Love, Death & Robots review: Dark, depraved, Netflix’s new show is pure David Fincher
Love, Death & Robots
Cast - Topher Grace, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Samira Wiley
Rating - 3.5/5
Love, Death & Robots, the new Netflix series from the enticing partnership of Deadpool director Tim Miller and all-time legend David Fincher is neither lovely, nor particularly deadly, and it most certainly isn’t partial towards mechanical men.
Instead, it is a dark, depraved experiment made up of 18 episodes of varying lengths, genres and animation techniques, united by common themes such as the loss of innocence and the evil of men, and, curiously, a shared love for cats.
Watch the Love, Death & Robots trailer here
Like most anthology series, it is uneven beyond measure. But what sticks out in Love, Death & Robots is how unwaveringly it favours the animation over the story. It plays more like a sizzle real for the various studios that are involved, rather than make any overarching point about humanity and its relationship with technology.
There are, however, numerous hat-tips to its more successful cousin, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Every episode of Love, Death & Robots begins with a similar title card, and is largely self-contained. But while Brooker has of late developed a tendency to break away from his miserable worldview and write optimistic stories such as San Junipero, the most levity you can expect from Love, Death & Robots is from its brief forays into the world of satire.
The five-minute-long episode, conveniently titled When The Yogurt Took Over, tells a stop-motion-inspired story about humanity’s hubris (and its resulting fall) in the most ridiculous manner. People of all shapes, colours and sizes gaze stupidly as a bowl of yogurt becomes sentient, offers sane political counsel, takes over the presidency and promptly self-destructs.
This episode’s directors, Victor Maldonado and Alfredo Torres, are also responsible for two more palate cleansers - Three Robots, about three robots taking a tour of a post-apocalyptic city and pointing out the flaws in humanity that led to our downfall. They also direct the more irreverent Alternate Histories, in which Adolf Hitler meets a premature death in six hilarious scenarios, and alters the course of world history.
Neither of these episodes are similar, either visually or thematically. Indeed, some, like Good Hunting, appear to be hand-drawn. It’s a stunning marriage of spirituality and steampunk, set in alternate-history Hong Kong, about a farmer and a shape-shifting demon woman. It’s one of the show’s many episodes that talks about women and their bodies, and the desecration they often face at the hands of men.
Another is the first, Sonnie’s Edge, set in a dystopian London where horrific monsters, controlled by their ‘masters’, are pitted against each other in gladiatorial fights. This one is produced by Miller’s Blur Studio, known for its work in video games and for that stunning opening credits sequence in Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It appears to have been made in a combination of cutting-edge CGI and performance capture, a technique that is reapplied in Beyond the Aquila Realm (one of the most poorly written of the lot) and the wildly imaginative Shape-Shifters (also by Blur), which combines political intrigue with horror iconography to deliver one of the show’s best segments.
Miller himself has helmed just one episode (Fincher is more of a ‘wizard behind the curtain’ on this one) - the live-action/animation hybrid, Ice Age, about a young couple who witnesses the entire course of human history unfold in their refrigerator - from the dawn of man to our ultimate extinction. The episode reunites Miller with his Deadpool cinematographer Ken Seng and composer Junkie XL, with whom he will work again in his upcoming Terminator film. It’s neither the best nor the worst among the bunch, but a serviceable entry that juggles tones and ideas with an unusual deftness.
But nothing can quite match the sheer brilliance of episode three, The Witness - a surreal, Hitchockian story, which in 10 minutes accomplishes a level of genius that filmmakers spend entire careers trying to achieve. It’s directed by Alberto Mielgo, who did some early work on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and has perfected one of the most unique aesthetics that I have ever seen - it appears to be inspired by rotoscope, but apparently is entirely hand-crafted.
It helps that The Witness, in addition to being jaw-droopingly gorgeous to look at, is also a wonderfully structured, tightly written thriller, about a girl who witnesses a murder and tries to evade the possible killer through the streets of future Hong Kong - aglow with neon and cloistered in concrete. Tragically, the show is never able to live upto its magnificence, and is forced to play catch-up for the remaining 15 episodes. If only they’d sequenced it towards the end.