“Archive” reminds us of many other recent similar SF flicks but never distinguishes itself enough in my humble opinion. While its story promise was intriguing enough to draw my attention when I watched its trailer a few weeks ago, the movie fails to be something truly complex and compelling, and I must tell you that, though I followed its story and characters with some curiosity and patience, it let me down more with its disappointingly contrived finale.
Theo James, who also participated in the production of the film, plays George Almore, a young and brilliant robot engineer who has lived and worked alone in some high-tech factory/laboratory located somewhere in a remote rural area of Japan. Although it seems he has been there for more than a year without any direct contact with the outside world, he does not look that lonely at all because he is mainly occupied with his private project with the assistance from his two robots.
As the plot progresses bit by bit with occasional outdoor shots of chilly landscapes, we get to know his troubled state of mind via a series of flashback scenes. Before coming to this isolated spot, he was married to a loving woman named Jules (Stacy Martin), but, alas, a terrible accident happened, and now George often makes a phone call to a big electronic data storage device in his living room, through which he can communicate with her ‘archived’ consciousness.
We later come to learn that there is a certain technical limit on this artificial status of her, and that is why George is so obsessed with his ongoing personal project. Although his project is bound to violate a number of corporation laws, he does not care about that at all simply because he wants to bring back his wife to his world, and he does not tell anything to his direct boss when he gives a routine report to his direct boss as usual.
It is gradually revealed that George’s two robots are the stepping stones for his project. He has been trying to make a humanoid robot equipped with artificial intelligence, and the final result of his project is going to be a vessel to which everything stored in that archival device will be transferred in the end. While the first robot was not so successful with relatively low intelligence, the second robot is vastly improved in comparison, and now George is about to move onto making the third robot, which may be as successful as he hopes while resembling far more of his dear wife than the second robot.
Of course, once George starts to make his third robot, the situation becomes a little more complicated than before. There is an unexpected visit from two guys sent from a company which provided him that archival device, and you may sense that there is something fishy during this moment, because one of these two guys is played by none other than Toby Jones, a British character actor who always attracts our attention with his oddball quality.
Meanwhile, the movie observes the expected moments of tension between George and his second robot, who seems to be not so pleased about what is going on between George and his latest creation. While being a less developed version of George’s wife, the second robot, which is usually called J2 and sometimes looks like a pirate copy version of that sinister robot in “I Am Mother” (2019), wants to be closer to George as programmed, and there is a little creepy moment when J2 surreptitiously glimpses on a private moment between George and the third robot, which comes to look more humanized step by step but, yes, also struggles to deal with those emotional memories of Jane.
Now you can see that the movie is entering the territories of “Solaris” (1972) and “Ex Machina” (2014), but the screenplay by director/writer Gavin Rothery merely trudges from one predictable narrative point to other without much dramatic momentum. While there is some dramatic conflict between George and J2, this soon gets fizzled out to our disappointment, and the same thing can be said about the increasingly strained relationship between George and J3. Just like J2, J3 also wants to be closer to him even after coming to learn more of the purpose of her existence, and it seems George feels a bit happier when J3 is around him, but, not so surprisingly, he turns out to have some reservation somewhere inside his mind.
And we are frequently reminded that something is not so quite right around George. With the ominous score by Steven Price, the cinematography by Laurie Rose steadily generates the nervous atmosphere around our hero, and the movie mostly maintains the palpable sense of isolation on the screen except during those flashback scenes and a few other scene including the one between George and a sinister security expert sent from the corporation George has worked for.
I do not dare to go into details on how the story eventually ends, but I can tell you instead that I came to reflect more on many artificial aspects of the movie with more dissatisfaction. While James tried his best to carry the movie with his low-key performance, his character is not particularly deep enough to engage us, and he is sometimes overshadowed by Stacy Martin, who relatively shows more personality as shuffling between her multiples roles in the story.
On the whole, “Archive” is a well-made genre piece in terms of technical aspects, but it does not feel that fresh or engaging enough for me, and it will not surprise you much if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me. To be frank with you, I would rather recommend you to watch “Solaris” or “Ex Machina” instead, and I assure you that you will have a more productive time with either of them.
Agree completely. I really wanted to love this movie since it seemed that the premise had interesting potential and the visuals were satisfying but the ending seemed to be contrived and not relevant in an interesting way (contrast this with 2009’s Moon, for example). The j3 had such a beautiful design that I thought they might carry the rest of the film with her but like my other hopes it was not to be. (In fact, all of my guesses where the film was going were more interesting than the film’s actual ending) I would even been happy with a classical tragic ending as long as it wasn’t trivial but “classics” are perhaps uncommon by definition.
SC: I need to revisit “Moon” (2009) someday….