Derivative British sci-fi adventure featuring Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson
The worldwide popularity of young adult franchises The Hunger Games and Divergent certainly hasn't escaped the attention of UK filmmakers. After Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now mined the dystopian sci-fi seam, Robot Overlords – from Northern Irish director Jon Wright - offers up another story of British teenagers in survivalist situations, with giant robots the oppressors this time around.
Set after a successful robot invasion has imprisoned the inhabitants of Earth in their own homes, Wright’s film features Callan McAuliffe as Sean Flynn, a defiant teen who leads a small, spirited rebellion in a British seaside town. As well as battling their metal captors, opposition comes in the form of geography teacher Robin Smythe (Ben Kingsley), a collaborator with the occupying forces, who sets out to hamper Sean’s efforts by inveigling his way into the affections of Sean's foster mother Kate (Gillian Anderson). Sean leads his merry little band on one daring resistance mission after another, leading to a final, large-scale confrontation on a local beach.
Wright’s previous genre entry was Grabbers, a comparably derivative tale of an Irish village fighting back against deadly aliens. Robot Overlords has similar issues in finding its own identity; attempting to ape big-budget US bombast like Transformers, Wright can’t compete in terms of special effects, which initially impress but are cruelly exposed by the final showdown as being decidedly tatty, in a Doctor Who way.
Crucially, it lacks enough personality or humour to make it feel like a worthy riposte to its American cousins – Wright rarely finds the kind of endearingly anarchic tone featured in Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, or Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block. Instead, Robot Overlords feels like yet another busted franchise pilot in search of an audience. It's too brash for families, too babyish and obvious for teens.
Selected release from Fri 27 Mar.