Friday, May 29, 2020

Robot Overlords: Due for a Fresh Revisit

It is surprising this recent alien invasion has not already gained a fresh, new reputation for relevancy. The world has suffered a catastrophic event and now all of humanity is forbidden to leave their homes. Are you following me so far? The alien robots have taken over, but they still find home collaborators willing to enforce their dictates, in order to exercise a bit of power for themselves. Fortunately, there are still rebellious people out there willing to fight the invaders in Jon Wright’s Robot Overlords, which is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Since the alien take-over, Sean Flynn lives with his mother Kate and three foster siblings she took in out of mercy. She is sort of protected, because Robin Smythe, the district’s head collaborator is sweet on her, but he and Flynn make no secret of their mutual dislike. The suspicious teen still holds out vain home that his father Danny Flynn will eventually come home, but the RAF pilot has not been seen since his capture.

One day, Flynn and knuckleheaded Nathan try to run an old video-game console off a car battery, when an electric shock sends the latter flying. It also shorts out the controlling mechanism implanted in his neck—temporarily. Soon, Flynn, Nathan, Alex the surrogate sister he is sort of carrying a torch for, and young, bratty Conor are running through the empty streets undetected by the robot sentries. However, it turns out the short circuit only lasts thirteen hours—a fact they learn at an inopportune time.

It is easy to see the robot occupation as an equivalent analog to the CCP pandemic. Some might also compare the implants to face masks, but that really wouldn’t be fair, because facial coverings allow us to safely go outside, whereas the implants keep Flynn and friends captive inside. However, if you want to compare the power-tripping Smythe to heavy-handed politicians like Michigan’s Whitmer, that’s your right and your business.

As a film, Overlords definitely over-achieves, realizing some impressive visual effects on a relatively modest budget. As science fiction, it is just okay. Frankly, it is a little too convenient when Flynn turns to be like Neo from the Matrix trilogy, suddenly developing an almost mystical power to hack himself into the robots’ network. However, it is enormously refreshing to see a film that argues freedom is more important than security.

The youthful quartet of Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt, James Tarpey, and Milo Parker have strong rapport and energy together. (Despite Parker’s adolescent age, Wright does not let the film skew too juvenile.) Sir Ben Kingsley is thoroughly loathsome as Smythe, but also rather sad and pathetic. Likewise, Craig Garner is pretty creepy as the robots’ “human interface.” Gillian Anderson is frustratingly under-employed as Flynn’s mom, but Tamer Hassan adds plenty of cool steeliness as Wayne, the kids’ underworld ally.

Overlords looks good, employing some very cinematic locales in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. Wright (who previously helmed Grabbers) keeps it moving along at a good clip, getting solid work from his game cast. Recommended now more than ever, Robot Overlords is available on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms.