Movie Review: “Autómata” Is A Terrific Sci-Fi Movie About Cybernetic Revolt

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Review by James McDonald

Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

It is the year 2044 and increased solar storms have turned the earth into a radioactive wasteland and as a result, the planet’s population has dwindled to 21 million people. Most telecommunications have been disabled, forcing civilization to a procedure of mechanical regression. With fear and abject bleakness consuming the remainder of mankind, the ROC Corporation manufactures the Autómata Pilgrim 7000, robots who are capable of building mechanized clouds and walls around the last remaining cities on the planet. When they were created, they were designed to obey two security protocols: 1). The robot may not harm any form of life and 2). The robot may not alter itself or any other robot.

While out patrolling the streets one night, Detective Wallace (Dylan McDermott) is probing a rundown part of the city when he comes across a robot hiding under a cover. He notices that the robot is repairing itself and he quickly shoots it, afraid that it might try to attack him. Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is an insurance agent who works for the ROC Corporation and must deal with any issues people are experiencing with their robots. When Wallace informs him what he witnessed, Jacq and the rest of his colleagues are very skeptical but as he begins his own investigation, he realizes that Wallace wasn’t only correct but that the robots now answer to a higher being, one that is not human.

“Blade Runner” and “Mad Max” are two classic movies that always have and always will inspire generations of filmmakers. Director Ridley Scott turned Philip K. Dick’s short story into one of the most visually arresting movies in cinematic history while director George Miller created a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland filled with scavengers, cannibals and depraved animals. With “Autómata”, director Gabe Ibáñez has combined both of these genres in spectacular and praise-worthy fashion. Where the skyscrapers in “Blade Runner” were filled with large neon advertisements, here, commercials and TV shows play out in the open, almost like watching a drive-in movie but without the screen.

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Naturally, comparisons will be made between this movie and Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”, a compilation of short stories which the author wrote in 1950 which share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots, and morality. I have no problem with that because every filmmaker steals ideas from other filmmakers but what’s most important, is how they’re presented to us. There is only one James Bond but there are many spies. There is only one Superman but there are many superheroes so a filmmaker approaching a story with similar themes to a previous iteration, is fine with me as long as it’s a good story. And with “Autómata”, you most certainly have that.

Antonio Banderas gives one of his finest performances in years and even his soon-to-be ex-wife Melanie Griffith who appears albeit briefly, does a commendable job with her onscreen persona. But the real star of the movie is its director, Gabe Ibáñez. He has created a world that is apportioned into two separate domains, the city and the desert, each more visually spectacular than the other but laden with destruction and obliteration. However, the one aspect of the movie that showed Mr. Ibáñez’s skillfulness and proficiency at telling a good story, was how he managed to give each of the robots their own individual personality.

Taking into consideration that these robots have no recognizable facial features whatsoever, with the exception of two red eyes, he succeeds in creating believable body language and mannerisms that in the hands of a lesser director, could have been just plain laughable. In the opening scene when Detective Wallace finds the robot hiding underneath a cover, he pulls his gun on it and hesitates for a moment as the machine raises its hand to him, visually pleading with him not to shoot but he fires anyway. In that moment alone, my heart sank at the merciless and brutal tactics used on a robot that was no threat whatsoever. Yes, I felt sorry for a machine and yes, I blame Mr. Ibáñez. Very highly recommended.

In theaters now

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James McDonald
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