The machine apocalypse is…not so bad, really: “Robot Overlords”

July 13, 2015


Robot Overlords is the kind of movie that makes you look twice at the poster to assure yourself that, yes, this is a thing. This is a thing that exists right now. Someone made a low-budget movie about giant robots attacking a small British town and got Gillian Anderson and Sir Ben Kinsley to star it, and it is a thing in the world. As bizarre as that may seem.

So, Robot Overlords doesn’t mislead. The movie is about overlords. Overlords who are robots. Seems four years ago the robots arrived, and after a scant 11 days of fighting conquered earth. Since then they’ve…well, they’ve been pretty cool about being overlords. They haven’t gone all Terminator on us or anything—no skull-stomping or Sarah Connor chasing for them. Hell, they don’t even do that thing where they pin you down and slap you with your own hand and “Why’re you hitting yourself? Why’re you hitting yourself?’ (a perennial favorite of big brothers throughout history) Instead, they’ve just imprisoned people in their homes under threat of being dematerialized by the massive robot sentries that roam the earth. Rather than ankle-bracelets, everyone has an implant behind their right ear. All things considered, it could be a lot worse.

They're not really lording it over us...

They’re not really lording it over us…

The movie follows a group of kids living in the home of do-gooder Kate Flynn (Gillian Anderson), who takes in, uh, stray kids. Among them, is Kate’s son Sean (Callan McAuliffe), a level-headed teenager who spends his days searching for his lost RAF pilot father by launching tennis balls carrying a MISSING poster; siblings Monique and Wayne (Geraldine James and Tamar Hassan), and grade-school aged Connor (Milo Parker). Together they form an informal foster family, despite the fact that Sean and Monique have the hots for one another.

"Mom, why are you the same age as me?"

“Mom, why are you the same age as me?”

This motley crew lives in a picturesque British town (actually filmed in Ireland), under the control of collaborator Robin Smythe (Sir Ben himself). Smythe is a petty dictator who uses his position to smarmily worm his way into the life of Kate with the intention of making her his wife. So, yeah, Smythe is basically using the robot invasion to try and bone Gillian Anderson…which automatically makes him the smartest person in the movie. Because, really, wouldn’t you do the same thing? Yes you would. Admit it. You would.


What pact did she make with Cthulu that keeps her looking younger today than in 1993?

So, the plot kicks in when the kids mess around with a recovered car battery (hey, I guess you get bored being stuck inside for years), and discover that if they electrocute themselves they can knock out the implants for about a dozen hours. Immediately, they kids set out to explore the outside world and find Sean’s dad.

Unfortunately, they’re kind of dumb and end up getting caught by Smythe and the robots. Smythe drains the mind of Sean’s grandfather in a scene that’s actually pretty extreme for a movie that obviously is geared toward kids and tweens.


Ben, this makes “Species” look like Hamlet…

Well, Smythe manages to knock himself out (note: no one’s very smart in this movie), and the group goes on the run. Along the way, they get help from a the residents of a hotel which has devolved into a Thunderdome-lite dictatorship, and, eventually rescue Kate and find their way to a mine where a group of resistance fighters have holed up. There they find Sean’s dad and a perfectly-preserved WW2 Spitfire.

Along the way, they discover that Sean has the ability to control the machines using only his mind, because…uh…he has the Force? I dunno. It’s not explained. Anyway, the machines attack, and Wayne and Sean’s dad use the Spitfire the provide cover-fire as Sean manages to shut down all the machines and save the earth.

he manages to be worse than Hayden Christiansen.

He wants to be Hayden Christensen so bad.

So, yeah, there you have it: Earth is saved by a 70 year-old fighter plane, a car battery, and a low-rent Luke Skywalker.

As I mentioned earlier, Robot Overlords is clearly aimed at tweens and younger audience members, which accounts for its straightforward plot and lack of any complexity in its characters. But that doesn’t excuse its rock-dumbness. Even kids can figure out that writers Mark Stay and Jon Wright (who also directed) took short cuts with the plot. I mean, in four years no one thought to try and use electricity to short out the implants? No one in the world? Even more egregious is the fact that no explanation is given for Sean’s abilities. He just discovers that he’s the robot whisperer.

Silly robots! The verdant countryside gets destroyed FIRST!

Silly robots! The verdant countryside gets destroyed FIRST!

The movie has decent effects for its budget. The robots are large and clunky, and a welcome change from the over-designed busyness of the transformers. And the performances—even the kids—are pretty good. Anderson and Kingsley are clearly slumming, but still put a nice spin on their poorly-drawn characters. I still have no idea why they took the job. Anderson, in particular, would seem to have enough on her plate, starring in both Hannibal and The Fall simultaneously.

"What are you spending your salary on?" "New Jaguar. You?

“What are you spending the money from this on?” “New Jaguar. You?”

Anyway, that’s Robot Overlords. It’s harmless enough.

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