Film Review: Kill Command—The Future of Combat?

Posted: May 2, 2017 in film, science fiction, war
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kill Command is a 2016 film written and directed by Steven Gomez. The film’s premise [spoiler alert!] is a marine unit being sent to a remote island for an unscheduled training mission. They arrive without the typical greeting communications by human support staff, but they continue on with their mission and destroy the mostly oblivious enemy robots as expected. What they don’t expect is those gullible enemy robots are just a ploy used by a next-gen, mechanized combat robot referred to as a S.A.R. (Study Analyze Reprogram) unit and its contingent of more advanced robot foot soldiers to observe the marines, learn from them, and then apply their own tactics against them. This unexpected, second conflict unfolds with the marines gradually realizing they’ve been brought here under questionable circumstances and their survival is very much in question. The marines evolve from surprise, to dismay, and finally to grim concentration as they manage their retreat as best they can. The machines have them outgunned and outsmarted, and the humans know it.

The marines use some questionable military tactics. For the first third of the move or so, half the team neglects to even wear helmets. Under fire, they stand around or run upright—real soldiers would be hugging the ground, prone or crawling to keep as low a profile as possible. There’s a fair bit of one-handed rifle firing with dubiously high accuracy. The marines neglected to bring any heavy weapons, other than a mortar which is quickly lost. Unrealistic aspects apply to the robot side as well. For example, flying recon drones continually fly up to within an arms-reach of the marines. First of all, this makes their surveillance incredibly obvious when it doesn’t need to be—with today’s optics, a target could be visualized from kilometers away (not to mention what military satellites might be able to see from orbit). Even in a forest, where much of the action takes place, drones could detect and monitor targets from tens to hundreds of meters away and remain cryptic while doing so. Why reveal their presence and give up the element of surprise? In the film, the impression is the machines may not care about surprise—they don’t need it, but then why bother with this conflict at all? I suspect they come so close more for dramatic effect than anything else.

Only the white characters survive. The marines start out as a somewhat diverse group with two black soldiers out of six. That diversity is whittled down until only the white characters remain. While at least one of the two black soldiers dies a heroic death, I have to wonder about the plot choices and how they will be received by various film-goers.

The acting is adequate, but no one really stands out. The characters are all pretty thin—we never learn much about anyone. No soul-searching conversations while under fire here. No one asks any philosophical questions about the nature of artificial vs. biological beings, or how the murderous robotic soldier became self-aware or why it decided to study human combat in a live-fire, kill-all-humans format. The marines accept their fate with a surprising stoicism and not a single “game over, man!” (that could have been a nice homage to Bill Paxton, but oh well).

The film has a definite Terminator-esque  feel but without the unique appeal Arnold brought to his robot villain. The S.A.R. villain generates sufficient menace but without any memorable aspect (no interesting personality like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey). The CGI effects are well done and almost seamless, yet lacking creativity. And in these days of CGI mastery, good isn’t good enough. To be fair, this could have been an intentional choice to remain faithful to the combat robot designs already being developed by today’s militaries.

In my opinion, the robots underperformed. In future conflicts involving ground robots (“foot soldiers” which I suspect we’ll see deployed in the near future), they would be the perfect snipers—no breath control necessary, no body movement to still, unblinking eyes that can see beyond the spectrum of visible light. In the film, the robot grunts (mostly four-legged, heavy machine guns) miss a lot, don’t fire at a rapid rate, and in some cases are easily destroyed by single shots from the marines.

Despite these quibbles, the film offers a good glimpse of the future of mechanized war, but it’s unclear what role humans soldiers will play going forward. How will imperfect humans participate in future warfare without being quickly exterminated? It’s not an easy question to answer—will humans be able to fight at all? Or will they be confined to a bunker somewhere waiting helplessly for the cold calculus of machine vs. machine to play out on the battlefield and seal their fate as victors or victims? I’ve blogged about this topic before and took it even further in a short story, Lonely, Lonely. My guess is future human soldiers will only survive by working intimately with their own robot protectors (I’m exploring this idea further in a new series of far-future novels). Yet in reality, I suspect we’ll see early answers to questions like these soon enough. Just like the marines in Kill Command, we may not like what we see.

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Comments
  1. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    I believe so – I don’t have kids yet though, but this kind of distractions may really interrupt your thought easily ☺

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  2. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    Nope, I’ve seen SA only so far and it made a long-lasting impression on me 😊 It was very scary and those images haunted me quite for a while…

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  3. Ah, Spirited Away- total classic! Most of Hayao Miyazaki’s films are amazing. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is probably his best (only?) scifi-ish film. Have you seen that one? I watched it again only a few months ago. I heard he might have another film in the works despite retirement. Hopefully, that’s true.

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  4. For me, I write best on the train, at the library, or at a casual restaurant. It’s just too tough to do at home with my kids running amok.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    I saw both. The remake is just a visual popcorn movie, pretty shallow, but still better than some other similar useless movies like the endless Underworld series etc. As for the 1995 anime, it is beautiful (by the way, I watched Akira too), but I still recognize that I cannot connect with anime well for some unknown reason. Spirited Away is an exception though.

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  6. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    I found it. Very positive reviews! I love John Steinbeck too and often write stuff on the train as well 😋

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  7. Hhhm. Have you seen Ghost in the Shell? I saw the live-action Scarlett Johansson remake, but it’s not nearly as good as the original 1995 anime version.

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  8. Yes, self-published on Amazon in 2015 (but professionally edited). The Farthest City.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    No, I’ve never been really into anime unfortunately.

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  10. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    Very interesting indeed. Is your book already published?

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  11. Do you watch anime? If so, you might like Blame! on Netflix. The original manga version is even stranger (in a good way).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The way the robots in Automata slowly became more openly autonomous, finally shedding their human masks, really made sense. And then the offspring they create that bears no resemblance to humans at all is the logical extension of that process. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how machines would evolve after becoming intelligent (it’s actually one of the main themes in my book). In contrast to the usual human-shaped robots you see most often, I always assumed machines would evolve completely independently from human-like designs, building bodies to handle whatever situations they faced.

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  13. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    What are your thoughts about “Automata”?

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  14. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    I liked it. I watched it in a right mood on an autumn rainy evening… Like “The Machine”, it is an obvious homage to many other movies, but I felt it managed to find it’s own voice. It was nice to see McDermott again after his ultracool “Hardware”, and Banderas was good in such atypical for him role. I haven’t reviewed it, because 3 years passed since I’ve watchedit, but I here were many interesting details, like a homeless robot.

    It’s sad that the film was received badly. There is a very small amount of non-US science fiction, and this kind of reception just disencourages people from doing stuff.

    As for “The Machine”, you are totally right. That thing about their communication way was a very good idea. I was just recently writing on the blog about what is so great about science fiction (https://indiescifi451.com/2017/10/01/what-is-great-about-science-fiction/) and these 2 films are exactly the case.

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  15. Yeah, I thought “The Machine” was good as well. Understated and underappreciated perhaps, but with some good stuff (I particularly liked how the androids communicated with each other in a completely non-human language without the humans even realizing it).

    I love it when you go into a film with low expectations and it surprises you with how good it is.

    What did you think of Automata?

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  16. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    Wow, amazing insight into the warfare and movie. I watched several months ago and despite all the obvious flaws that is has I really loved it. Much better than most average low budget sci-fi. Maybe another similar flick that comes to my mind is ”The Machine”.

    I guess the machines’ behavior (coming too close, shooting without good precision) could be explained by the fact that they were studying humans and their psychology. If I remember well, there was a hint about that in the end of the film.

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