Automata (2014) – Reviewed

Single Sentence Review: Grizzled detective searches for conspiracy and almost finds a plot.

Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas- Desperado, The Mask of Zorro) is an insurance adjuster for ROC, manufacturer of the Automata, the world’s only semi-sentient worker robots. He goes about his days enacting basic insurance scummery and moping about his relatively privileged condition in the post apocalypse of solar radiation.


Automata successfully dials in to the tone of Blade Runner, its obvious antecedent, while establishing its own visual aesthetic. But there’s no point. The visual effects are fantastic, but twenty minutes of plot are stretched out to an interminable hour and fifty minutes. The mystery takes so long to unravel, we don’t care anymore. Even worse, it’s not even solved by the gumshoe’s efforts in any way. The mystery leaks out of the shadows on its own, unraveled by a monolog for which our protagonist isn’t even present.

Banderas is decent but the supporting cast is stiff and uninterested. Names like Melanie Griffith’s are trotted out for five minute screen appearances. Automata attempts to tick each mark in the checkbox of filmmaking for appearances sake, but the human interest comes off as pure addendum. Jack has a fight with his wife about bringing a child into the world. Only to have the fight wrapped up a few scenes later. Jack fights with the dirty cop who shoots robots on a whim. Interviews with experts follow a pattern: Jack asks a question and it’s answered by a monolog. Even the occasional action scene is paint by the numbers, and thrown in because… well because there’s been no action or activity for a while.

Automata Trailer

Terrible coincidences conspire to force the plot along. Jack is taken against his will and just when he reaches for his communications device, its batteries die. Then his company decides to send the dirty cop to find him. The cop they know is a drunken drug addict. Yeah. He’ll do a good job. Now his company is mad at him. For no reason. They want to kill him. They take his wife. If the narrative were intended to be confused and frantic, to meet a theme or emotional goal, these things would be forgivable.

Jack is another in a long line of passive main characters jerked through a mouse trap maze built of indecision and random plot devices. About the only effort he makes is to become friends with the robot hooker with the heart of gold.

My advice: watch the first 15 minutes for the shots, lighting and effects, and then turn it off. You’ve gotten everything good out of the film. Better yet, just scroll up and watch the trailer. It’s all there.

Plot: 2.2
Directing: 2.6
Cinematography: 3.2
Acting: 3.0
Sound: 3.3
Film Score: 2.9 (Out of 5)
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