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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Gareth Edwards
scr Gareth Edwards, Chris Weitz
prd Gareth Edwards, Kiri Hart, Arnon Milchan, Jim Spencer
with John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Allison Janney, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Amar Chadha-Pate, Marc Menchaca, Robbie Tann, Ralph Ineson, Michael Esper, Veronica Ngo, Ian Verdun
release US/UK 29.Sep.23
23/US 20th Century 2h13
Is it streaming?
After seven years, Gareth Edwards returns with a boldly well-realised film that's refreshingly free of franchise vibes. This thrillingly entertaining stand-alone adventure references a wide range of sci-fi classics, from Edwards' own Monsters and Rogue One to District 9 and Blade Runner. While the character building is a bit simplistic and the pace rather frantic, the film works beautifully both in its action and the deeper themes and emotions.
In 2065, the American army is intent on exterminating artificial intelligence robots and simulants that have key roles throughout global society, blaming them for a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. Colonel Howell (Janney) brutally focusses on on New Asia, where undercover soldier Joshua (Washington) has just lost his wife Maya (Chan). He continues pursuing mythical AI creator Nirmata, developing an unexpected connection with Alphie (Voyles), a sim child who can control tech. But Howell sees Alphie as a weapon, so it's up to Joshua to protect her, and vice versa, as he searches for Maya.
Seamless effects make everything look matter-of-fact, from retro-style gadgets to robots who care for their own. The film looks spectacular, both in tiny details and grand Thai landscapes, over which the massive US Nomad ship hovers with destructive intent. The script nicely balances witty banter with intensely violent clashes, charging forward through one nuanced confrontation after another. And scenes are packed with wonderful touches, perhaps the most memorable being bombs that show personality as they jog into the fray.
The soulful Washington is excellent as a man whose rejection of his comrades' gung-ho violence has left him feeling out of place. He believes robots are mere things, then forms a close attachment with Alfie. She's played beautifully by 9-year-old newcomer Voyles, who conveys both snappy humour and wisdom beyond her years. Janney is cleverly cast as the tenacious Howell, whose scorched-earth approach is terrifying. Watanabe provides warm gravitas as a pivotal figure. And Chan is solid in an important role that feels simplified and sidelined.
Minor complaints aside, this is a fresh and hugely satisfying movie that fills the biggest screen with spectacle while never forgetting the intimate drama. It's also packed with big ideas that are never preachy, allowing themes to emerge organically through the narrative. In particular, the story takes on the conundrum of AI from a bracing new angle that has a lot to say about human paranoia and the urge to destroy rather than to listen and understand.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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