Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Jon Wright
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Steven Mackintosh
Those looking for an antidote to the merciless migraines that generally come from sitting through one of Michael Bay’s stomach-churning Transformers films should look no further than Robot Overlords. This techno-treat may have been made for little more than a pittance of the price it costs to finance one of those mechanical monstrosities, but with its feverish fusion of energy and excitement this is a far more rewarding experience.
While director Jon Wright struggled to steer his last film Grabbers between pastiche and parody, here he succeeds in displaying greater proficiency at the helm and skilfully strikes a balance between the two. The script, co-written by Wright with the help of Mark Stay, certainly suffers from an episodic narrative structure that’s peppered with plotholes and has so many cheesy moments your blood pressure is likely to rocket by the time the credits role. But the film remains a consistently animated adventure that pays affectionate homage to the genre films it draws its inspiration from.
The setting is a British coastal town that, like the rest of the world, is under the command of an invading robot army who have imposed a curfew on all humans that forces them to stay in their homes. Eventually a group of kids, led by Sean (Callan McAuliffe) and his mother Kate (Gillian Anderson), successfully manage to sneak out without drawing the attentions of the skulking Sentries who watch from above, and set off to find Sean’s missing father (Steven Mackintosh). Hot on their heels however, is their former teacher turned traitor Mr. Smythe (Ben Kingsley).
The robots, stunningly brought to life by London based visual effects artists Nvizible, are essentially the lovechild of Optimus Prime and the ED-209. Devoid of any sentiment and happy to vaporize those who fail to follow orders at a moment’s notice (no matter who they are), these are great hulking structures that offer a genuine threat and instil the film with tangible tension. Their hostile presence is carefully and effectively augmented through visuals, with the world distinctly reminiscent of Nazi wartime occupation, where collaborators patrol the deserted debris-filled streets in dark trench coats.
Drawing creative inspiration from such cherished childhood classics as The Goonies through to Dr. Who and the Daleks, Wright directs with a gratifyingly giddy love for the fast-paced fun of family adventure films. The action sequences are rigorous, regular, excessive and exciting, but crucially never nauseating. The tone is charmingly cheerful.
Stay and Wright’s script fizzes with funny dialogue that enlivens the natural and engaging performances of the adolescent cast. James Tarpey, in particular, delivers charisma in spades as Sean’s comical best friend Nathan. Only the adults feel underserved. Gillian Anderson and Steven Mackintosh are cast to the side for the most part, while Ben Kingsley is lumbered with the pantomimic caricature of a villain that he serves up with an unappealingly thick slice of ham.
Still it’s hard to complain too much when the experience is as enjoyable as Robot Overlords is. It’s a film that’s every bit as entertaining as the title suggests, and practically guaranteed to leave big childish grins on the faces of all the family.