It’s the end of the world as we know it! ‘Robot Overlords’ gives us a stark vision of the future… in a way only ‘80s sci-fi can deliver.
Starring Gillian Anderson and Sir Ben Kingsley, this impressive independent sci-fi film shows us what might happen if the Earth was invaded by a race of giant robots. But while the UK production may feel like a long episode of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s one very big difference – this is ‘Doctor Who’ without the Doctor.
What happens when there’s no classic sci-fi hero to swoop in and save the day? Well, director Jon Wright shows us that it’s down to the ordinary citizens to save the day…
The premise is simple – Giant robots have taken over the Earth, subjugating humanity for reasons that remain unknown for most of the film. In real terms, this means that most people are confined to their homes. That is, apart from the collaborators (or Volunteer Corps) who seemingly keep the world running for their Robot Overlords.
Introducing Sean Flynn (played by Callan McAuliffe). Searching for his father after the rise of the robots, it seems like he’s getting nowhere. He’s unable to leave the house, remember? So his search mostly consists of launching tennis-ball-aided notes out into the wild in the hope that one day, he’ll get one back.
But when Sean and his friends come across a way of temporarily turning off their implants, it looks as though he’s got the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Joined by James Tarpey, Ella Hunt and Milo Parker, the gang might just put an end to humanity’s struggles.
The main plot treads along nicely from one scene to the next, and even the locations are kept fairly easy to identify – The Hotel, The Castle, The Standing Stones. We’re very much seeing this from the point of view of the children within the movie… and it keeps the larger, heavier plots – such as oppression and subjugation – within the grasp of the younger audience.
And then there’s the brilliantly simple colour-coded implants.
Every human being in the world has been implanted with a device on the side of their head to track their whereabouts. If it’s blue, they’re safe indoors, green is for the collaborators. And red? Well… that’s when the fun really starts.
During a recent interview, director Jon Wright said that the film was made “for the ten-year old me”… and that’s apparent in the visual simplicity of the film.
But there’s a lot more hiding beneath the surface just waiting to be teased out.
For one thing, there’s the introduction of Sean’s rather impressive ability to control the machines. That’s right – during an attempt to harvest his consciousness, Sean is left with a strange connection to the network… and that makes him a very powerful enemy of the robots.
Again, it’s presented in a very visual way which allows the audience to see exactly what’s going on without explaining it in a vast and clunky monologue. And it really pays off. What we get is main character who can manipulate the robots into doing whatever he wants… and this leads to some hilarious moments amongst the group of friends, as well as some action-packed sequences as Sean uses his power to take the fight back to the robots.
The action here is dominated by the robots and their increasingly over-aggressive reactions to those humans who won’t do as they’re told. But while the robots will disintegrate you as soon as look at you, there’s an eerie indifference at play that makes the entire film feel unsettling.
You get a real sense of the size and scale of humanity’s oppression throughout the film – even though we’re only shown a small part of that within the UK.
Of course, the visuals are incredibly striking and the design of the robot menace is sublime. They’re almost like Transformers crossed with ED-209… but in a film that could easily be dominated by its special effects, ‘Robot Overlords’ strikes a neat balance with a far more interesting plot.
Let’s put it this way – Michael Bay could learn a lot from this film.
Doing away with the massive spectacle set pieces and never-ending explosions, Jon Wright instead shifts the focus to the human side of the story. It’s all about the characters. This is where ‘Robot Overlords’ really shines – it could have been all about the action, watching the humans spend 90 minutes blowing up robots and killing their way back to the top of the food chain.
Instead, we’re given a much more subtle look at how humanity would really cope with an alien invasion. And it’s almost terrifying in its accuracy.
‘Robot Overlords’ is an action-packed romp through ‘80s sci-fi classics, taking the over-the-top spectacle of ‘Transformers’ and flipping it on its head. A must-see for sci-fi fans and ten-year-old boys.