A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Archive (2020)

“Archive” is yet another film to premiere on streaming services as a cause of movie theater shutdowns. “Archive” has its ideas of artificial intelligence that feel a bit recycled. It’s easy to see that writer and director Gavin Rothery thinks he’s got a PhD in movie science, when his film actually doesn’t really assemble into anything, brilliant or profound as the robots within the film. Even though it may not be the most advanced of the “A.I.” genre films out there. Gavin Rothery and star Theo James in his best performance yet, have conjured up a great looking film with some heart and a neat twist or two. Rothery comes up with impressive ways to stretch his tight indie film budget, while still being able to stick to creating a futuristic world, with an immersive study of future technology and of impressive visual effects. Drawing strong inspiration from past superior sci-fi dramas about artificial intelligence. Rothery pays particular attention to the details involved in creating artificial life, like what makes them tick on the inside? It also asks the cliched question, asked in most films about artificial intelligence…What does it mean to be human? It’ll be a bit slow for some people, but it plays well and there is a nice payoff in the end. It’s a thought provoking film that is intriguing, but is also masterful when it wants to be. This is no “Ex Machina”, “2001” or “Replicas”, but it still makes for a compelling business card that shows Rothery has the promise, of building more advanced models to come.

Originally set to premiere at this year’s South By Southwest festival, “Archive” gets a digital release due to the festivals cancellation from the pandemic. Premiering this past Friday (July 10th) in all streaming platforms, it’ll count on viewers who are fans of sci-fi and of former “Divergent” franchise star Theo James to pick it out from a virtual library of similarly marketed genre fare. 

The story of “Archive” was inspired by writer and director Gavin Rothery’s home computers both dying at the same time. Both computers included all of Rothery’s life’s work on its hard drives. While some of it was salvageable, sadly some of it was lost forever. What would inspire the two computers to just ride off into the technological sunset at the same time? Were the two computers communicating to one another and both made dying a choice? This is what Rothery claims was the inspiration for the story of his two main characters George (Theo James) and Jules Almore (Stacy Martin). 

You’ll instantly see “Archive” to be reminiscent of Duncan Jones 2009 film “Moon” and Alex Garland’s 2014 film “Ex Machina”. Rothery has experience with this type of sci-fi world, having worked on “Moon”, as a conceptual designer and as head of the graphic design department. But you’ll also see “Ex Machina” in the movie’s look and moral quandary, with a hint of “2001” and “Silent Running”. 

Rothery’s debut feature is a feat of resourceful sci-fi design, with impressive visual effects. Even if “Archive” has its ideas of artificial intelligence that feel a bit recycled. It’s easy to see that Rothery thinks he’s got a PhD in movie science, when “Archive” actually doesn’t really assemble into anything, brilliant or profound unlike Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina”. 

Even though it may not be the most advanced of the “A.I.” genre films out there. Gavin Rothery and star Theo James have conjured up a great looking film with some heart and a neat twist or two. In “Archive”, Theo James is George, who lives 30 years from now, George is in command of a rundown research facility in a remote region out in the mountains of Japan, tasked with engineering work assigned by Simone (Rhona Mitra). 

Simone is a demanding boss with little patience for her independent employee, as George is intent on keeping his distance from any prying eyes. His only companions are: J-1, a boxy machine with no arms and with the mind of a child. J-2, is a more advanced upgrade, who is refined and agile with the mind of a teenager. J-2, possesses a level of humanity that George needs to feel engaged with, while working on a secret project that could change his life. 

Why he’s there and what the robots are isn’t immediately made clear to the audience, as Rothery provides clues and daily routines to gently expose George’s intent. It all leads to the reveal of J-3, his secret project that is his most human like robot to date and George believes that his research may finally lead to the scientific breakthrough he’s been working so diligently for. George intends to bring his wife Jules back from the dead in the most literal and physical way possible.

One of the main concepts of “Archive” is that the company George works for (which is referred to as: The Archive Company) has developed a way for individuals to stay in contact with the deceased for a limited amount of time. Their concept is that they can basically receive phone calls from the consciousness of the deceased until this predetermined expiration date occurs. George is trying to evolve that by creating an artificial version of his wife before she disappears forever.

While George tries to work on advancing his robotics, we see flashbacks from his life with Julie that are scattered throughout the film. They are reminders of a vibrant woman he once shared his life with, before a car accident caused them to separate forever. Stacy Martin does double duty as Julie and J-3, as the actress is dowsed in gifted outstanding makeup work and CGI to support her portrayal as a machine. While George tries to give his wife a second life, Theo James gets to flex some dramatic muscle as George, in trying to manage rising panic as outside interests, including villains trying to steal his project, who are closing in.

Theo James gets to show a little more dramatic grit then he has before with “Archive”. His role puts the actor in the realm of robots, love and grief as he performs a one man show for much of the picture. It’s a fine performance and perhaps his best work to date. Both James and the film is guided by writer and director Gavin Rothery, who makes an impressive feature-length filmmaking debut. 

Rothery comes up with impressive ways to stretch his budget, but still being able to stick to creating a futuristic world, with an immersive study of future technology and of personal desperation. The first two acts are compelling thanks to a director, who has a vision he wants to see come alive on the screen. 

Gavin Rothery lets his inspirations take the wheel whenever he sees fit or need ideas. Along with “Ex Machina” being a strong inspiration, when creating J-3’s full body, Rothery creates an obvious homage to the shelling sequence from the opening of “Ghost in the Shell” with Scarlett Johansson. “Archive” pays particular attention to the details involved in creating artificial life, like what makes them tick on the inside? It also asks the cliched question, that is asked in most films about artificial intelligence, of what does it mean to be human?

“Archive” like most of these genre pictures, has new intriguing dystopian touches and some that feels has been a process of assembly and reassembly, from being repurposed elements from past assorted sci-fi successes from other filmmakers. 

He highlights the merging of machine and man, keeping provocative questions presented during the run time, while keeping George walking a thin line between monster and mourner. Rothery tries to pull off a few M Night Shyamalan tricks in the conclusion that hits like a gut-punch when one wasn’t really necessary, but is welcomed.

While the movie has a lot of recycled parts, I have to say it still plays well. It’ll be a bit slow for some people, but there really is a nice payoff in the end. It’s a thought provoking film that is intriguing, but is also masterful when it wants to be. I would love to see something a bit more exciting from Gavin Rothery in the future, but in the meantime, “Archive” is a wonderfully vibrant and captivating debut from a first time director with a ton of potential. He does enough to make “Archive” a compelling calling card for the British freshman and like Theo James’ character George. Rothery shows promise of building more advanced models to come.

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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