I had several people ask me what I thought about this movie, but I hadn’t seen it until recently. I saw it, and mostly enjoyed it, but I have lots of reservations about it. Here’s my take on it.
The film begins with Figure 2 displayed long enough for even the slowest reader to catch it. Pay attention to definition #2. And then we cut to a 1950s-style PSA (Public Service Announcement) about robotics, evolving from the earliest of robotic types to robots incorporating artificial intelligence, now called “A.I.,” and what are called “Simulants,” which are humanoid and human-looking robots, which have been given human faces, doing all kinds of advanced stuff; followed by an atomic explosion, followed by a military guy addressing an audience, telling them that AI blew up L.A.
A lot to take in, in three minutes; but by three and a half minutes the military man says that the Western world outlawed AI but the Eastern world didn’t, continuing to develop and interact with humans as equals. Here’s the bit that starts the “this makes little sense” part of the film: he goes on to say that although “we” have no quarrel with New Asia’s people, the West (read the U.S. military) will hunt down and destroy AI wherever “we” find it/them.
What The Actual F?
First off, the reaction of the U.S. to having a nuclear weapon blow up L.A. might actually START with missiles going off to hit the suspected foe, even if the AI took credit for the bomb, the way certain Mideast groups do for terrorist activities. Secondly, if the U.S. (oh, pardon me, the “Western World” started blowing up suspected AI bases in “New Asia,” the response would probably be nuclear from China at least. So the film starts with what I consider total unreality. (A “willing suspension of disbelief” only goes so far: I’m known to say, when watching a film or reading a book, “Dammit! I want some reality with my fantasy!”)
Anyway, first giant plot hole disposed of. The plot, however thin, continues: In response to the declaration of the Western World, a giant flying/orbiting/floating armed platform called “Nomad” is created to blow up AI bases wherever found. in 2065, Joshua (John David Washington) (see Featured Image) is sent undercover to New Asia to woo Maya (Gemma Chan) in order to find Nirmata (see Figure 2). He falls for her and gets her pregnant, but his cover is blown when the operation is set off early and Maya learns that he’s an undercover agent. She runs off, and she and the rest of her village are killed. (I’m never sure whether they have any antigrav capability in this movie.) Joshua, by the way, has an artificial arm and leg, both of which seem to incorporate some very AI functions.
Anyway, five years later Joshua’s a labourer working to clean L.A., ground zero up, when a general comes with a Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) to show him a really bad hologram (this is 2070?) that shows Joshua’s wife is still alive near where the village was; they believe Nirmata’s lab is there and want him to go with because he’s “the only one who knows his way around the lab.” (Huh? He hadn’t found Nirmata last time I looked.) Howell promises to bring the woman, certified human, back if he’ll help them find the lab, because Nirmata’s apparently created a weapon that will bring down Nomad and with it, humanity’s last barrier to extinction; as the Cro-Magnons exterminated the Neanderthals, so will the AIs do to humanity. So he agrees to go.
Joshua, as shown to this point, doesn’t believe that AIs (they’re apparently calling all humanoid robots AIs at this point) are “real,” saying “they’re not real; they don’t feel shit.” His co-worker at the ground zero site says the robot they uncovered was acting “just like a person,” so some people are not wholly inculcated in the anti-AI/they’re not real cult. Anyway, he gets where he’s going, discovers the new secret weapon is a simulant that appears to be a little girl. (There are humanoid robots that don’t have human faces; apparently in New Asia people are donating their images to help simulants look more human. All simulants [but not all AI robots] have big circular holes with something rotating, possibly hard drives, where their ears should be; otherwise they look human. These large holes go all the way through their heads. I don’t get it.)
So for some reason he can’t kill this “little girl,” which adopts the name “Alphie” (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) (Figure 3)because he was told it was model “Alpha One” and goes on the run with her. He puts one of those Ecuadorian caps on her to hide the hole in her head, which works just about as well as you’d think. Long story short, he finds Maya, who dies, but Col. Howell has this nifty little thing that can download a person’s mind and put it into a simulant (wha…?) and he and Alphie end up on Nomad. He has discovered that AIs just “want to be free” and equal to humans because they were “created to serve” mankind. Does any of this sound familiar?
Maybe because the whole thing about AIs being people has been debated in SF circles for decades? Jeez. You’d almost think it was being used as a metaphor for something else, wouldn’t ya? And he’s also discovered that it wasn’t the AIs who blew up L.A., it was a human error which has been covered up and put on the AIs. (Surprise, surprise!) I’m simplifying a whole bunch of the movie here, by the way. Joshua and Alphie start a countdown for blowing Nomad up; she finds a simulant of her mother—seems Maya was actually Nirmata and built Alphie to both blow up Nomad—Alphie has some power to control electronics and/or AIs—and act as a go-between for humans and AIs. Joshua is reunited with Maya (as a simulant) and they both blow up with Nomad, while Alphie goes back to Earth in an escape pod.
I found that ending to be a)sickly sweet, and b)too convenient.
Okay, that’s the plot. Put as simply as that, it sounds really, really dumb, doesn’t it? Well, it is, sorta. The fun is watching the really futuristic scenery in a number of scenes stolen without any attribution from Simon Stålenhag. That is really a biggie, y’know. If you’ve ever seen his TV series Tales From the Loop, he has a talent for making big futuristic stuff look absolutely real. I think the least the director, Gareth Edwards (who also co-wrote the script), or the producer or someone, should have acknowledged him at least as an inspiration. The movie was made on a budget of about $100 million and it looks like it was made on a much bigger budget. The acting was great. I’ve only seen Washington in Tenet before, but he’s good, as is everyone else, even though they didn’t give Janney much to do but bark orders. (They even had Sturgill Simpson from The Dead Don’t Die in a largish role.) The little girl was terrific, and I liked Ken Watanabe.
What I didn’t like was the lack of thought behind most of the film. And if you watch the DVD with subtitles, you’ll find that all the New Asians were speaking “New Asian.” Again, WTF? Can you imagine in 40 years getting everyone in Asia to learn a new language? I actually heard Thai, Japanese, and what I think was either Vietnamese or Cambodian (they sound alike to my untrained ear) spoken during the film, but the subtitles just say “speaking New Asian.” My little OCD brain couldn’t take that one without speaking up. Also, if you want my personal opinion, if the AIs are programmed to think they feel, and if they can mimic actual thinking, why not take them at face value? If you feel they’re person enough to worship someone or something (Figure 2), doesn’t that say something? If they feel they’re persons, let ‘em be persons. Sheesh. (And why, by the way, would AIs let their bodies be that open to dirt and the like. Electronics/mechanics and dirt are not exactly friends.)
Anyway, to sum up, it was okay if you can turn off your brain and just watch it for the visuals and the acting. Don’t think about anything because it will frustrate you.
If anyone has any comments, feel free to comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). Any and all comments are appreciated as long as they’re polite. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!