VOD film review: Robot Overlords
Ivan Radford | On 25, Jul 2015
Director: Jon Wright
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt
Watch Robot Overlords online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
There’s something to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is – and puts it right in the title. There’s also something to be said about a film made by Jon Wright, the director of hilarious horror-comedy Grabbers. So when you see a movie called Robot Overlords, directed by Jon Wright, you know just what to expect: something very good. With giant robots.
The movie doesn’t disappoint. Set three years after a robot invasion, it sees humanity kept under curfew in their homes – a system held in place with mechanical trackers screwed into people’s necks. The film doesn’t shy away from the nasty reality of the situation, with grown-ups vaporised within minutes of the opening frame, including the father of young Conor (Milo Parker).
Taken in by motherly neighbour Kate (Anderson), a freak electrical accident sees Conor’s tracker disabled – much to the delight of his adopted siblings, Sean (McAuliffe), Alexandra (Ella Hunt) and Nathan (James Tarpey).
What do they do with their new-found freedom? Start the human resistance – but not before popping to the nearest sweet shop. Mark Stay’s script, co-written with Wright, nails that balance between sci-fi grit and adventurous glam, filtering the Amblin escapades of old through a modern Britain. And so we get the time-honoured themes of fatherhood and family (Sean is searching for his dad, who went missing during the first fights between man and bot), but we also get geezer Tamer Hassan hamming it up as a stereotypical gangster type, who could easily have walked right off the set of Cockneys vs Zombies.
It doesn’t skimp on the freaky side of sci-fi, either: our main villain is effectively teacher-turned-cowardly-collaborator Robin Smithe (played with a soft regional accent by Ben Kingsley), but he liaises with “The Mediator”, a mechanical child with all the creepiness of Ash in Alien. The film carries the same practical aesthetic as the clunky classics, from the mundane (non-American) location right down the robots themselves, which, while all CGI, have a battered quality that carries a threatening realism; when they shut down and fold into cubes, you could almost reach out and pick one up.
Younger audiences might not deal well with the darker hints of genre, but it gives Robot Overlords an exciting rush to events that can sometimes be missing from family fare. The cast, meanwhile, has more than enough humour to balance it out. The always-excellent Anderson is given the odd ripe line of dialogue, but Callan McAuliffe is charming as the young Harrison Ford-a-like, Ella does well with the love interest role, while Harpey, also in the excellent The Beat Beneath My Feet, is enjoyably stupid. It is Milo, though, who brings them together, his enthusiastic presence helping the ensemble to interact in a wholly natural way that offsets any cheesy moments.
Cinema at the moment is enjoying a wave of young adult series, with The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all offering entertainment for US teen audiences. How rewarding it is, then, to see a young adult sci-fi that feels so British – and is ruddy good to boot. Boasting top-notch world-building on a small-scale budget, Robot Overlands is smart enough not to reach beyond its fun premise (it clocks in at just 88 minutes), yet remains brave enough to leave questions unanswered, paving the way for what could be a promising sequel – not to mention a strong career for Wright. He may not have the Hollywood buzz of Christopher Nolan or the hyper-kinetic style of the similar-surnamed Edgar, but the director has a voice (and confidence of tone) that knows exactly who he is, whether he’s working with drunken aliens or giant robots. A UK franchise featuring more kids taking on tyrannical machines? We, for one, welcome our new Robot Overlords.
Robot Overlords is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.