dir: Gareth Edwards
This was terrible on a whole host of levels, and I think I’m one of the very few to think so. How very edgy of me.
It wasn’t terrible to watch, as in, it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience watching it. The acting is fine, the action is okay, the digital effects are solid.
It’s just that it’s all in the service of a terrible story, conceptually, and on a bunch of levels I can only barely grasp. I’ve read so many reviews that talk about how fresh and original it is, and I feel like screaming “have you watched any science fiction movies ever?”
Nothing in this flick is even barely remotely original. Everything is cobbled together from other flicks. I’m not even going to list them. Listing them is just me mansplaining and naming the same and usual suspects every time a sci fi flick is made. There are few images from this that I haven’t scene in other movies.
And touting as it does a storyline about humans versus AI, during an era in our own history where society says it’s grappling with the ethical and technological implications of advances in so-called artificial intelligence, the flick not only manages to say nothing new about AI; it manages to say nothing about AI at all.
It’s set, mostly, in the 2070s. So, our future. But long stretches of the flick look like they’re set during the fucking Vietnam War. I am not exaggerating. The fucking Vietnam War.
For reasons that I find hilarious, an African-American man lives with a pregnant generically Asian woman on the coast of a generically Asian country. This is New Asia. Not Thailand, not Vietnam, but New Asia. That’s not me saying it, it’s the movie.
They are happy, blissful in fact. But then, as American military forces attack the seaside village, it’s revealed that the African-American chap is actually an undercover…something, as these people are all trying to find and kill the leader of the AIs, their creator, Nirmata.
You see, the Americans have vowed to hunt down and kill all AIs in general, but specifically a person that is their god, because in years previous an AI blew up a nuclear bomb over LA killing only a million people.
Yes, of course I’m familiar with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, why do you ask?
This highly original movie with its highly original science fiction premise posits that all AIs come from one person; that if the Americans, who have created a giant space station called NOMAD, can kill this one person, then all the AIs somehow die, but conversely if this Nirmata created a singular new thing, and that one thing or person somehow destroyed NOMAD, then the war between the US and New Asia / prejudiced humans versus technology, will also end.
Got that? Blow up the space station, and the rebels / good guys win forever.
What a heartbreakingly staggeringly original work of unimaginable genius!
Where do I even start…I like John David Washington, he’s fine in the role. All he has to do is… really, I don’t get the plan at all. If you wanted someone to go undercover in an Asian country, New Asian or otherwise, in order to find the secretive creator of advanced technology, why would you select an African-American army sergeant? Wouldn’t you find, like, almost anyone else instead?
If things then turn bad, would it also make more sense to have that almost anyone else be on the run, but have a realistic chance of skating through, by possibly not being the most recognisable person in all of that generic New Asian country?
NOMAD, the fearsome space station that looms over places, projecting a blue laser sight onto the ground where it’s about to attack, and then blows shit up with nuclear weapons, well, let me tell you, forget the future, Americans can already to this practically anywhere. Hell, even Pakistan can do it, in theory, without robots and without AIs.
This flick has American soldiers striding around and killing people, robots, and combinations thereof, in New Asia with impunity, just because they can, just like they did in the past, but then NOMAD floats into view, and blows up the corpses.
Why not…just cut out the middle man and just blow them up without the intermediate step? There’s only so many scenes intended to inspire anti-American imperial hatred reminding people of the various massacres that we need before we get it. At least fifteen, I would say.
There’s a particularly hilarious (I mean in terms of how obscenely over the top it is, rather than that the slaughter of innocents amuses me) scene at a village where these tanks roll in, and the tanks, with the helpful lowercase words of “us army” scrawled across them in a pleasing blue and white font, are about the size of a city block. These tanks squash people and hovels easily, and blow people up, as if they needed to, and then NOMAD still comes in to blow up the scraps and the corpses.
New Asia, whatever the fuck it’s meant to be, has humans and robots, and robots that at least have human-like faces, and they seem self-aware, happily living side by side. There’s no real reason given as to why or how it’s so easy for them to coexist happily, but the point is of course that the chillness of Asian cultures lends itself to happier coexistence with other beings, which, if you knew anything about actual ethnic conflicts in contemporary Asia or, I dunno, all the slaughters of innocents across Asia due to new empires, ideology, trying to hold on to old empires, or religious bullshit over the last hundred years (thousand years, ten thousand years), well, maybe robots should rule everything? But all the same it seems absurd on the face of it.
Buddhism hardly equates to AIs and humans working together for the betterment of all. If anything the AIs I guess are somehow more of a stand-in for communism than anything else, which is funny, in a tragic sense.
But let’s not go there. As stupid and inexplicable as the original plan was for Joshua (Washington) to go undercover and kill Nirmata, the new plan to find Nirmata again and kill him / her / it and destroy Nirmata’s newest weapon seems even dumber. Whatever New Asia is, it is at least a country or a bunch of countries. But nothing happens in cities – it all happens in isolated country locations.
And what is Joshua’s objective? It’s to find the wife he thought he lost when the Americans attacked, being Maya (Gemma Chan, who only ever gets to play alien, gods, robots, or alien god robots like in The Eternals). But Joshua saw Maya get hit with a nuclear weapon at the beginning of the flick. Was he not watching carefully?
But she must be around, because there’s footage of her.
And now, having lost everything, Joshua becomes a surrogate parent. The weapon turns out to be a small girl robot called Alpha Zero (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who is very human-like, but has powers.
What powers does she have? She can turn things on or off just by praying, by putting her hands together and praying.
So, yes, as incredulous as other characters including Joshua are when they find out Alphie is a fancy remote control, to the Americans she represents an unacceptable risk. She must be destroyed.
You will be amazed when I tell you that Joshua is rude and mean to Alphie at first, but in the end comes to protect and love her as if she were his own daughter. In fact, given the chance, he would sacrifice his own life for her.
Honestly, there’s no fucking way you saw that coming.
The way everything is resolved is, I have to say, profoundly stupid in practice, but solely on a surface level seems to make perfect sense, everything ending up in its right place, part A fitting into part B fitting into part C. But, honestly, it’s so formulaic that its pure formula.
How do we get A, being Alphie, up to NOMAD, in order to B (Blow it up)? Well, let’s say there’s a shuttle that regularly flies to the moon, and get her on that, using techno magic, to do B. How do we do B? Well, have her turn the power off and then on arbitrarily. How do make it seem even more tense? Have the Americans drop a whole bunch of nuclear bombs against all these New Asian cities for…reasons.
How do we make the ending extra-mawkish? Maybe contrive a bullshit scene where Joshua gets to hug a copy of Maya, for reasons, after sending Alphie away, in a way that would make the stupid child robot at the end of Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence throw up synthetic oil all over itself in disgust and shame?
This is product. Pure, contrived product. Everything that happens feels contrived and inorganic, fitting the plot to force it down the most familiar of paths that we expect in every big budget sci fi flick these days. This isn’t a story, but having said that, I loved all the scenes between Joshua and the Golden Child. Even without all the contrivances, who wouldn’t sacrifice themselves for that wonderful kid? She hasn’t even asked me, but I’m tempted to offer, just in case she needs anyone to die for her.
Are the AIs in this flick, including Alphie, self-aware? They never bother to explain. They imply, that Alphie is so advanced that she’s always growing, always learning, and thus empathetic towards humans. And they have all these robot monks and priests, one of whom at a crucial point claims the Simulants (as they are sometimes called) respect human life too much to take it. But we see them try to kill people and other robots/simulants all the time?
And yet the stupid, violent Americans just want to stamp them all out, despite the fact that they’re everywhere. They walk among us. Like anti-vaxxers and communists, they can pass for regular people, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them.
*creepy robotic voice* One of us, we accept you, one of us, we accept you.
It’s not unpleasant to watch, but that doesn’t make it a good movie.
It’s just content. Should we be grateful for something that exists solely as “more content”?
5 times that this passes for “intelligent, original” sci fi just makes me want to cry out of 10
“Execute her or we go extinct.” – decisions, decisions - The Creator