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It takes a certain level of confidence to name your movie Robot Wars and then have no robots or war actually in the movie, but that’s exactly what the filmmakers of this admittedly catchy little indie movie did. Yes, there are people with guns, and a guy dressed in a kind of mech suit hobbling about in a few scenes, but if you’re looking for a battlefield soaked in android oil, you’re not going to find it here. What you will though, is a solid little thriller with plenty of good ideas and action, despite its flaws.
The first and easily most problematic issue in any indie film is probably the budget. With severely limited funds, filmmakers are left trying to tell their stories with as much hands-on creativity as they can, which would seem like an excuse to concentrate on more character-driven experiences rather than ones laden with effects, and yet, a whole sub-genre of sci-fi indie films have taken it to task in populating their movies with big-budget ideas. Such is the case with Robot Wars, a thriller that works far better as a survival film than what the title suggests.
The story centers mostly on a small band of specialized types who work to pull off a bit of corporate espionage in a future dystopian world, but run into some serious trouble on their way to the extraction zone, finding themselves in ‘the sprawl,’ a hostile zone of decidedly unfriendly people. They’ve stolen a small crate, of which inside is a hi-tech bit of weaponry that in the wrong hands, or as we learn, anyone’s hand, could spell even more disaster, and now they’ve got to protect it and stay alive.
Written and directed by William L. Stewart, Robot Wars is film of grand ideas, despite the haphazard execution, which visits a number filmmaking tropes from found footage to first-person perspective and more. While few films in their own right who tackle these techniques make it work successfully, Stewart’s attempt at mixing it up is at least feel earnest, even as the shifting points of view sometimes make it difficult to follow. The small budget keeps thing low-tech in a story that strives to be the opposite, but for the most part, what we’re shown is convincing, even if the worldview of the film is purposefully constrained.
Where the film works better is in the story. Once you get past the 90s arcade video game title, the movie offers some genuine surprises. Stewart builds great urgency, especially once the opening scenes are over, which involve a lot of reading and some setup, and after the contents of the box are revealed, things pick up nicely. Throwing in some conspiracy, betrayals, and even a little intrigue, there’s some great fun to be had with story.
Fans of first person video games and last year’s Hardcore Henry will find plenty to cheer for, and the actors deserve credit for putting in as much effort as they do, including Faye Kingslee and Jennifer Sydney, who provide some decent depth. It won’t be for everyone, especially those reared on CGI blockbusters, but Robot Wars nonetheless is worth a look, if anything for its ambitious commitment.
Movie description: Robot Wars is a 2017 sci-fi action film about group of corporate thieves who must survive their way through an apocalyptic wasteland with a stolen secret weapon.
Director(s): William L. Stewart
Actor(s): Ben Naasz, Teddy Cañez, Jennifer Sydney