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Stars: John David Washington, Madeleine Yuna Voyles, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Allison Janney

Director: Gareth Edwards

If Edwards' previous film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, was a fantastic piece of sci-fi, his new one is, if anything, even better. Awesome to look at, it's both super exciting and super emotional, with a truly amazing child performance at its centre.

It's 2065, and a nuclear bomb, detonated by AI-built machines, wipes out LA, killing millions of people, including, it seems, the pregnant wife (Chan) of special ops agent Joshua Taylor (Washington, son of Denzel). Five years later, advanced AI is banned in the States, but still developed in 'New Asia' under the auspices of Nirmata, the mysterious 'creator'.

Even as the West's massive gunship, the NOMAD, pulverises South East Asia, news filters through that Nirmata is developing a new weapon, the Alpha-O, capable of destroying even NOMAD. A special force is assembled, anchored by Colonel Howell (Janney, raspingly good) to infiltrate Nirmata's HQ and destroy it/him. Taylor, with his knowledge of the area, is dragooned back into service.

The twist here is that it's the Americans who are the bad guys here. The Easterners, despite their continuing mastery of AI, are only interested in peace. But, although the mission is hardly a success, Taylor does find himself in Nirmata's underground HQ, where he discovers that a simulant young girl (Voyles, seven at the time of filming) is actually the almighty weapon his team have been seeking.

Trying to take her back to the remains of his crew, Taylor bonds with the child, whom he calls Alphie; gradually, his loyalties are skewed...

Edwards' imagination and creative juices are nothing short of incredible. And his film, which seems a shoo-in for production design Oscar if nothing more, effortlessly achieves unique atmosphere in its various Asian settings. Chase and action are constant, even if the film is very definitely anti-war. To cap it all, the climax will make you cry, even though I did have reservations about some barely believable situations that seem contrived merely to ensure the film does not have a completely happy ending.

The movie has had mixed reviews in the US and UK, but to my mind, this is close to a masterpiece.

David Quinlan

USA/Thailand 2023. UK Distributor: Disney (20th Century Studios/eOne). Colour by FotoKem.
133 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 28 Sep 2023