The Machine is No Terminator… Or is it?

The Machine

The Machine skirts the dangerous boundary between philosophical sci-fi and artificial intelligence cliché Hell, as is common of creative works that try to humanize the inhuman: The weapon or person conflict, the discovery of love, the inevitable phasing out of humanity… Though these obnoxious, omnipresent A.I. tropes have a presence in the film, they don’t receive a lot of screentime. Perhaps the film just wasn’t long enough to encompass them in entirely? If so, be thankful; The Machine is quite enjoyable as a result.

The MachineVincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) works for the British Ministry of Defense, developing advanced artificial intelligence to aid the war against China while simultaneously trying to cure his daughter Mary’s Rett syndrome with brain implants. While running a secret audition to recruit new programmers for the MoD, he meets Ava (Caity Lotz), an aspiring A.I. developer with a promising quantum computer. Not long after she and Vincent begin their true work on the new and improved quantum A.I., Vincent’s boss, Thomson (Denis Lawson), has Ava assassinated by a group of Chinese hitmen in order to secure her technology.

The film’s true protagonist emerges when Vincent creates the machine using Ava’s likeness; the product is a curious, childlike humanoid robot capable of killing a person with her pointer finger. I have dubbed her Avatron. The first major cliché crashes through the nearest wall when Thomson begins scheming to remove the humanity from Avatron, wanting her to function solely as a weapon of war. Of course, his arbitrary cruelty results in Avatron starting an anti-humanity revolution, resulting in major cliché number two.

The MachineThe third is tactfully hidden between the first two; in order to prove to Thomson that Avatron is human and deserves to be treated as such, Vincent unwittingly discovers that his creation loves him. It’s not nearly as bad as the first two, as Avatron sees Vincent as more of a father figure than a lover, but you’ll still probably get that reflexive eye-roll when she utters the humanoid A.I.-adored L word.

The Machine is a solid movie, but I found that I was most entertained when Vincent was performing the Turing test on pairs of A.I. to find viable candidates for the MoD. It was clever, amusing, and had lots of personality. More personality than the film’s vague, depressing conclusion, to be sure. While it did narrowly avoid being consumed by sci-fi cliché, it didn’t quite fill the void the clichés left behind. Worth seeing, but I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Kim Newman of EmpireOnline enjoyed Caity Lotz’s portrayal of Avatron, and I think I’m going to have to disagree. A.I. are anthropomorphized enough as it is in modern and not-so-modern sci-fi; Avatron’s sweet and innocent demeanor turned robot revolutionary felt hokey, almost like a bait and switch. What is the machine, an adorable little learning robot, or the harbinger of the new world? Regardless, check out the EmpireOnline review right through here.

Automata, the Quest of the Sentient Robo-Hooker


Automata does what countless robot-centric movies wish they could do; take a big bumbling ball of clichés and turn them into something decent. I can’t say fantastic, owing to the severity of said clichés, but I can say that I enjoyed everything about this film except for the plot and its devices. Although… plot constitutes the largest portion of any movie, doesn’t it? Oh dear, perhaps “decent” is too generous. Regardless, the issue with Automata’s grand scheme lies in its predictability; once you discover that the docile and obedient robots are strictly programmed not to hurt humans or self-alter, the remainder of the movie is guaranteed to focus on the fact that one or both of these rules have been broken. On the bright side, with expectations that low, anything Automata cranks out will seem all the better.

AutomataSince you can’t shoehorn in less-than-subtle reminders of humanity’s reliance on technology without a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, the state of the world in Automata is less than peachy. Set in 2044, the world has been scorched and irradiated by the sun, and humanity has been forced to rely upon the automatons – known as Pilgrims, or “clunkers” – produced by the ROC (Robotic Organic Century) robotics corporation. Originally intended to help humanity return to its former glory, the Pilgrims fell from grace promptly, earning them their less pleasant title. With Earth’s human populace reduced to 2.1 million, the best plan changed from rebuilding to preserving. Hidden behind walls meant to fend off the encroaching nuclear desert and overshadowed by artificial clouds that regularly spray rain acidic enough to warrant protective coats, the human race is all but cooked.

AutomataJacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) is a ROC insurance agent, tasked with ensuring Pilgrim functionality and compliance with their two big rules: No hurting, no self-alteration. In no time at all, a ROC enforcer by the name of Sean Wallace (Dylan McDermott) encounters a Pilgrim repairing itself in a subway station and shoots it in the head. A little investigation into the matter reveals a plot to usher in a new generation of sentient machines, though ROC quickly assumes the villain’s mantle and tries to crush the robotic revolution. Gotta keep that bottom line strong, and you can’t do that if you can’t charge for repairs! I’d tell you that Jacq winds up in the crossfire, and that his pregnant wife Rachel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) portrays a one-dimensional hostage, but the clichés are about as sentient as the Pilgrims at this point.

I found Antonio Banderas’s acting to be over the top, even creeping into awkward territory at points, though I can’t imagine it was easy to keep a straight face while having a dramatic conversation with a life-sized remote-controlled puppet. Especially one with funky plastic nipples who moans in ecstasy while dancing. I- I couldn’t make that up, but you’d definitely need to see it to believe it. No amount of cheesy acting could prepare one for the very cheesy feel-good ending, however, and don’t feel obligated to stick around when Vaucan has his final flashback of some kid playing on the seashore. Seriously, they don’t even explain that. Is that him? Did he lose a kid? What’s with the turtle…?

Jonathan Holland of the HollywoodReporter believes Automata to be appropriately titled in that it proceeds mechanically. That’s to be expected when the most creative aspect of the film is the little air-breathing pill bug that constitutes the revolutionary “next-gen” Pilgrim line, and when your antagonistic force consists of a bunch of nameless corporate goons. As I said before, predictability is what made this film fall short of its ambition. Read more of the Hollywood Reporter take here, if you’re interested.