This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.
After robots from space have taken over the Earth, the surviving humans are forced to remain inside their homes indefinitely, being monitored by flashing implants behind their ear. If they go outside, they are killed. However, four kids accidentally find a way to turn off their implants, and see it as an opportunity to firstly find one of their number’s missing father, and possibly end the robo-tyranny forever.
Unlike its eponymous electronic oppressors, Robot Overlords is harmless. It would be hard to walk away from it muttering opinions of hatred and derision. Yet just like those autonomous autocrats controlling the world, it’s also wholly unoriginal. No boundaries are pushed, no risks are taken, no lines are coloured outside of, and as such no sense of risk or danger is felt, and no excitement was garnered from the viewing. Yet it’s hardly a film one can go into expecting inventiveness. Kids saving the world from an alien threat is a premise as unique as it is believable, in that it’s a long way from being either. This isn’t striving for the urban cool of Attack the Block or the 80s homage of Super 8. Robot Overlords just seems to want to get through the plot without bothering anyone. So why bother existing in the first place?
Amongst the nothing-new-there plot elements present is the notion of humans working alongside the attackers, on the side of the beings attempting to quash their own race. Enter Ben Kingsley, an actor of such talent and significance it seems impossible to fathom why he graces such mediocrity with his presence. Perhaps he was opting for the Michael Caine route, making a film that his younger descendants can enjoy instead of waiting around for them to be old enough to see Sexy Beast. Kingsley plays Robin Smythe, a member of the Volunteer Core, unofficially known as Collaborators, who have assisted the robots with the minutiae of planetary domination in return for being saved from the robots’ eventual endgame plan, but Smythe’s main role seems to be liaising between mankind and the Mediator, a freakish mannequin child ripped directly from my nightmares, as well as emerging from clouds of smoke at opportune moments as the plot requires.
Speaking of the plot, it mainly focusses on four cardboard cut-out stereotype kids, led by Sean (McAuliffe), who all live with Sean’s mother Kate (Gillian Anderson). Sean is the brooding bad boy hero, who is certain his pilot father is still alive despite the undeniable statistics to the alternative. Living with him are a whining, failed attempt at comic relief in the form of Nathan (Tarpey) and his sister Alex (Hunt), who adds literally nothing to the plot until she becomes someone for the hero to realise he might fancy in the third act. Their party is joined by the young Connor (Parker), whose father is eviscerated in front of him and Kate immediately adopts him without question. It’s never quite explained how people live in these times, posing many questions and offering little in the way of explanation as to how things like employment, food rations and other everyday essential tasks are achieved in this new world, especially seeing as we’re informed via opening exposition that this takeover occurred three years prior to the film beginning. Clearly they still have running power and plumbing, but who maintains it if no-one is allowed outside of their homes for more than 5 minutes at a time?
Normally with this kind of film you might expect to find some degree of creativity within the design of the otherworldly beings, but sadly even the aesthetics of the robots are tired and lacklustre, being exactly what one would sketch out if told to design basic robots to take over the world. House-sized bipeds with large guns, small scuttling weaponised cameras, flying machines akin to fighter planes and giant floating cuboid behemoths, everything gives the impression of being the result of a first draft that was never developed into something more refined. There are some exciting moments in the finale at least, with one particular aerial shot being well implemented, but it’s not enough to make up for the sheer mundanity of everything else.
Choose Life 3/10