Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Kill Command (2016)

Some time in the somewhat near future. The squad of soldiers under one Captain Bukes (Thure Lindhardt) is – quite to their annoyance – ordered to undergo a mysterious surprise training manoeuvre on a far-off island. Bukes in particular is even less enthused when he is ordered to take Mills (Vanessa Kirby), a woman with a wireless computer interface in her brain, as an observer for the company who builds all the hi-tech tools he and his men work with on his team. There’s a bit of prejudice against the wired part of the population, and Bukes seems to be particularly angry in this regard.

So much so that his behaviour towards Mills is brazenly unprofessional for the first half hour or so in one of the script’s few obvious missteps, particularly since the film never gets around to explaining the man’s reasons to be such a prick to her. Anyway, the group will suffer from rather more serious problems rather quickly, for the robots and drones they are supposed to train against have developed some kind of hostile consciousness, learn very quickly from their mistakes, and shoot live ammo – wherever they might have acquired that. Until the squad is whittled down to the typical handful of survivors, the machines are having a rather easy time, too, for the battle hardened veterans these guys are supposed to be tend to act like fish in a barrel even once it is quite clear this isn’t any kind of training session.

Which obviously is the second big script problem of Steven Gomez’ science fiction action film Kill Command, with all of these supposedly experienced soldiers running around like chickens with their heads cut off for a bit too long. I’d buy it as reaction to the first shock of training turning into an actual fight, and I do realize that ineffectual space soldiery has a tradition in science fiction movies but most films sell that sort of thing by making the soldiers over-confident, mere cannon fodder, or something of that kind, whereas Kill Command just pretends everything’s normal.

I – as a declared enemy of contemporary script writing’s tendency to explain every fucking thing for no good reason whatsoever – also wish the film had just come out with Bukes’s tragic backstory instead of always suggesting he had one but never telling it; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this backstory would also have explained his loathing for people with chips in their heads.

And while I’m complaining about wasted chances in the script, there’s of course also the pointless, expected and boring in its obviousness kicker ending that at best is supposed to set up a sequel, but most probably is in there because all genre films have to have them today, no matter if they hurt a film or not. As a backseat writer and fan of written science fiction, I’m also rather disappointed the film doesn’t care a bit about the obvious philosophical questions machines developing a consciousness open up, even more so in a world where some people are enhanced a bit further than your typical baseline homo sapiens via electronics. If you’re looking for a film that asks questions about what it means to be human when we can change ourselves with technology, this one’s not going to be it, unless you think “thinking machines evil: kill” is a deeply philosophical approach.

Yet still, given these flaws and wasted chances for being clever or deeper than a puddle, I really rather enjoyed Kill Command, for when you are willing to buy into its set-up and ignore the burning questions that come up, this is a very competently made action movie (but in the future!). The actors do their best with the one-note characters they’ve been given, the effects are some of the most convincing CGI I’ve seen in this budget class, and what the film lacks in thoughtfulness, it makes up for in taut pacing, an ability to convey its locations as physical spaces that is incredibly useful in making a modern-style firefight interesting to watch in a movie, and production design that is clear, simple and highly effective in evoking the mood of this future time and place.

For most of the running time, Gomez’ film is just a bit too exciting for it to get brought down through the flaws of its script; most of the negatives only come to play with a bit of distance, which, given that action film is very much a genre of the Now, might just turn them into no negatives at all.

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