Netflix decided to give Tim Miller (Deadpool) and David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, Gone Girl) a shot at the reboot of Heavy Metal that they’d been pitching for years, only without the name or the soundtrack.
It’s an anthology. It’s 18 different stories done by different teams that have basically no common theme. Sure, the title makes it seem like everything is Sci-Fi, but they’re not. Most are, to be sure, but not all.
Here’s a sentence about each of them, in the order that they originally posted them, though Netflix is playing with the order:
Sonnie’s Edge: A woman psychically commands a bio-engineered monster in future gladiatorial matches.
Three Robots: Three different AIs explore the remains of Earth in a parody of most people taking a trip to a foreign country.
The Witness: A woman witnesses a murder and is pursued by the killer all through the city.
Suits: Farmers in Mech-Suits defend their crops against futuristic coyote-like aliens.
Sucker of Souls: Vampires vs. Cats does not favor the Vampire.
When the Yogurt Took Over: Yogurt is smarter than people, but you probably knew that already.
Beyond the Aquila Rift: Lost space crew ends up finding what they hope are familiar faces.
Good Hunting: Probably the one with the biggest metaphor in the entire series… and also a steampunk transformer.
The Dump: A guy who runs a dump finds out there are more than just rats living there.
Shape-Shifters: The US has werewolves fight the Taliban and it’s pretty awesome.
Helping Hand: Someone crossbred Gravity and 127 Hours.
Fish Night: Two stranded salesmen find a mystical doorway to a time before people.
Lucky 13: A pilot tells stories about her connection with an “unlucky” ship.
Zima Blue: A journalist finds out the truth behind the last great work of the universe’s greatest artist.
Blindspot: Cyperpunks try to rob a convoy.
Ice Age: The Simpsons episode “The Genesis Tub” (itself a ripoff of The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People”) gets ripped-off in a fun short with a solid ending.
Alternate Histories: We watch Hitler get killed a lot in fun ways, including being beaten to death by angry Jewish people.
Secret War: The Red Army fights a demon invasion.
Since this was originally supposed to be a new version of Heavy Metal, I think it should go without saying that this is very Not Safe For Work. Now, sometimes it is actually done quite well, with nudity that is artistic or swearing that feels natural or in-character. Sometimes, it’s just boobs for the sake of boobs… but not in the way that Heavy Metal did them. See, Heavy Metal was always about hyperbolic exaggeration and exploitation, going so over-the-top that it bordered on self-parody. It’s that full-on almost comedy feel that allowed you to avoid any form of introspection about exactly why you thought a movie featuring mostly half-naked and incredibly busty women committing acts of ultra-violence was more fun than, say, 8½. However, some of these shorts are actually very thought-provoking, which, unfortunately, means that sometimes you actually do notice when the nudity is just there for titillation.
I’d say that, and this is a rarity for an anthology, I don’t think there’s actually a “bad” short in here. Some are better than others, to be sure, but there’s not one where I point to it and say “nothing in this was good.” The animation styles range quite a bit, going from basically photorealistic CGI to moving pulp comics, but all of them are very impressive. Given that all of them are shorts, it’s difficult to really get involved with the characters as much as you would in a traditional movie, but very few of these are actually character-driven. Most of them are just about the action or the scenario playing out, often with a solid twist at the end. Some are deep and require an exploration of the use of symbolism or allusion, while some of them are just people blowing stuff up or robots making funny jokes.
I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the review that I keep seeing on people’s social media comments about the series: Yeah, several of these are very exploitative towards women and, as I said earlier, not in the original “oh, this is so ridiculous it’s basically harmless” way. Good Hunting, for example, includes scenes of things being done to a woman which are deeply disturbing on many, many levels. Now, yes, they’re supposed to be deeply disturbing because the person doing them is a monster (part of the theme of the short), but the fact is that it’s still graphically evoking the theme of violence against women. It’s definitely something that was bound to cause controversy, particularly when you consider it was an almost all-male production crew. If you’re not into exploitation, the following shorts are probably still fine for you: Zima Blue, Three Robots, Alternate Histories (there’s sex, but it kills Hitler and is super abstract, so…), Suits, Sucker of Souls, When the Yogurt Took Over, Helping Hand, Fish Night, Lucky 13, Ice Age, Blindspot.
The best short in the show, in my opinion, is Zima Blue. I was shocked to see that TV Guide’s review called it “a big old bucket of bolts.” The art in it is magnificent, but it’s actually what you can understand about the story on a second watching, having learned the ending, that really sets it apart. It’s about the nature of being an artist, about creating, and about trying to make others see that which you hold within you that is so basic and primal that you can’t even bring into words. What the artist, Zima, figures out, is something so complicated that it’s moved all the way back to simple and it’s that particular moment of clarity that the ending captures beautifully.
Overall, I will say that I like that Netflix is trying new things, particularly taking advantage of its lack of a rating system.
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