Friday, 12 June 2015

Automata

You’d think, by now, we’d all be desensitised to trailers and promo shots and posters, yet we still build ourselves up for disappointment. Looking at concept art and trailers for Automata is enough to let your imagination run wild. And yet somehow, it turned out to be as uninspiring as an Adam Sandler film. 


Directed by Gabe Ibáñez and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Automata. Set in the year 2044, an environmental catastrophe caused by the Sun has wiped out 99.7% of humanity, leaving 21 million people left on Earth. To survive, robots, or automata, are created to halt the spread of desertification by building a giant wall, and to serve humans. The robots only have two protocols – 1) do not harm any form of life, and 2) do not alter yourself or others. So when a thuggish cop finds an automata repairing itself, and promptly shoots it in the head, Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) and insurance company representative, begins investigating how the robots are suddenly enhancing themselves. 


As pretty straight-forward as that sounds, and as interesting as the world sounds, it quickly becomes distracted by its own insane whimsy. Gabe Ibáñez has little experience behind the camera, usually working on special effects instead, which is clear in this film. The desolate worlds, the mechanical rain, the giant hologram strippers towering next to tied down metal blimps – it’s as cool as it is unsettling, which is exactly what the genre should be. But visuals don’t make a film.

Throughout the film, I asked myself, “how did we get here?” about five times. And I always had a literal answer – that happened then this happened – but I never had a logical answer. Things just seemed to…happen. The film itself was robotic, lacking in fluidity. And the dialogue was the same. Lines like “hey you get away from that crane right now” said with literally no inflection when talking to a robot seemed ironically humorous to me, but I don’t think it was meant to be. In fact, the robots seemed to evoke the most emotion in the entire film.

Antonio Banderas has always been one of those actors I have never really understood. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a performance of his, not a live-action one anyway (his voice acting of Puss-In-Boots was pretty good). And there are no other real stand-out performances, which is understandable as most of the characters are robots. Dylan McDermott was pretty cool as the aforementioned cop, but he was so obviously there to just move the story forward that emotionally investing in him was redundant. And I think that’s the main flaw of this film. There is nothing to invest in. There is no real villain, and everyone seems to be a good person motivated to do bad things by the desperate situation that the world is in. So we sympathise with everyone, giving us no characters to actively get behind or dislike. Characters themselves pop up and disappear as fast as the Java update on your computer. There is nothing in the film that surprises us or actively engages us.

We all know how it’s going to end. It’s how every single film depicting a humans vs AI ethical dispute ends. In fact, the entire film is so generic that it’s difficult not to keep checking how long’s left until you can go and make a cup of tea or switch over to something else. And when we eventually reach the end, which could have been a pretty cool fight-scene, it all just fizzles out like a dying candle.


While it may be an imaginative concept that throws us into a world familiar and alien to us at the same time, it quickly devolves itself into generic archetypes that try and ride the wave of Antonio Banderas’ performance, which is as average as they come. He does his job. He goes home. If only the film followed the same path – at least then we wouldn’t have been disappointed.

Automata is just that, robotic and mechanical, and gets a 2/5.

★★☆☆☆

Jonny Naylor


Automata at CeX


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