At the opening of the film US agent Joshua (John David Washington), having been sent behind enemy lines to gather information, has gone native, married the beautiful Maya (Gemma Chan) and they are expecting their first child. Their idyll is ruined however when an American patrol of AE hunters break into their home, arrest Maya and it appears kill her.
A few years on Joshua, now back in the States, is ordered to go with a special unit back into enemy territory, where Maya is apparently alive and involved in the creation of a new AI threat, which could destroy humanity. However the threat when found turns out to be a little girl Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), who is a cross between a robotic human and a child Dalai Lama with access to some spiritual power.
Josh is drawn to the child and becomes her protector against the invading American force led by the militant Colonel Howell (an impressively hateful Allison Janney). His bond with Alphie is strengthened when he learns her creator is Maya, known as the Mother and the girl could therefore be his daughter.
While the film has sci fi and topicality credentials, the story is virtually a replay of the American war in Vietnam, both in its geographical setting (it was actually filmed in Thailand) and with the perceived threat being a Far Eastern people, whose belief system offends and frightens the bullying American invading force. Apart from Miss Saigon, this is arguably the first major movie to tell the story, albeit in metaphorical form, from that invaded people’s point of view. Interesting too that the American backers of this Brit directed film allowed the Americans for once to be seen as the bad guys.
Washington is strong at the centre of the film, though Chan rather disappointingly appears only spasmodically. And there is plenty of spectacle, action and impressive effects.
As well as the ordinary people of New Asia, there appear to be two different classes of robots in this Eastern society. Some of them are faceless, machine like robots, filling roles such as police officers. Others, played by actors, are humanoid. Human faces and bodies but see through ports like headphones, where the ears would normally be and technological stuff forming the back of the head. One such as Harun, one of their leaders, played by Ken Watanabe. Another is Alphie herself, a role in which Yuna Voyles, only seven when the film was shot, shows both astonishing poise and touching, childish emotion.
Some of the interesting detail of Edwards’ imagined future world gets a bit overwhelmed by the action and spectacular special effects and one rather loses track of the geography in the complicated and somewhat overblown climax involving NOMAD, the US master weapon, which is a sort super fighter war ship cum space station floating above the earth.
Those sequences are though what the IMAX screen is made for, though personally I prefer the quieter and more contemplative moments. Fortunately the film has both.