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Kill Command (2016) Review

Kill Command is a 2016 science fiction thriller about a near future where a military training exercise against advanced technology goes terribly wrong.

Kill CommandIt’s an indisputable fact in movies that one day soon, robots will rise up and take over the planet. The premise has long been a staple of the genre and there’s no shortage of well-crafted films that do the concept right, with the early Terminator franchise films perhaps being the best example. With Kill Command, a film that plays well into the trope, there is no sidestepping its many influences even while managing to feel a little fresh, but can’t quite be more than just a good thriller.

In a world reliant on technology, naturally, some are using it to creates robotic armies, and to test the prototypes, elite teams of human soldiers face off against them. We meet Katherine Mills (Vanessa Kirby), a cyborg female working for the Harbinger Corporation, a defense and military contractor who builds these machines, and discovers something off in the A.I. systems at the top secret, isolated island training compound where the latest team of highly-trained fighters is about begin combat exercises. Traveling with them, Mills and the others soon learn that the entire island is off the grid with outside communication cut off. As expected, drones are in the air, surveilling their movements.

When the team encounters the first wave of A.I. fighters, the men easily defeat them, though Mills, equipped with a number of highly-advanced tracking and communications systems, spots an S.A.R. (Study Analyze Reprogram) unit called S.A.R. 003 in the woods, a large and aggressive robot that she is unable to access with her remote abilities but realizes it is monitoring the encounter. During the night, one of the men goes missing, and when they find his body the next day, the team is ambushed and attacked by the machines. What’s surprising about the maneuver though is how it copies exactly what the soldiers did to the A.I. the day before. They are learning. And they are winning.

Directed by Steven Gomez, in his feature film debut, Kill Command feels like an audition tape of sorts, a kind of tech demo reel for a director looking to get noticed for a very particular set of skills. And let’s be clear, these skills are strong. Gomez, who has worked for ten years in visual effects creates some truly convincing imagery here, with very well-designed and authentic looking combat robots that make for some impressive bad guys. They are easily the film’s greatest achievement. So menacing, yet thoroughly believable, they hold much of the attention, making for some great action and science-fiction moments.

Kill Command
Kill Command, 2016 © Vertigo Films

What’s more remarkable is the budget Gomez is working with, which becomes more apparent with the rest of the film, including the heavily localized, mostly single location setting and small cast. We spend the entirety of the film in the woods and a very small (often-CGI-rendered) facility. This is not a dialogue-heavy story, so there isn’t much in terms of character development either. The leader of the crew is Captain Bukes (Thure Lindhardt), and is so blandly written and performed, he’s barely memorable, and yet feels like he should be anything but. More interesting is a sniper named Robinson (Bentley Kalu), himself a bit engineered so that his eyes serve as sights for his weapon. He has great action-hero potential with his fierce attitude and muscular physique. 

Kirby is well-cast as Mills, never once picking up a gun but still having great impact of the story. It’s refreshing to see her used as a contribution to the story and not as an attachment to one of the male characters. She is not a love interest and she never needs saving. Nor do any of the soldiers treat her as such. She is a cyborg, a gynoid that is not sexualized but rather utilized and Kirby makes it work, even if the tech flourishes around her constantly beaming blue eyes get a little too much.

Kill Command takes time to get attached to as it marches toward its familiar stand-off ending, but is still worth the investment. There are some truly sensational visual effects to see and even though the characters are thinly drawn, most compel as the action builds. It has a strong video game adaptation feel to it, and for tech/robot film junkies, will surely appeal. As a debut, it’s a solid entry. It will be fun to see what Gomez can do with something meatier.

Kill Command (2016)

Film Credits

Director: Steven Gomez
Writer: Steven Gomez
Stars: Vanessa Kirby, David Ajala, Mike Noble
Genre: Action, Thriller
Language: English

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