Impressive effects can’t disguise a lack of storytelling spark in this sci-fi debut
Making the most of its extremely low budget, this robots versus marines British sci-fi actioner showcases some genuinely impressive special effects work, coupled with that classic money-saving strategy of shooting almost everything in a single location. In terms of cultivating a tense atmosphere, it’s largely successful, but is let down by a lacklustre script that fails to bring the characters to life.
The film takes place in the near future, where military combat robots with advanced AI are on the brink of making soldiers obsolete. Thure Lindhardt plays Captain Bukes, the head of a team of tough-talking marines who are charged with putting the latest batch of machines through their paces in an exercise that takes place in a remote stretch of woodland. Accompanying them is Mills (Vanessa Kirby), a cyborg who’s monitoring the mission on behalf of robot-making corporation Harbinger. However, it soon becomes clear that the deadly, ten-foot-tall machines have decided on a little robotic uprising.
The design of the robots is exceptional, holding its own with the likes of the Transformers movies, despite operating on what amounts to Michael Bay’s pocket change budget-wise. The action sequences, too, are decent and debut writer-director Steven Gomez (a former visual effects supervisor) achieves a real sense of threat with his robot antagonists, though they get slightly less scary when Mills finally activates their speech mode.
Unfortunately, the marines are given roughly the same amount of personality as the robots themselves, making them largely indistinguishable. In terms of the performances, Kirby comes off best, aided by some striking VFX work on her glowing blue eyes, but the screenplay fails to deliver on the promising resentment that her presence on the mission initially provokes. As robo thrillers go, this has its moments, but the mechanical script could have used a little more in the way of human warmth.
Selected release from Fri 13 May.