Although it borrows much of its imagery from “Oblivion” – itself a portmanteau of various other Sci-Fi classics – “Robot Overlords” plays out like a long-lost John Wyndham novel, combining the alien and unfamiliar with the mundane settings of town and country.
Earth is under occupation by a robot empire who conquered the planet three years ago after a war which lasted a mere elevwn days. The human race lives under a constant curfew, restricted to their homes at all times. Sean Flynn (Callan McAuliffe) is desperate for news of his missing father, and refuses to believe the word of local Zone Chief Smythe (Ben Kingsley) – who has designs on Sean’s mother Kate (Gillian Anderson) – that he is dead. When Sean accidentally discovers a way to disable the tracking devices everyone has been implanted with, he sets out to find his father.
Boasting the kind of production values which have seen “Doctro Who” eclipse its original incarnation and bolster by strong performances by Anderson and Kingsley, “Robot Overlords” makes the most of its appealing young cast to deliver decent sci-fi action and family entertainment.
We learn very little about the Robots’ agenda beyond them purportedly being on a mission of exploration, seeking knowledge. They are represented by a humanoid avatar Mediator 452, played with brilliantly creepy detachment by Craig Gerner, who becomes fascinated by the connection with the machines that Sean begins to manifest.
Co-writer and Director Jon Wright (“Grabbers”) again proves adept at handling the otherworldly meeting the everyday and judiciously uses his special effects budget to maximum effect. Thankfully, just as much effort has gone into the character and story development, striking just the right balance between filling in the back story and leaving it to our imaginations. True, there are a few times where the plot relies on conveniently short-sighted design by the machines but the film ensures we’re kept busy with the adventures of our band of young heroes – including another great turn from Milo Parker (“Mr. Holmes”) – that you don’t question it too closely.
Far better than you might be expecting given its ‘straight-to-DVD’ pedigree, “Robot Overlords” is a great British sci-fi adventure that’s worlds away from the generic SyFy original titles it may get lumped in with.