Even before I became a movie buff, I was already reading Isaac Asimov‘s Tales of Robots to the point of literally consuming its pages like an invader.
As I kept going back to the library to experience those stories, again and again, the librarian eventually found secondhand copies, all for me.
So I invested the little money from my allowance to buy every book of the famous Russian/American writer’s three cycles, namely the Robots, Empire and Foundation.
Dozens of tales are independent of each other but linked into a single narrative universe. Over 20,000 years telling, from the birth of robots to the collapse and rebirth of the Galactic Empire.
Recently, an Apple production series inspired by his Foundation novels have come out, about which I feel I can only draw a pious veil without adding more.
Unlike the movie, Asimov’s robots are peaceful and compassionate. Indeed they become the protectors of humanity and try to correct the mistakes of their stupid and selfish masters.
Today, however, we are talking about very evil robots who certainly couldn’t care less about Asimov’s famous Three Laws.
But while philosophically opposed, we breathe a bit of that forgotten atmosphere that not many filmmakers always manage to bring to the big screen.
So without further preamble, let us load all the heavy weapons we can find on our shoulders. We will need every last bullet to knock down these treacherous and relentless behemoths of metal.
Kill Command (2016)
We start with an industrial/military setting movie, where theoretically, robots should be dummies for soldiers to practice.
A special forces elite platoon travels to a remote island that for years has been the site only of war simulations and training sessions.
Traveling with them is an extraordinary observer tasked with evaluating their performance and the robots’ adaptive response.
This young girl has tech implants grafted into her brain to operate the company’s machines remotely.
When they land on site find themselves completely cut off from the rest of the world, as all communications seem to be down.
Nevertheless, they begin their training session, ambushing and tearing apart mechanical enemies without too much trouble.
During the night, however, the robots react to the attack, brutally killing the guard patrol stationed at the edge of their camp.
Upset by the brutal murder, the soldiers retrace their steps, trying to get to the extraction zone to launch an SOS.
But when they arrive at the area where they had fought the day before, they find an army of robots far more advanced and dangerous than their predecessors.
These kill most of what remains of the platoon, forcing the others to fall back to the island’s interior.
Barricading themselves inside the labs, they discover that these robots have automatically modified the training program.
Their only hope then becomes the cyborg girl who can predict the moves of their steel enemies. Enemies who unfortunately have no intention of stopping until they have exterminated them all.
Nothing new, yet with craft and experience
Summing up Kill Command in one sentence, it is a well-done sci-fi action halfway between Predator and Terminator.
Honestly, there is nothing we haven’t already seen elsewhere, but it is always a pleasure to see it again for fans.
Director Steven Gomez makes the most of his long experience in special effects. The result is an excellent high-tech atmosphere, albeit on a limited budget.
The same goes for the action scenes, which are never too bombastic and massive but always have the right pace and shots.
We have excellent tension building in the first introductory part from the beginning. Then, after half an hour, it finally explodes into survival action.
These soldiers engage in a sci-fi version of The Dirty Dozen, albeit going to their deaths in a way that is at first unconscious.
Leading the platoon is the young but experienced Thure Lindhardt. The commander is of few words but quickly realizes how desperate their situation is.
Before long, he sees his men dying one by one under the blows of the war robots, who seem to take pleasure in terrorizing and killing them.
Among the few who survive the final battle is David Ajala, an infallible black sniper who feigns indifference in the face of death.
Finally, we remark on the performance of the beautiful and talented Vanessa Kirby, a cyborg girl apparently as robotic in behavior as their enemies.
The actress does not miraculously transform into a guerrilla armed with a Rambo-style rifle. Instead, she remains a believable human-robot hybrid in between.
In short, I promise that I do not want you to expect a movie that rewrites the history of robots in cinema like Metropolis.
However, for those looking for non-trivial entertainment that is well written, acted, and directed, Kill Command is definitely something for you.
Battle Drone (2018)
The second movie might, at first glance, seem identical to the first since we always have a group of soldiers fighting an army of robots in a remote background.
This time the soldiers are mercenaries doing dirty work for the CIA, such as kidnapping a known Russian criminal to his lair in Moscow.
Once the assignment is completed, a former colleague approaches them. He now works for large international companies and governments and has a proposal.
The man offers them a rapid and risky job, but one that is paid far above their usual fee.
In fact, they must travel to the old heart of Chornobyl to pick up a large shipment of illegal weapons. After that, they must deliver them to Ukrainian rebels fighting the Russian army.
Of course, I catch the ironic coincidence of a 2018 movie plot with the current geopolitical moment, but let’s move on.
After accepting the assignment, the handful of mercenaries takes to the air in their private plane.
Along with them, as part of the deal, will be a covert CIA team who will mediate the exchange.
Of course, the mission is a giant ambush, a trap into which their old friend successfully draws them to sell a new robot prototype.
To prove the effectiveness of these remotely controlled robotic drones, the businessman intends to pit them against the best soldiers on the market, and they were his top choice.
Mercenaries and secret agents will face a platoon of seemingly indestructible armored enemies. Meanwhile, from afar, some American and Russian officers follow them on monitors to assess the lethality of these new robots.
Poorly made, and yet it works
While similar to the previous Vanessa Kirby, I must admit that 2018’s Battle Drone is a worse movie in almost every aspect.
Directing, acting, special effects, and the care for staging are much lower, often reaching almost bordering on trashy.
All the action scenes are done in an annoying combination of slow motion and speed-up, repetitive and boring to exhaustion.
The cast seems a caricature of Sylvester Stallone‘s The Expendables saga, yet without being international movie stars.
Yet this is one of those rare cases where the result exceeds the sum of the parts. Indeed, I would say succeeding more than talent makes it worthwhile.
The irony is ever-present in every scene, sometimes perhaps not even intended. Yet it greatly lightens the repetitiveness of certain situations and characters.
Moreover, we do not have the usual glorification of militarism typical of American cinema. On the contrary, the worst characters are the officers and the star-spangled soldiers.
Mitch Gould wisely feeds this irony throughout, although his directing style is very flat and uninspired cinematically.
However, I admit that I have seen this little robot’s story many more times than other movies made much better, narratively and technically.
So, although intermittently well made, Battle Drone is an entertainment experience that I recommend at least trying. You may not even be able to explain why, but I bet you will enjoy it.
I am Mother (2019)
After two movies where we had a handful of braves against a series of murderous robots, we finally arrive at a completely different story.
Indeed, the protagonist is a young girl born and raised in complete isolation inside an armored bunker.
Her only companion is a robot who has cared for her since childhood and whom she not surprisingly names Mother.
His education is based on the responsibility to rebuild humanity. A task she will carry out in the future with others born from the embryos stored in the bunker.
As far as the girl knows, humankind became extinct between wars. Devastating every city with battle, they eventually made the entire planet uninhabitable.
However, one day during a blackout a mysterious stranger knocks on the door. This girl is injured, so she begs for help and shelter in their bunker.
Despite the rules of the house strictly forbidding any intrusion from outside, the girl takes pity on her. Therefore, she disarms the visitor and lets her in, bringing her bleeding into the infirmary.
After nursing her wounds, she listens in amazement to her host’s tale. What is happening outside the security door behind which she has always lived is different from what she thought.
She states that there was no war between humans; instead, the robots banded together as one army and killed everyone.
At that point, she must choose who to believe. Should she trust a complete stranger or stick to what she knows?
Doubt about her robot mother consumes her, along with what she has taught her all her life.
So tiny but so big
Passed over quietly on Netflix amid general outrage, I Am Mother is instead an interesting post-apocalyptic movie about robots, life, and death.
One of its greatest merits is making the apocalypse origin mysterious. In this way, the young protagonist Clara Rugaard-Larsen is never sure who to believe.
Grant Sputore directs his first and (so far) only film. Let’s face it, bringing an excellent basic idea to the stage more than adequately.
The plot tiptoes between thriller and science fiction plunging into the background of a coming-of-age story for a lonely, life-hungry young girl.
In addition, so few characters’ presences help solidify doubt about their relationships.
Will they be able to do better than the hapless human race before them? Or will they be doomed to repeat the same mistakes in an unhealthy endless cycle of death and rebuilding?
Do the robots in this movie want to help us, or are they the very cause of our downfall?
Perhaps we have given up our freedom by settling for the comfort of having these mechanized servants. Therefore, inevitably end up punished for our foolish pride.
I realize that these themes have already been used, indeed almost abused. Yet I do not want to spoil further a storyline consisting of few but some great questions.
I believe I Am Mother is an unjustly underrated movie, though not a masterpiece, mind you.
Still, it remains a small production that deserved more notoriety to push the career of a director who seemed promising but has directed nothing else to date.