When I originally watched the trailer for Vice, I immediately thought this is what Westworld would look like if it had been an action movie. Now, having actually watched the film, I find that I was right. The robots of a resort become aware and attack the visitors, is equally descriptive of both films. Even though Westworld comes off as the more intellectual of the two films, Vice actually has a better explanation for why the robots, or cydroids as they are called in Vice, go insane and attack the visitors at the end of the movie. Vice manages to be an entertaining movie despite it’s low production value and action tropes.
The plot of Vice is that Kelly, a cydroid, is programmed to relive the same day, over and over, inside of Vice. She suddenly remembers her own murder from the night before, which should have been expunged from her memory. In an effort to reformat her brain, all of her memories are restored and she becomes self-aware. She proceeds to escape from the resort and Vice sends corporate security to recover her. A murder by the corporate security draws a cop, Roy, into an investigation which leads him to discover Vice’s secrets and finally take down the corporation, while Kelly discovers herself.
The movies opening gives us a little history that seperates the world of Vice from the one that we live in.
Not mentioned in the opening but still relevant is that AI were banned for any use until Julian Michaels got special permission to use cydroids in Vice.
There are four major characters that drive the film: Roy, Kelly, Evan, and Julian.
Roy is a cop who dislikes Vice because he feels that the resort has drawn more criminal elements to his city, and then drives people to be more likely to commit crimes after having done so in Vice for fun. Roy comes off as Connor MacLeod, from Highlander; a hard-boiled detective in the future.
Kelly is a cydroid that’s living the same day over and over. A bracelet that she wears on her wrist erases her memories every night and resets her to experience the same day again. The way this works is like a hard-drive, where when a memory is deleted it is flagged as ready to be overwritten rather than actually deleted. So, for some reason a glitch makes her have flashbacks of some of this flagged memory, and she is removed to be reformatted. Part of the reformatting process apparently involves unflagging all of this memory so that the subject can remember being murdered over and over by a sadistic doctor. So during this process, Kelly escapes with all of her memories restored. Unfortunately, Kelly mostly just comes off as a plot device for the entire movie.
Evan is the original creator of the cydroids, and he created Kelly in the image of his dead wife. Evan is a pretty boy scientist who has failed to cope with the death of his wife. He often comes off as the trope of 1980s computer scientist who has become disenfranchised with new developments in technology. The most interesting character interactions in the film are between Kelly and Evan, as they try to reconcile their weird relationship.
Julian Michaels is the CEO of Vice and the antagonist of the story. Julian is the self-made man, who actually bought everyone else’s inventions to fuel his power-mongering dreams. Julian is a cardboard cutout villain, whose only humanity is imbued in him by Bruce Willis not being the worst actor alive.
Had the characters in Vice been stronger and better developed I think that Vice could have rivaled Westworld in quality. Unfortunately, we are given stereotypical characters that are given almost no development to overcome their monotony and the whole movie suffers for it.
Police vs. Corporations
One of the themes that runs through the movie is that the police are “polite” to Vice. This takes many forms. Roy is told to give Vice more leeway because of the revenue that they bring the city. Also, Roy accuses the police chief of being paid off by Vice. It is also insinuated that Vice has a number of contacts inside of the police department. What this brings to mind is the Occupy Protests of 2011. During the height of the protests Wall Street paid the New York Police Department millions of dollars in donations. A not so subtle reminder of who they really work for.
There is a scene where Evan is talking to Kelly, and she tells him that he should escape the city with her. Evan then says, “You and I have both been living in an illusion.” This takes the form of Kelly have literally been living under the illusion created by her programming. For Evan though, it refers to him having created Kelly to help him cope with the loss of his wife. In reality, we live both under illusions that are created by society and by our own minds. Motivated consciousness for instance often makes it very difficult to see our selves as the villains in our own story. Then some social structures are programmed into us from a very young age, like the fundamentals of whichever political or economic structure that we live under.
Corporations; for the few by the few.
At one point in the movie, Julian Michaels says that the cydroids have been programmed to be unable to hurt humans in an effort to prevent a robot uprising, but only a few of us are deemed important enough. This is the stance that Vice always takes. A few causalities are acceptable losses if they protect Vice and its agenda. Vice, for Julian, is a way to power. The world that we live in has slowly trended toward oligarchy because of unchecked corporations elevating individual wealth to unparalleled levels while securely leaving everyone else in wage slave positions, or some illusion of being able to reach beyond their station.
One of the stylistic choices made for the movie was to have light bars as the primary source of illumination throughout the movie. Amazingly, this alone gave the entire movie a feeling of being in the future, while having that neon cyberpunk feel. Not much else in the movie really screams the future, but this alone carries a futuristic tone. I was impressed by this simple, yet effective stylistic choice. Better movies take note.
Overall, Vice was an enjoyable movie. I found that the lack of character development and lack of investment in the characters made the entire movie fall flat. It does have some fun action sequences, but they are nothing special. The music was compelling, but immediately forgettable. Vice presents some themes that stimulate thought and reflection, but they bash you over the head with them. Subtly is not Vice’s strong suit and unfortunately not much else is either.