Experienced solider Damien Bukes (Lindhardt) is sent on a supposed regular training mission to battle against a new set of autonomous self-learning robots named SAR’s (study, analyse and reprogram) designed by government weapons manufacturer Harbinger. His unwillingness to attend is exacerbated when Harbinger chief programmer Mills (Kirby) tags along for the trip. Joined by a team of combatants including tech-sympathiser Sergeant Robinson (Kalu), skilled and instinctive trouper Drifter (Ajala) and nervous youngster Goodwin (Noble), they travel to a remote island facility where they quickly discover they are inexplicably cut off from any communication with the outside world. As they enter the training area, they soon realise that the exercise may not be as routine as they thought.
Steve Gomez has a decorated past as a visual effects technician and, as best buddy of kindred low-budget FX spirit Gareth Edwards (Monsters), it’s not difficult to see why he’s been handed directorial duties. The CGI here is simply stunning, and is used perfectly to enhance yet not overpower the action. It’s almost impossible to tell what is computer generated and what isn’t, such is the subtlety and excellence of the effects.
Lindhardt plays the anti-tech reclusive veteran perfectly, refusing to take augmented reality contact lenses in preference to his own instinct as he struggles to accept the new world order of computer enhanced combat techniques. Kirby plays Bukes’ antagonist carefully, never intentionally provoking the soldiers but bestowing a sense of uneasiness in them nonetheless. As the story plays out, Mills is treated to a circuitous and cyclical journey of trust and suspicion from the other characters as the mystery of the robot’s behaviour is increasingly irregular.
Kill Command has all the ingredients for a captivating action-horror; the isolated environment, the chilling silence, the unremitting hostiles, the secret military facility, the hypnotising tension. All of this is delivered without the expected cheesy one-liners which tend to litter themselves across these types of movies. Admittedly the characters are pretty routine; the suspicious loner captain, the intelligent experienced sergeant, the aloof mysterious tech, the nervous young recruit, plus the regular cannon fodder who seem to have their death warrants signed the moment the film starts. Yet they are all developed excellently and just have enough attributes to set them apart from the regular action crew.
It deals with narratives which again are hardly unique. The suspicion the regular soldiers have towards the technical genius rapidly moving their roles into the history books is constantly apparent, the risks and moral questions over autonomous weapons and drone warfare is here, can machines out-intellectualise humans? Check. But Ex_Machina achieved great success with only a couple of these. You don’t necessarily have to rewrite the rule-books to create something interesting.
The movie wears its influences and intent on its sleeve, even the tagline promises ‘Predator versus Terminator’ and that’s not far from reality. Lining yourself up against such classic action behemoths is a risky ploy yet Kill Command really does amazingly stand up to them, perhaps not in the cult greatness stakes just yet, but certainly in its constantly evolving storyline, brutal action and unrepentant tension. The sound effects are straight from the Predator book of SFX with the chirping of insects through to the low bass rumbles and metallic scrapings, all of which result in a wonderful aural anxiety. Harbinger also seems to have borrowed some intellectual property from Cyberdyne System’s image recognition team, swapping Terminator red for SAR blue.
Given that its entire production budget was one-twenty-fifth of Tom Cruise’s wage for the latest Mission Impossible movie, it may act as a serious wake-up call for the majority of larger studios signing off on exponentially higher budgets. Kill Command is a great action movie with a fine mysterious plot, dealing with relevant questions around the direction of modern warfare while delivering on the apprehension and shoot-em-up stakes. It feels like it’s all been done before, and it has, yet it’s done so well you just won’t care.
4 / 5
Dir: Steven Gomez
Scr: Steven Gomez
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Vanessa Kirby, Bentley Kalu, David Ajala, Mike Noble
Prd: Allan Niblo, Rupert Preston, James Richardson, Jim Spencer
DOP: Simon Dennis
Music: Stephen Hilton
Run Time: 99 minutes