“Robot Overlords” is such a great title for a science-fiction/adventure movie it is astounding it has not been used more often. It tells you pretty much everything you need to know right from the get-go: there are robots, they have taken over the world, but the last thing the human race is going to do is sit down and not put up a fight. This British independent film does not have the budget of much bigger entries such as the great “Pacific Rim” and the never-ending “Transformers” films, but it’s got enough fun and adventure to attract high-caliber actors such like Sir Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson. That last casting decision makes plenty of sense: who better to fight off an invading alien robot force than Agent Scully?
Since this Jon Wright-directed story seems to be inspired by Amblin adventure films of the 1980s, the grown-up characters take the backseat while a group of spunky kids set out to save the day. These children are not exactly The Goonies, but they are facing much bigger odds since the fate of the world itself hangs in the balance. A few lines of exposition explain how an invading army of alien robots arrived on Earth and took over following a war that lasted eleven days. The survivors are allowed to live as long as they remain in their homes at all times. If they leave a big glowing implant placed behind their right ear will alert the robots who will vaporize them after 20 seconds.
The action is not set in some resistance bunker in the mountains of the United States, but in a small English town where people probably spent their times enjoying a pint and watching a game of football at the local pub prior to the invasion. Robin Smythe (Kingsley) is part of a group of humans who have been selected to enforce the laws and hates to be called a collaborator even if that is exactly what he is. He has the authority to stop a robot from killing someone as long as he reminds everyone to stay in their homes and obey the robot overlords. That is the last thing teenager Sean Flynn (Callan MacAuliffe) wants to do since his father went missing during the war and he is convinced he is still somewhere out there in hiding.
Along with three friends (James Tarpey, Milo Parker, and Ella Hunt) Sean discovers a way to shut off the implants and ventures outside for the first time since the end of the war. The first thing the kids do is wander into a candy store and shove as much candy as they can in their mouths. The second thing they do is ponder about starting a rebellion as though they were a group of elite commandos armed to the teeth. That is far from the case, however the group’s youngest member is pretty handy with fireworks.
Even though quite a few people get killed or hurt by the robots throughout the kids’ adventures, Wright manages to keep a playful tone and a sense of humor about the whole thing. There are plot holes, such as the way in which the kids damage their implants, which is so obvious it is a wonder no one else has thought about it before. However any movie in which a kid fires a gun while shouting the phrase “death to all robots!” clearly has its heart in the right place and can be forgiven for any errors it might make regarding something as annoying as logic.
The movie’s biggest problem is that it is actually too short as you end up wanting to get to know more about the human characters, the robots, and the world after the invasion. Fortunately a television spinoff is apparently on the way, so we probably have not seen the last of the robot overlords.
(“Robot Overlords” is out on DVD and Blu-Ray and is streaming on Netflix.)