Let’s face it, your girlfriend/wife/significant other isn’t ever going to light some candles, open a bottle of wine, sit down beside you on the couch and seductively say “Hey baby, lets watch a film called Kill Command“. No. This shit’s gonna have to be a solo mission.
So when the cat’s away sneak this bad boy on and see what it’s all about.
Kill Command is a low-budget British action sci-fi film of the Aliens ilk. So you’ve got an unsuspecting unit of army guys walking into battle with “the perfect killing machine”, backed up by some woman who has all the answers. It’s even got the similar arc of 1) no one likes/believes woman 2) shit goes down and she’s the only one who know’s what’s going on 3) woman helps remaining people (who’ve grown to respect her) to defeat the evil monsters.
The woman in this case is Katherine Mills (Vanessa Kirby – Everest). She’s a cyborg but not like a Terminator. Her robo-eyes aren’t evil red, but thoughtful bright blue. She’s more of an enhanced human. Crippled as a child and restored to full working order by the friendly named Harbinger Corporation. For their troubles she’s indentured to working for them. She’s permanently online, hooked into the net via some funky WiFi in her head. She’s even got her own Heads Up Display and everything.
One morning, while overseeing the production of some new drones, she gets a text message (in her head – next level hands free) advising her that a new AI system has encountered an anomaly during a training exercise. Apparently, it’s been reprogrammed over 60,000 times already.
So off she pops with a group of marines to the training facility (an island) to go and see what’s what. She knows she’s there to find out what went wrong with their latest tech. They all think it’s a training mission. Two days tops of smashing drones and fake metal soldiers.
On the ride over to the island the group are already riding Mills’ ass. They know she’s a cyborg because of her shining cyborg eyes and general aloof manner. But she knows all about them too thanks to having remote access to all their files. She notes without a word that Captain Damien Bukes (Thure Lindhardt – Angels & Demons) has something like 30 kills. He’s remote and distant, his stare around the thousand yard mark. He really dislikes her, for reasons even he doesn’t ever go into.
They all distrust her. And it’s not just because she isn’t one of them. She represents the future of their profession – some science dweeb concocting the perfect soldier in a lab. She’s doesn’t know what it’s really like in the field. She wasn’t there, man. She didn’t see Bobby get his legs get blown off by that mine in ‘nam.
But she isn’t the only enhanced member among the posse. Badass Sniper Robinson is augmented too. His vision is linked to the scope in his rifle, so he can effectively shoot with his eye’s closed. Even so, he’s giving her the “don’t fuck with me” gaze. Only Drifter wants to befriend her. He’s kind of like the second in command. Everyone likes him, and secretly think’s he’s just trying to get into Mill’s pants.
After some typically macho marine banter they arrive at the island and there’s no one there. No support staff, no second unit. Nothing. Worse still, all communication systems are offline. Even Mills can’t access Google. Figuring it’s all part of the test they don’t act on this obvious warning sign. Nor do they seem concerned when a bunch of flying probes swoop down from the air and start oggling them.
You know, for flying drones with cameras for faces, they have to get pretty close to see what is going on. They literally linger meters away from the marines. And in groups as well. Surely in the future such spy remotes would either be A) really small or B) have really good cameras which can see the hair on your ass from a mile away. No, these seem pretty useless. They don’t even have secret little weapons like R2-D2 or anything. Pussies.
Sneaking through the woods as best as you can with a flight of hovering drones trailing behind, the squad come across another bunch of robots. These are more primitive gun models; basically massive cannons mounted on little metal legs. Taking up positions, the team catch them in a cross fire and wipe them out.
During the live ammunition fire fight, Mills kind of gets bored and wanders off. Something is drawing her away. It turns out to be a big bad bastard robot, stood about in a weird sort of hibernation. This is the SAR (Study Analyze Reprogram) that has been reported as malfunctioning. The SAR is Harbinger’s new prototype machine, she’ll later tell the group (after they’ve inevitably been shot to pieces). It learns after each engagement then reprograms itself to adapt.
Physically it’s massive, with clawed hands and a wide face with big blue eyes. Sadly, unlike Johnny Five, those eyes don’t turn red when it get’s angry. No, this isn’t a cute happy, sentient robot like Chappie. It’s a killing machine gone rogue.
Now the SAR would look pretty ballsy if it wasn’t the fact that it has four legs. As robo-centaurs go, this is a mean bastard, but seriously, if you’re gonna give a sinister machine more than two legs, at least make it eight. And make it so it can climb up walls and stuff.
Watching it clack off like a giant crab really lessens the impact of the whole thing. It’s a damn shame, because while the design is hardly as iconic as ED209 or Wall-E, the visual effects are genuinely good for such a low budget production. This isn’t The Hulk. On the contrary; it’s actually very convincing CG.
(While we’re at it, change the name too. SAR sounds lame. I think Tall Armoured Robot Dude is way more evocative.)
Any way, while Mills can’t access the net, she can connect with the TARD. It awakens and uploads loads of data to her, too much for her to process all at once. All she gets is flashes. Mainly images of soldiers screaming and getting murderised. She blinks away the vision and the TARD is impossibly gone like Batman.
She’s a bit confused and all the marines are calling out for her. She heads back and kind of answers their questions as to where she has been with a shrug. Who cares, she isn’t part of the mission any way, right? She’s here to observe. Unfortunately, she doesn’t join the dots in regards to what has really happened, and can’t warn them that imminent robot death is about to befall them.
Later that night, after everyone has hunkered down to sleep (after telling the usual marine stories), the posted guard goes missing. A quick search and the body is located at the ambush point the previous day.
BAM! Token female marine is taken out by one of the gun drones sat up on the ridge. But wait! It’s the same ridge that the marines used yesterday! The machines have adapted.
They’re all put under heavy fire, but the Captain manages to sneak away and flanks them. As he opens fire, they stop. Their strategy has been exposed, it would seem, and the lesson they’ve to learn is to not get flanked. The flesh and blood marines don’t have time to give a shit about this though, as the TARD appears like the fucking Predator and takes another dude off to be killed. It seems like he is the boss or hive mind in control of everything here.
The next day they all decide to get the fudge out there. But can they make it to the extraction point without being picked off one by one by the super evil robot in time? Only with Mills’ help.
At it’s heart, Kill Command is a pretty basic film: Foolish humans have once again created a weapon they don’t understand that gets out of control and threatens to destroy everything. But unlike Terminator’s overlord AI Skynet, there is no indication of self awareness or sentience in Kill Command’s TARD. Towards the end it is reveal that it is the robot itself that ordered the mission for the marines to come, purely as another test for itself.
So it’s still acting out on it’s programming. Doing, effectively (too effectively) what it was told to do. This lessens the impact and the scariness value of such a foe. It’s still just a machine, built by man, doing what man tells it to do. It hasn’t progressed beyond itself. It’s not going to escape the island, declare war on all mankind or anything. Which is lame.
Think about it. Child’s Play’s Chucky wasn’t scary because he was just some sinister doll running around killing people. He was scary because he had some evil murderer soul inside him.
Equally, the design is bizarre. Now I never did any courses in advanced military robotics during my time at University, but if I was to create my own killing machine, it wouldn’t have four fucking legs and a head shaped like an open magazine. It would probably be one of two varieties: the stealthy, agile kind, or the super mega-armored tank type.
The TARD is sort of both and sort of neither. It moves about pretty quietly, but is 15 feet tall. It’s invulnerable to smalls arm fire, but doesn’t have any weaponry of it’s own. It’s the worst of both worlds. It’s like if you were to cross the machinery of the T800 from Terminator, with the campy aesthetic of the Johnny Cab from Total Recall.
I’ll give Kill Command some dues though; the concept of drone technology – basically legions of shitter, expendable robots – is pretty current. It can’t claim to be at forefront of this on a narrative front, mind. Terminator was effectively saying the same shit, just decades ago, and Westworld before even that. Good Kill is a more modern, realistic take on the concept, and the entire idea of an AI brain coming to life and killing it’s military brethren was butchered about ten years ago in Stealth.
So where does Kill Command stand in this pantheon? Well consider first that there are other elements at play too. You’ve got the marines, and the cyborg Mills. Every film that features a group of marines in a sci-fi setting inevitably has to be compared to Aliens. And there’s no shame in being beaten by Cameron’s masterclass, as Kill Command is.
Bar the handful of survivors at the halfway mark, the characters in Kill Command are unfortunately very two-dimensional and forgettable. It doesn’t help that they all look the same (which, to be fair, is pretty standard for the military). It would have helped if they’d all had cool names similar to Drifter. But no, you’ve got a Goodwin, a Hackett, even a Robinson.
Even those who manage to survive to the last attack are pretty unremarkable. I don’t get why Bukes hates Mills so much, for example. He just seems grumpy for the fuck of it, then suddenly starts to like her (isn’t that what teenage girls do?). And Mills! She spends half the film wandering about, sort of just looking on impassively. Then she suddenly wakes up and is like “Shit, we have to stop this thing”.
I’ll forgive the above though, because the concept of the Badass Sniper is so awesomely executed by Bentley Kalu (Edge of Tomorrow).
Despite the flimsiness of the characters, I have to approve of the casting choices. It’s not the actors who are doing bad jobs. It’s just they don’t have much to work with. I think Lindhart plays the tough guy captain role decently enough, and Vanessa Kirby pulls off that careful balance between being attractive and useful.
She’s not quite as badass as Signourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton, but nor does she wear cut-off shorts and a see-through vest like more proto-typical heroines (I’m looking at you Megan Fox). She’s certainly not playing on her physical appeal as apposed to the actual attributes she brings to the role, and that’s totally commendable.
Equally, the effects are decent enough. As far as I can tell it’s all CGI, and while I’ll always go for ropey physical effects over computer generated ones, I appreciate that it’s the cheaper alternative these days. People just aren’t going to throw $100 mil at a film like this any more.
Sometimes it does look very…computer generated (especially the flying transport and the gun drones), but other parts look seriously high end. The TARD itself at points looks totally genuine, and Mill’s eye effect is pulled off really well. Directed by the same guy (Steven Gomez) who is chiefly known for being a visual effects dude, I’m not surprised the quality is so high.
Perhaps the best film to compare this to would be Dog Soldiers. It’s a low budget romp in the woods with a bunch of marines, some mysterious woman, and murderous perpetrators all around them. Unfortunately, Kill Command can’t compete with Dog Soldiers on story, mood, and overall watchability fronts.
But it’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. As a kid, I probably would have lapped it up. I can imagine I’d be running around pretending to be the Captain while Dave down the road would have been doing his best four-legged robot impression. However, I was also a mega fan of such sci-fi losers like Robot Jox and Space Raiders back then, so that’s probably not a high compliment to Kill Command. Take it as you wish.
What I am trying to say is I probably wouldn’t spend money on watching Kill Command. But I’d happily watch it on Netflix. It’s your modern late-night sci-fi made-for-TV movie that actually turns out to be pretty good. Get it watched.