[It's rare to watch a film that produces a portrait so faithful to how it is to watch it.]
1. I have never sat through such a long porn film. Or one with so little plot.
2. It is oddly beautiful at moments. A massive honeycomb grid planet, a Bucky Ball writ cosmic scale, almost touching the earth before collapsing in on itself with a soft implosion of rust and creeping fire. But the rest of the time, it feigns beauty by simply making the eyes hurt. But not the cognitive faculties: it leaves them dull and barely frayed. For to wound those would be sublime, which this is not.
3. There is no point in an ideology critique in the face of such a film, because it doesn't have an ideology. It has a howling wind, dreamt up in the belly of a CGI rendering program, that lifts and carries things, that makes other things pass in front of our behind them.
Among those things are the bad robots. They are coded as either Arabic (wearing scarves, despite the fact that no other robots wear clothing, camped in the same desert environment where we see the good robots kill bad - or at least wearing aviators, sweating, and with a severe expression - brown people), black (literally black paint, long flowing robot dreadlocks), cops (now we're getting somewhere!), murderous birds, giant Dune-like burrowing worm-snakes that burrow through and python-strangle skyscrapers, and trolls.
The good robots are coded as, alternately, assholes or the vehicles driven by assholes.
4. Total, utter absence of desire, on all parts. There is a young woman of sorts, who is supposed to be incredibly hot, or so the film goes to great lengths to point out, from an opening gambit of an ass-level tracking shot up the stairs, from nearly every character, to a degree that starts to erode its own belief in this fact. But she is a pure cipher: can we all agree that this set of parts constitutes an approximation of an ideal of the kind of woman audience members want to stare at in 3-D? No, not her in her particularity, but as an aggregation, as a technology, as likely at any moment as any car or truck to suddenly dissemble before our eyes, and reform into something that also does not especially resemble a human but can be expected to pass for one provided that the camera move away too quickly or linger too long, such that there is a false consonance between our gaping and hers. OK, then, all on the same page?
[The absence of desire is aided and abetted by the absence of any real absence, other than things like modulated dialogue. Not a thing lacks. And where it might, fluttering papers, glints from a missing sun.]
5. Many "people" "die." But not particularly. Rather, they run around a set on which some real fake rubble is strewn and, at some point, they are told to throw their arms out or fall down, at which point are erased from the film by a computer, and replaced by a quick, acceptable-for-PG-13 spray of something vaguely blood color, with a sudden visibility of a very polished skull and a femur or two. They are, that is, vaporized. Or the "camera" cuts away, such that they are probably crushed under big feet or lacerated by the spinning razors of a metal snake's tail. But there is no gore. They are not torn to shreds. They are whole, and small, boring and mediocre, and then they simply are not there. Even the man thrown through a window to fake a suicide: we do not see the impact, we do not see him open onto the ground.
6. Conversely, it is one of the goriest films of late, provided we properly anthropomorphize the robots as we are supposed to. (Or see them as lesser categories of humans, as in the racialized, exoticized, and demonized bad ones.) There is no anthrorpos violence, but there is a staggering display of violence enacted on the forms - for they have no matter or weight, just shifting colors and textures - of that which is formed [morph] as if anthropos. They dig their hand-shaped extensions deep into something we are meant to think as a chest cavity, they leak red paint and oil and anti-freeze, large chunks of rust and chunky geared organs splatter the broken city, they wrap chains around their heads and pull hard, until they come free, sputtering cables leaving it unsevered. And like the bodies of Dante's thieves, they are never all the way one thing or another: falling through the air, they are folding in and out, like seraphim with many wings and unexplainable differences in national accents.
7. That violence is utterly without any pathos or sentiment. This is due less to the very terrible story and absence of character development, which, contrary to a well-trod path of thought, is not a prerequisite for a stomach to fall and turn. It is without consequence because it is without coherence: it is incredibly difficult to see just what is happening, which robot wrist is sawing through which. This is the consequence of a terrible, terrible brightness and clutter, in which sheets of office paper rain down side by side with trails of smoke and glass that was never broken. We simply shut off, the far limit case of our own visual processing power, which, it turns out, is far lower than that capable of being registered in HD. And so it spins and hurls, spits in our faces, but our sight is a glass wall. It is porous only to a point, until the eyes are filled with light and incapable of mustering a care in the world. Particularly when that care is for the well-being of a robot that is also a truck, which is also a defense of American interventionism and the indissociable link between defense of the human and defense of the west, which is also none of these things whatsoever, just an algorithm, whirling in the midnight sun.
8. Because, of course, this is a film that lays more waste to content represented on the screen, in its richly-grained detail and yet which, in the process of its production, destroyed almost nothing in reality. Laid no waste to cities, sent rockets into no shopping malls.
Consumed nothing, that is, other than literal tons of coal required to power the CGI data processing, other than rare earths frying out from overload, other than little salmon, truffle oil, and pomegranate reduction mini-tarts for the cast, other than an extra permanently brain damaged from a rare piece of real metal, other than nerve endings and synaptic pathways burnt out, other than time itself, other than this time, writing these words, on something that is both as telling of our time as can be and as utterly indifferent to it, other than massive sums of money dematerialized and sunk into the faint shimmer of dust rising from the shuddering body of a robot rendered from scratch, other than all those hands and eyes through which these circuits pass, like that burrowing, winding worm, but without awe, without a speck of glint and worth and glimmer.
Other than all that.