“It all makes for a frustrating watch.”
It is the year 2044 and solar storms have caused large swathes of Earth to become so radioactive that humanity has all but been wiped out. Millions of robots have been created by the company ROC to build the means of protecting those people who are left within the cities from the radiation, but now the majority of these robots have been instead turned to work carrying out menial tasks such as cleaning. So that these robots cannot harm humans, they have been programmed with two supposedly unbreakable protocols: they cannot harm any form of life and they can neither repair themselves nor alter another robot in any fashion. It is said that these rules are unbreakable, yet when one robot is discovered to be apparently violating the second protocol by altering itself, insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is sent by ROC to find out how the supposed impossible has happened.
It seems that as time goes on it is becoming increasingly rare to come across a science fiction film that is fresh and filled with new ideas. For every film that is inventive in vision and storytelling, such as 2009’s District 9, there seems to be a thousand more that hold little substance and appear happy to rehash visual and story ideas that have already been explored to much better effect. Unfortunately, Automata from director Gabe Ibáñez is one of the later.
Not only does its visuals borrow heavily from Blade Runner and Mad Max (never usually a good thing to bring classics of the genre so much to mind), it is also pretty much a checklist of science fiction clichés too – an end of humanity event, people living in dystopia, deadly radiation, a downbeat ‘noir’ lead, a shadowy company, self-aware robots – these and many more are all here. Most crucially though, it all comes with a screenplay that is simply not thought out enough to help you forgive the many tropes that make this up. Characters are often thinly drawn, as are the robots that seem to mostly serve little more purpose than glorified shooting targets, while plot holes abound and any sense of coherent story telling is often given a back seat in an attempt to further the tale to some kind of conclusion.
It all makes for a frustrating watch, but with that said, there are still some things to be had from Automata. Acting for example is solid for the most part given the confines of the screenplay – Banderas in particular does well as the weary lead and Robert Forster puts in a typically strong turn as his boss Bob Bold. Visuals too are well handled, which is perhaps not that surprising given the strong visual effects background of Ibáñez. The mix of practical and CGI effects on offer are undoubtedly the films strongest point, and although they are somewhat derivative, they are never-the-less impressively handled given the low budgets involved.
Still, even with this in its favour, it simply cannot make up for the shortcomings of a messy screenplay, and no amount of the overblown orchestral score and flying, bullet riddled robot parts can hide the fact that in the end Automata is average B-movie sci-fi fare at best.
Director: Gabe Ibáñez.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Robert Forster, Melanie Griffith
Release date (UK): On DVD and Blu-ray 4 May 2015
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