Combustible Celluloid
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With: Theo James, Stacy Martin, Toby Jones, Rhona Mitra
Written by: Gavin Rothery
Directed by: Gavin Rothery
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 109
Date: 07/10/2020

Archive (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wife Science

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though it's comprised of familiar elements from many other sci-fi movies, this debut feature's appealing visual design and surprising emotional content are ultimately enough to make it worth a look.

In Archive, George Almore (Theo James) is working on an AI robot in a run-down, remote lab in Japan. He has already built the rudimentary "J1" and "J2" robots, which have allowed him to perfect the new "J3" (Stacy Martin), who is nearly finished. In the meantime, George spends precious hours every day maintaining the lab's crumbling security system.

He also spends time speaking do his late wife Jules (also Martin) through a program called Archive, which allows the living to speak to the dead for a limited number of hours, to resolve their affairs. While his backers demand frequent updates on his work, which he refuses to provide, a man named Vincent Sinclair (Toby Jones) arrives unexpectedly to inspect the Archive machine. George realizes he can't hide his secret project any longer, but can he finish it before he's shut down for good?

Written and directed by Gavin Rothery, Archive recalls such other robot/artificial intelligence movies as Blade Runner, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Ex Machina, as well as another movie about a lone man and a robot stuck in a single location, Moon, upon which Rothery worked as a designer and visual effects supervisor. Even the excellent music by Oscar-winner Steven Price (Gravity) sounds a little like the famous Blade Runner score. Consequently, the movie sometimes feels a bit second-rate.

However, although the gorgeously-designed "J3" robot is from a long tradition of beautiful female robots, going all the way back to Metropolis, Martin brings it her own strength and personality. Divergent heartthrob James, who co-produced, gives a serviceable performance, yet still manages to work for the story, matter-of-factly dealing with the complex relationships between George and the robots. (They used to be his romantic partner, and now they're more like petulant children.)

Rothery's screenplay for Archive ties together all its themes nicely, asking questions about death and loved ones left behind, and provides a satisfying ending sure to please hardcore sci-fi fans.

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