Netflix Review – Next Gen: A Robot Movie Lacking Emotion

Hey kids! Do you like Short Circuit? Do you like The Iron Giant? Do you like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? How about Big Hero 6, Wall-E, Blade Runner, and The Terminator? All of those movies were great, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we combined all those movies, but also threw in a bunch of 80s movie bullying, some teen angst, and a dash of Up and I, Robot? Surely it wouldn’t be a giant thematic mess that constantly undercuts itself, right?

I assume the company that made this pitch was also the company that created Wild Wacky Action Bike.

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Summary is too long)

Girl finds robot. Girl bonds with robot. Robot fights evil organization that created it. Robot ends up sacrificing itself, but not really, so happy ending.

SUMMARY

In the future year 20XX, we have robots everywhere. They’re cute and harmless little servants of humanity, constantly upbeat, and they are embedded into everything from security systems to noodle bowls. Yes, the noodle bowls are talking, self-cooking, and self-disposing. But it’s okay, because the movie tells us none of these are sentient, despite seeming to have emotions and feelings and independent thought.

NextGen-1Noodles.png
… I would consider tap-dancing noodles a Utopia.

Mai (Charlyne “Ruby” Yi) is a 12-year-old girl who hates robots because her mom, Molly (Constance Wu), bought one after her dad left them and then died, causing her mom to transfer many of her emotional bonds onto their robot. She’s also bullied for being different, although exactly how isn’t really clarified. Oh, and the bullies have their robots beat her up, something that is apparently just allowed to happen, because the human adults at the school are all too obsessed with VR and games to do their jobs.

NextGen-2Mai.png
“You love robots more than me” – Actual movie line in actual movie.

Her mom takes her to the launch of the new major robot line, watching a presentation by the founder of the IQ corporation that makes them, Justin Pin (Jason Sudeikis), who is basically Jon Hamm playing Steve Jobs. Mai sneaks off and finds a secret lab belonging to the other founder, Dr. Tanner Rice (David Cross), who is working on the first true AI robot, 7723 (John Krasinski). Mai accidentally powers up 7723, but is taken away by security and leaves her bag. 7723 follows her to return the bag, revealing himself to be an overpowered war-machine with no understanding of the value of human life or property, but he gets injured in the process. This injury damages his memory, resulting in him only being able to hold 72 hours’ worth of memories at a time. To deal with this, he only keeps memories he likes and deletes the others.

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He has to literally shred them.

He finds Mai and she convinces him to help her go on a spree of destroying other robots. Over time, 7723 becomes more emotional, bonding with Mai. He also stops enjoying their mischief and destruction, trying to convince Mai to do other things. After Mai tries to get him to hurt one of her bullies, 7723 deletes his weapons system. Meanwhile, it’s revealed that the new robots coming out of IQ are programmed to explode when told by Pin. Rice finds 7723 and tries to fix his memories, but is killed by Pin, who is revealed to actually be a robot who took over his body. Pin and his other body, a war machine named Ares, are trying to destroy humanity, but are stopped by 7723 when he re-installs his weapons at the cost of his memories, losing them slowly as he fights. Eventually, he wins, but is now blank. At the end of the movie, he now lives with Mai, making new memories.

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This is the villain. Shocking, right?

END SUMMARY

If you didn’t read that I don’t blame you. This movie is so dense that I left out most of the sub-plots and that summary is still huge. There’s a subplot about 7723 being able to understand Mai’s dog Momo (Michael Peña), who speaks mostly in bleeped swears and constantly shifts moods between angry and loving. It’s funny, but it also feeds into why this movie fails: It never gives the characters time to really feel things.

NextGen-5Momo.png
I wish the movie was more of this, because Momo and the robot are adorable together.

Think about any great animated movie you’ve ever seen. Almost all of them, particularly Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon, and the good Don Bluth films (The Secret of NIMH), have strong emotional moments. These aren’t real people, so we need to have those connections even more than in real films in order to close the audience-screen gap and give weight to the characters’ actions (I’m sure there’s a real term for this). This movie doesn’t really do that, because it never lets the moment sit long enough for us to feel anything. The second there should be an emotional moment, the movie cuts from it to the next scene. At one point, a robot in the film basically calls the movie out for it by saying that he “needs time to process” an emotional development, but just beeps and says “I’m done” immediately.

NextGen-6BingBong.png
It’s not just that Bing Bong dies, its watching Joy realize what he did. That’s a moment.

It’s not like there weren’t a ton of opportunities for an emotional core to the movie. You could deal with the fact that 7723 is manipulated by the one human he trusts to be a force of destruction which he ends up regretting. You could, and almost did, deal with the idea of a person having to select what memories they keep and how that affects their personality and life. You could deal with Mai’s issues stemming from her mother being more obsessed with her replacement for her husband than with her daughter. You could deal with Mai being bullied or her feeling of loss over her father. You could even take a step back and deal with bigger concepts, like humanity being dependent on robots or why the IQ Corporation can apparently manufacture the police force and military without any kind of oversight or even why the hell you’d make robots that would be able to beat up children at the commands of other children. This movie instead tries to do all of these in 90 minutes, resulting in the last 15 minutes mostly being a game of “say 3 lines and pretend we wrapped this plot up.”

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Oh, cool, the bully just came back to risk her life for her victim. That’s not actual character development, guys.

I will admit that the rapid pace of all the plot threads did keep me from paying attention to all of the things the movie doesn’t really answer or address, like how did Pin make a sentient robot before 7723 if Rice was the actual genius or how did Mai not get in trouble for destroying dozens of robots while on film or why did Mai just murder a police officer or how was it not a bigger deal that DOGS CAN TALK? There are ton of these things that really don’t hold up to scrutiny, but the movie wasn’t awesome enough to keep me from considering them, instead trying to just not give me time to think. Still, most of this movie doesn’t make any sense in retrospect.

The real tragedy is that much of this film is actually excellent. The animation is beautiful, the progression of 7723’s display from two circles to eyes and a mouth is a great way to signal his development, a lot of the robots are adorable, the final fight scene SHOULD have been epic (instead it just feels unearned), and some of the humor actually works. David Cross plays all the generic robots and they have some hilarious lines, including a Gen5 saying “The Gen6’s slightly bigger screen will complete you emotionally in ways I never could,” which is genuinely good commentary. But if you try to make a cake/salad/ham/meringue at the same time, it doesn’t matter if you made each part well and put it in a nice box, it’s still a mess.

NextGen-8Platypus
Not every jumble works out well. 

To the filmmakers, I say the following: the best film isn’t necessarily the one with the “most plot.” If it were, the third Godfather would be the best one, rather than a mediocre conclusion to an unbelievable franchise. What we want is to go on a journey with the characters. We can’t do that if the characters are on 15 different journeys at once. I understand that you didn’t want to feel like you were just re-hashing old plots, so you tried to combine a lot of them, but that’s not necessarily what makes a movie new. Think about How to Train Your Dragon. The movie is literally a list of clichés over a generic story, but even though it is all of those things, the film focused on how the characters feel going through the story, rather than the story itself, and it does that by showing us how everyone feels after all the cliché moments. Like, this shot from after Stoick yells at his son and disowns him still shows him almost crying with the realization that, even though he did what he had to do, he’s still hurting from having to do it.

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This. This is how you have an emotional moment in a movie. It’s not big, but it’s relatable.

Also, as a side-note, I love Jason Sudeikis, but you will never convince me that they didn’t intend for the character to be voiced by Jon Hamm. He looks like Hamm, he talks like Hamm’s characters usually talk, and he is a glorified pitchman with a dark side, something Hamm is most famous for playing. It’s like how the snowman in Jack Frost looks like George Clooney rather than Michael Keaton or how the vultures in the Jungle Book were supposed to be the Beatles: It just seems to indicate that the casting changed after the production started. Or maybe I’m wrong.

Overall, it’s a movie that I think kids might enjoy, but adults wouldn’t. Unfortunately, given the number of terrible things that the protagonists do in the movie, I wouldn’t recommend showing it to kids.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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Rick and Mondays – S1 E4 “M. Night Shaym-Aliens”

Welcome to Episode 4, where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

SUMMARY

S1E4-1Rat.png
Look at that, doesn’t even have a Squiddlyspooge!

The episode opens with Rick dissecting a rat in his lab, stating that it’s sloppy craftsmanship. Morty comes in, remarking on the beauty of the day, but Rick makes cryptic comments on Morty’s statements to someone invisible. Beth appears, acting in a simple and robotic fashion, which Morty notes is “weird.” Rick tells the unseen observers they’re going to burn out the CPU with Morty’s sophistication. Morty tells Rick he’s also being weird, then walks into the wall, then leaves. Rick looks at him suspiciously.

At Morty’s school, Morty is asked a simple math question (What’s 5×9?) which he gets incorrect (“at least 40”) but is praised for his technical correctness. Mr. Goldenfold offers to have him teach the class for being such a genius, at which point someone asks him for the formula for concentrated dark matter, a fuel for accelerated space travel. The entire class seems strangely interested in this, including Jessica who offers to be his girlfriend if he makes it. Rick breaks in and pulls Morty out, even as Goldenfold threatens to fail Morty.

S1E4-2Jessica.png
Zigerions don’t like nudity, but apparently seducing a minor is fine.

Rick takes Morty to the showers and tells him to strip. Morty complies, though he’s still confused. Rick explains that they’re not in the real world: They’re in a simulation run by the Zigerion Scammers, the galaxy’s worst con-artists. Rick’s and Morty’s nudity is due to the Zigerions being super uncomfortable with naked people, apparently to the point that Rick believes that they will quit monitoring them if they’re naked. Rick ends up stealing Morty’s clothes to ensure they stay unwatched.

On the Zigerion Ship, the aliens are, in fact, refusing to look at the screen while Rick and Morty are naked. Prince Nebulon (David “I’m half of the Mr. Show” Cross) is alerted to the fact that Jerry is also in the simulation. In one of my favorite exchanges, every department aboard the ship blames another department until it forms a loop, preventing us from ever finding out how Jerry actually got on the ship. Jerry, being an idiot, doesn’t notice the obvious signs he’s in a simulation, which become even more absurd after the Zigerions set his simulation cap at 5%.

S1E4-3JerryStores.png
To be fair, this would be much easier.

Rick and Morty continue walking around naked as Rick convinces Morty that it’s a simulation by pointing out all the ridiculous elements, like an anthropomorphic PopTart living in a toaster house and driving a toaster car. Rick tells Morty that the two of them are going to scam the scammers, because dragging Morty in was a step too far.

S1E4-4PopTarts.png
I think the toaster oven would be the house. Fancier.

Jerry, meanwhile, tries to pitch an ad for apples. In typical Jerry fashion, it’s a completely banal slogan: “Hungry for apples?” However, the pitch is successful because his boss, Mr. Marklevitz (Dan Harmon), is caught in a loop of snapping his fingers and saying yes. Jerry runs out, elated, not noticing that the world is now populated by three people: an Old Man, a Hot Woman, and a Mailman (Maurice LaMarche, Kari Wahlgren, Brandon Johnson). Apparently, these are the easiest personalities to generate.

S1E4-5Trio.png
“Slow down” “Looking Good” “My Man!”

Rick and Morty are now preparing to put on a concert featuring their hit song “The Recipe for Concentrated Dark Matter.” They proceed to give the audience complicated instructions, overloading the computer generating the simulation and freezing it, allowing them to run past the edge and onto the Zigerion ship. At the same time, Jerry arrives home and has sex with a frozen Beth, which, apparently, is the best sex of his life. He lies in bed with her before telling her that he’s a fraud, having ripped off “Got Milk?” for his pitch. He never notices that she literally is frozen in place. Meanwhile, Prince Nebulon comments that now that they’re out of the simulation, it’s going to be a “mindf*ck.”

S1E4-6Mindfuck
This guy looks like he has discolored butthole flaps, like David Cross

Rick and Morty run through the ship and steal a ton of crystalline processing chips, even playing around with them, before easily escaping. Back in the simulation, Jerry meets with Mr. Marklevitz, who is still stuck in the same loop. Jerry talks himself into getting fired, then getting his job back, then getting an “Appley” award for commercials about apples.

Rick and Morty arrive home but when Rick enters the code to his safe, the Earth dissolves back into the Zigerion ship. Nebulon confronts Rick and explains that they already had the formula for concentrated dark matter but wanted the combination to Rick’s safe. Rick points out that he’s going to just change the combination, at which point Nebulon orders him captured. Rick pulls Morty’s pants down, repulsing the Zigerions, and the pair run for it.

S1E4-7Hologram2.png
If the Matrix ran on a Macbook Air.

Jerry is accepting his “Appley” award, citing it as the best day of his life and the thing that finally completes him, before witnessing the simulation glitch out as Rick and Morty run into the room. The duo drags Jerry, weeping, onto an escape ship. The Zigerion ships pursue, leading Rick to comment that they apparently DO have concentrated dark matter. Morty asks Rick to make some and Rick says they just need cesium, plutonic quartz, and bottled water, which all happen to be on the ship. When Rick lists the quantities, Morty freezes in place before dissolving, revealing that they are in yet another simulation.

S1E4-8AppleyAwards.png

Nebulon reveals that they had tricked Rick into revealing his secret formula. Rick is shocked that they could simulate Morty’s wang (and the audience is confused as to how Rick knew that it was accurate). Nebulon mocks Rick for his gullibility before taunting him with the possibility of still being in a simulation. As Rick and Jerry depart in a ship, Rick takes a shot at Jerry for the fact that “the most meaningful day of [his] life was a simulation operating at minimum capacity.” Jerry tries to counter that, since the Zigerions also tricked Rick, he’s just as foolish as everyone else. At that moment, Nebulon combines the Plutonic Quartz and Cesium with the water, causing a massive explosion. Rick tells Jerry that he blew them up, then starts vocalizing the saxophone part of “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty heard throughout the episode as they fly home.

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If only you could do this to internet trolls.

Later, Jerry pitches his “Hungry for Apples” idea in the real world and is immediately fired for incompetence. That night, Rick, completely hammered, breaks into Morty’s room and threatens to kill Morty for being a simulation, before accepting that Morty isn’t and passing out.

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Failing isn’t getting fired, Jerry. Failing is taking 2 seasons and aliens to get a job.

END SUMMARY

First of all, the opening line where Rick is observing the rat’s intestines is a great example of Rick and Morty’s particular brand of clever humor. When removed from context, it appears to be Rick criticizing the “craftsmanship” of a rat, which would be Rick basically taking a shot at God or guided evolution. In context, it later becomes obvious that he’s talking about the Zigerions, but the fact is that we could see Rick saying it either way.  Plus, it explains why Rick is so prepared for rat fighting in “Pickle Rick.”

S1E4-11RatFight
Yes… that explains it.

The episode itself is a brilliant subversion of all of the “simulated reality” movies that people come up with after reading Jean Baudrillard. Sure, it’s a fake reality, but it’s a fake reality that’s pretty easy to discern from the real one. It’s like you’re living in The Sims running on a crappy PC: Sure, most of the stuff is there, but it’s clearly not the real world. This really feeds perfectly into the show’s blending of sci-fi technology and the incompetence of sentient beings.

JOKER’S THEORY CORNER

When exactly Rick realized it was a simulation of a simulation of a simulation is up for debate, but it seems extremely likely that he knew before he picked Morty up from the school. Rick explains to Morty that the Zigerions won’t monitor them when they’re naked, but nothing about avoiding the video would stop the aliens from listening to them talking. The fact that he then explains his plans to Morty would be a mistake if he wasn’t counting on them listening and being too stupid to wonder WHY he is still talking. It’s possible Rick didn’t know from the first time he saw Morty, because if he hadn’t been at least momentarily uncertain about the levels of the simulation, then he wouldn’t have threatened the real Morty at the end to confirm he wasn’t still in a simulation.

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But, honestly, I’ll take a step back and say that I think Rick actually set this entire thing up because Rick just wanted the Zigerions to leave him alone and, as a bonus, he got to mess with Jerry. Think about it: None of the Zigerions know why Jerry is there. When Rick and Jerry leave, Rick indicates that he knows what happened in Jerry’s simulation AND that it was on minimum power, something even Jerry wouldn’t have known. Given that he apparently knew what was happening the whole time, Rick’s actions throughout the episode mostly appear to be just leading the Zigerions to believe that he actually fell for their scheme so that they wouldn’t question the formula he eventually gave them. A formula which contained Cesium and Water, two things that violently react when mixed. So why would Rick still threaten Morty at the end? Because, much like the film The Matrix, once you have the idea out there that you could be living in a simulation and not know it, it’s a hard thing to get out of your mind, particularly when you’re blackout drunk.

THIS HAS BEEN JOKER’S THEORY CORNER

This is probably the episode where I first decided I was going to love this show. The pilot was good, as were the next two episodes, but this was the episode where I first glimpsed the nested levels of brilliance they could put into the episodes by having Rick be so far ahead of the game, compared to a normal protagonist. That’s the thing about having a character who is basically a hyperintelligent being: Normally he’d be boring because he’d know what’s happening next or he’d have to be acting out of character in order to be challenged. If you give that character fourth-wall awareness (like, say, humming the episode’s musical score) it can be even harder to really find something to challenge them. But Rick is not just hyperintelligent, he’s nearly omnipotent and only seems to feel alive when putting himself at risk, so watching him play through the scenarios just for the hell of it becomes much more interesting. Hell, it’s part of why Rick and Morty has decided to avert any form of traditional character growth and focusing on a more nihilistic outlook, because watching Rick grow would be boring and out of character.

Overall, this was really when I felt like the show was starting to find its strengths, though it wasn’t until the next episode that I really think they started to prove how great this show could be.

Oh, and did anyone else notice that they don’t spell the first part of M. Night Shyamalan’s name right?

Overall, I give this episode a

B+

on the Rick and Morty scale.

Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.

PREVIOUS – 3: Anatomy Park

NEXT – 5: Meeseeks and Destroy

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.