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Archive Review

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Director Gavin Rothery’s debut feature, Archive, imagines a future where robots have become vessels for advanced artificial intelligence. The technology is so sophisticated that it is even possible to archive human consciousness after death, in large black obelisks that look like they’ve come straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, unlike Kubrick’s sci-fi classic, this film offers nothing new to the genre.

Theo James stars as George Almore, a government-backed inventor developing AI in an isolated lab. Unbeknownst to his prying patrons, George is attempting to place the preserved consciousness of his wife, Jules (Stacy Martin), into a new robot, riddled with the guilt that he was responsible for her death (a high-speed, head-on car crash which, miraculously, has left the chiselled George Almore with little more than some light facial scarring). He is assisted by two robots, also voiced by Martin, who contain artificial intelligence modelled on Jules’ mind, and were created by George to serve as trial runs for this final machine.

It’s a premise that raises some tantalising questions: what are the ethical implications of putting human consciousness in ‘trial run’ machines? The fractured and duplicated mind of Jules is shared between different robots, and these robots are resentful as they will not be the final product. This could be the building blocks of some truly compelling sci-fi. It’s a shame then that Archive does everything it can to avoid exploring its own ideas. It becomes the film’s main stumbling block. These enticing ethical questions are treated like fires that need to be put out and are either done away with as quickly as possible or negated by plot developments. 

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There’s an impressive eye for detail in Archive’s stylish world but Rothery ultimately leans too heavily on the films of others to tell his story.  There are shots that seem to have been pulled straight out of Ghost in the Shell, costumes and art direction heavily reminiscent of Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars, and the usual synth drone soundtrack and neon lighting that we’ve come to expect from anything vaguely sci-fi. Occasionally, Archive puts a fresh spin on these familiar ideas but more often than not it simply leans on them. When so much of good sci-fi is about presenting the viewer with something striking and inventive, it feels like Archive is getting other films to do its heavy lifting. The script isn’t much to get excited about either. When it’s not dull, it’s bad, a particularly atrocious clanger occurring when George’s boss shouts “Get those security systems back up! I want this place secure!”

 Watching Archive, however, the missed opportunities and lack of originality don’t really cross your mind.  Perhaps this is because Theo James is such a compelling lead that he imbues the film with intensity and momentum. The sincerity of his performance breathes life and pathos not only into his own character but also the world around him, a world that, despite its rich and detailed design, would ultimately fall flat without him. In a film that feels so familiar and derivative it could have almost been written by an AI fed on the last few decades of sci-fi cinema, it is this very human performance from James, buoyed by a plot full of twists and turns, which makes Archive a truly entertaining watch. Just don’t expect it to haunt you after the credits roll.

Image: Mingle Media TV via Wikimedia Commons