Automata came out around the time of a cluster of films all addressing the issues of machine intelligence and robotics. This was kicked off by Spike Jonzes amazing Her (2013) and followed by the fine and underrated The Machine (2013) and Alex Garlands sensational Ex Machina (2015). There were also high-profile works on the topic with Transcendence (2014), Chappie (2015) and Morgan (2016) that turned out to be flops. Automata did not gain the same profiles that these others did. Looking around the web, it seems to have been greeted by various reviews calling it beautifully designed but tired and cliched all of which show that most mainstream reviewers are a bunch of braindead kneejerks that wouldnt even recognise an original thought if it jumped up and bit them.
Ibañez creates a fascinating future world. It is certainly one where he is drawing more than a little on the imagery of Blade Runner (1982) unavoidable if it is a story about an official trying to track down rogue robots but twists it in ways that are sufficiently original. The background of the film is littered with fascinating details city streets piled with overflowing refuse, the construction site that has a worker hired to shoot the scavengers in the wasteland below, the shantytown where we see brokedown robots on walking frames or propelling themselves along on skateboards, even images of robot that act as panhandlers for their owners. (Although I did find the replacement of Blade Runners wall-sized video ads with giant-sized holograms of tv shows playing out between skyscrapers to be slightly improbable). This is a world that looks sufficiently fascinating that you wished the film had taken more time to explore it.
The opening credits in their mention of the two Protocols borrows a very large leaf from Isaac Asimovs Three Laws of Robotics that said, what we have is a far more authentic Asimov Robot story than I, Robot (2004) ended up being. There is a particularly captivating scene not long into the film where Antonio Banderas goes to a clients apartment to check out the robot the man claims brushed his dog to death and picks up a kitchen knife to test that the robots protection protocols are working.
The most captivating sections of the film come from the point when Melanie Griffith messages Antonio Banderas to announce theyve just come down from the trees and the startling scene where Antonio finds himself in the midst of a high-speed car chase in a car being driven by the Cleo robot. The section with the robots dragging Antonio across the desert wasteland, dutifully tending to his needs, as all the while they remain insistent about heading to their destination become absolutely fascinating. The relationship and trust that grows between the ailing Antonio and the blank but curiously sympathetic robots is hauntingly well developed (not to mention has some superb effects). It is maybe in the scenes when the human pursuers arrive to eliminate them that we get to the cliche elements that others seemed to find but I didnt think it to be the case. What I actually found was a strong and intelligent work of science-fiction.