notable in James and Martin’s roles). Personally, I thought that this film was good. Yes, it wasn’t revolutionary (in terms of sci-fi or in artificial intelligence narratives) and a few things could’ve been better, but it still held my interest and found some entertainment within its presentation. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “Rent It” as it should be seeing at least once for in Rothery’s concept idea and in Martin’s performance. All in all, while the movie world will continue to create cinematic tales of artificial intelligence, Archive lies somewhere in the middle of the pack; providing a feature film that works within its confines, but doesn’t color outside the lines of what’s been established in similar endeavors.
3.5 Out of 5 (Rent It)
Released On: July 10th, 2020
Reviewed On: August 24th, 2020
Archive is 105 minutes long and is not rated by the MPA, but i would say it is rated PG-13 for suggestive themes and language