Netflix Movie Review: Autómata
By Alec Davis
Director: Gabe Ibáñez
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Dylan McDermott, Briggitte Hjort Sørensen
I saw a trailer for Autómata back in October and I got really excited because it looked like a super intelligent and well-made science fiction movie using practical effects and raising some interesting questions about what makes us human. Also I just really love Antonio Banderas so that was another big draw. But anyway I was excited when I saw it had come to Netflix recently and was surprised when I saw that it had pretty bad reviews. And it wasn’t until the last thirty minutes or so that I finally truly understood why.
Autómata begins with some text explaining that by 2044 solar storms have wiped out most of humanity and turned most of Earth’s landmass into an inhospitable radioactive desert. To keep the remaining human population safe robots were designed to build walls around the few cities that were still standing. The robots have two basic protocols programmed into them as a safety measure: they cannot bring harm to any organic life, and they cannot alter themselves or other robots. After the walls were built the robots were repurposed as personal assistants, laborers, housekeepers, and the like, and this is where the movie actually starts. We meet Jacq (It’s pronounced like Jack. I don’t know why they spelled it like that.) Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), an insurance agent for the company that makes the robots who gets a call about a robot that has been shot by a cop (Dylan McDermott) who saw the robot repairing itself. This should be absolutely impossible because of the protocols mentioned before, so Jacq has to investigate the situation and discovers that some pretty crazy stuff is going on that nobody knows about. On top of that Jacq’s wife Rachel (Briggitte Hjort Sørensen) is going to give birth soon, and he is having some moral dilemmas about bringing a child into a world as terrible as the one they live in.
If any of this sounds a little familiar, that’s because this movie is basically just Blade Runner meets I, Robot. The city Jacq lives in even looks like the one from Blade Runner and is constantly being rained on. And a lot of the plot details are bizarrely similar between the two. It’s practically a carbon copy in some respects. Really the one noticeable difference between the cities is that Autómata’s city has giant holographic women wearing masks and lingerie really passively and sadly dancing all over the place. It’s really weird, especially since they keep showing them to us. Like all the time. To a point where it seems like it’s not just for keeping continuity. There’s clearly supposed to be some message about how corrupt and terrible popular culture and entertainment is, but that seems a little out of place when the rest of the movie is asking you to question what lies at the very core of what makes you a person. But anyway it borrows a lot from other movies, and while the familiarity can be a bit of a detriment sometimes, I would say for the most part it synthesizes its own ideas really well. I thought the first hour and fifteen minutes did a great job of moving events along and being a really engaging, interesting, and exciting film. It had a few flaws, sure, but it isn’t until the last thirty minutes that logic and reason are thrown out the window and everything descends into some absurd lunacy that ruined everything for me. There was a lot of build-up and suspense to what I assumed was going to be a really good philosophical ending and the payoff is just absolutely terrible. I got the sense that the writers didn’t really have plan for how to end it because the ending to this movie just feels incredibly phoned in, which was really disappointing.
One of the reasons I was drawn to Autómata was that it’s a rare science fiction movie that’s actually an original story. Of course it may seem laughable to call it original with how much it borrows from Blade Runner, but again I think it has enough of its own material to make it different. Hollywood science fiction is very much overrun with reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels, and adaptations these days, and there’s very little room for totally original material to be successful. That’s not to say I dislike all the franchise stuff. Believe me, I watched Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters three times, and I’ve never been more excited than I am for this new Star Wars movie. But at the same time I do sometimes get a little sad that there isn’t the same kind of creative energy in Hollywood that there used to be. Obviously we still get movies like Interstellar, and Inception, but new ideas are now more the exception than the rule, and that’s just a shame. Autómata seemed like it would be kind of a return to a more classic science fiction film. And by and large it is, and that’s why I would say despite the ending it is still worth checking out.
Since not everyone can afford to go to the theater to see a new movie every weekend, I’ll be here every week to tell you about a movie you can find on Netflix instead. Because we can all use some good movies in our lives.