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.
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.