REVIEW: “Automata”

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The year is 2044. Solar storms have turned the Earth’s surface into a radioactive desert causing 99% the world’s population to die. With only 21 million people remaining, a desperate humanity create primitive robots who build walls around their last remaining cities and atmospheres to protect them from the radioactivity and harsh elements. Millions of robots are manufactured by a corporation called ROC and safety protocols are put in place to keep the robots from harming any life form and to keep them from altering themselves. The ultimate purpose of the protocols is to protect humanity at all costs.

This is world of the 2014 science fiction film “Automata” from director Gabe Ibanez. It stars Antonio Banderas as Jacq Vaucan, an insurance investigator for ROC. Jacq is sent to investigate the claims of a cop who says a robot he shot was altering itself. In order for that to happen someone (termed the “clocksmith”) must be modifying the robots by bypassing the protocols and therefore endangering mankind. The case leads Jacq down a trail of police and corporate corruption, murder, deception, and ultimately revelation.

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Banderas is good as the burnt out and worn down Jacq. His friend and boss Robert (Robert Forster) recognizes his plight but needs him on the case. His very pregnant wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is concerned with his state of mind and ability to protect them. Banderas seems to be in a perpetual state of exhaustion, but it works here mainly because he doesn’t play a standard, action movie prototype. He’s not the ex-special forces type or the bulked-up one-man army. He’s about what you would expect an ‘insurance inspector’ to be.

The movie sports some nice visuals especially when revealing its dystopian landscapes. The robots’ primitive looks and movements are nice fits for the story being told. Everything from a visual perspective works in “Automata”. But in the end it’s the storytelling that ultimately lets the movie down. There are a host of clever ideas and interesting concepts that the film plays with, but it never sees any of them through. Instead it employs several sci-fi movie and character cliches that undermine the story’s potential. In a nutshell, the film leaves you with the impression that it’s going someplace smart and possibly profound. Sadly it’s only an impression.

It could also be said that “Automata” is missing that cool creative spark we see in good science fiction. It certainly looks the part, but it never engages its audience or challenges them in any way. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining. Banderas gives a solid performance and Ibanez shows a definite skill with his camera and in moving his story along. But it’s the story itself that lets them down. There is a strong premise at its core and there several themes begging to be expanded on. That’s why I found “Automata” to be a decent but a slightly unfulfilling experience.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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23 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Automata”

  1. Hey Keith! I almost saw this one but decided on ‘Predestination’ instead. I’ve always liked dystopian sci-fi and the premise does sound intriguing. I might still give it a shot as I quite like Antonio Banderas and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him in a sci-fi genre.

    • Hey Ruth! Banderas is the real draw. Well, him and the visuals. The story just doesn’t have the pop I was hoping for. It’s a shame really. Still not a bad movie.

      • I think high-concept scifi is really tough to pull off, but I’m really curious to see Banderas in this type of flick.

        Btw Keith, hope you’ll stop by later today for my first collaboration w/ Cindy Bruchman 😉

      • Do you get Monday off for President’s Day? I do so I’m REALLY looking forward to some movie watching, mostly home cinema as it’s gonna be ccc-ccold, but tonight we’re going to the theater to see Kingsman! 🙂

      • You too. It’s a “I want to” work day though. Dear friend of mine passed away and I wouldn’t want anyone else overseeing her service.

    • Thanks! Always appreciate the kind words. It does fall short but there is an interesting enough premise and some really good visual effects to make it worth seeing. Just don’t expect too much.

    • Did you notice how it merely toys with good ideas and concepts but never sticks with them? I remember a couple of times thinking “this could really get good” only to have it go the pretty conventional route.

      • Absolutely! I often felt it was going somewhere and that I’d stumbled on a little gem but, unfortunately not. It’s not a complete write-off but could have been much better.

  2. A friend of mine remarked that he thought this film looked like somebody trying to do a Neil Blomkamp film with a smaller budget, and I agree with him. Stylistically I love this kind of genre, but Automata’s silly second half made the cool set-up of the first an utter waste.

    • Yep. You hit the nail on the head! So much potential and it sets itself up well. But it really flounders in the second half which is really unfortunate.

  3. I liked Automata for it’s believability and gritty realism. Of course it wasn’t flash-bang entertaining like Star-Wars or Battle-Star Galactica. It was actually showing how human destructiveness plays out to our own stupid, helpless demise. There are spiritual issues it raises even if it can’t actually go there by film and our inherent limitations. Corny maybe, and yet accurate.

    • Thanks for the great comments. I think for me it really did ask some
      Intriguing questions and went into some cools directions. I just thought it gave up on some of those ideas and never fully saw them through. Still had fun with it though.

  4. Hmm…I will give this one a go, Keith. Big fan of sci fi films of late and this at least sounds intriguing and worth at least one watch. I think the realism in the story will appeal to me. Will track it down. Nice work again. Thanks!

    • Thanks. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch. The visuals are incredible and it has some really good ideas. Unfortunately it doesn’t completely see them all through.

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