Suffering the most juvenile and sexist aspects of Heavy Metal (the movie and illustrated magazine) and 1990s anime, Netflix’s new animated sci-fi anthology series Love, Death + Robots has a handful of good episodes, including a few real gems, weighed down by a bunch of garbage.
I can’t say whether the series is intended to run for more than one season. The first is comprised of 18 short episodes that run between 5 to 20 minutes each. If you treat it like a short story collection, the whole thing can be easily devoured in one sitting of about three hours.
The episodes are not directly connected to each other, and are animated in a range of different styles from highly cartoony to nearly photo-realistic motion-capture. One is even mostly live action. Most if not all of the episodes are adapted from stories by a host of authors including Alistair Reynolds, Michael Swanwick, Joe R. Lansdale, and John Scalzi. David Fincher and Tim Miller serve as executive producers, and the project was spawned from their original desire to reboot Heavy Metal, the influence of which (for both good and ill) is strongly felt. I question how much involvement Fincher had in the production, and wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t bothered to watch some of the episodes before putting his producer stamp on them. He’s never made anything quite so puerile himself.
The show gets off to a bad start by putting one of its worst episodes up front. While the animation in Sonnie’s Edge is pretty impressive, the story plays like bad kaiju anime and tentacle porn, with nudity and faux lesbian titillation so gratuitous I felt dirty watching it. Frankly, I’d rather watch real porn that’s at least honest about what it is. Even that’s nothing, however, compared to the extended rape fantasy of Episode 3, The Witness, in which a mostly-nude stripper is chased through seedy city streets and back alleys by a psycho rapist/murderer. The worst episode of the series by far, that one’s just plain gross. I wish I hadn’t watched either of those.
Without question, the best entries are the three comedic episodes based on stories by Old Man’s War author John Scalzi. Three Robots, When the Yogurt Took Over, and Alternate Histories are very funny and clever, with no objectionable content (beyond some swearing and very silly nudity). If you’re familiar with his writing, Scalzi’s voice is strongly felt in each of these. Also a standout is the live-action episode, Ice Age, starring Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from a story by Michael Swanwick. These four episodes feel like they belong in a different collection from the rest.
Some of the others are decent. I reasonably enjoyed the mecha battle episode Suits, the Gravity knockoff Helping Hand, the space marines ep Lucky 13, and the trippy surreal fantasy of Fish Night. The rest I would mostly call disposable, neither particularly good nor terrible. Just a few days after watching, I can barely even remember the details of some of them.
Season Verdict / Grade: C
Essentially Heavy Metal crossed with The Animatrix and a little Aeon Flux, Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots is a show decidedly targeted at (and often feels like it’s made by) teenage boys who find the prospect of seeing boobies and blood in the same story a real mind-blower. The strong sexism that infuses many of the episodes is pretty hard for a grown-up to take, let alone any women who might make the mistake of starting from the beginning. I’m glad my wife chose not to watch with me. I’m certain she would have walked out a few minutes into the first episode and thought less of me for sitting through the rest.
That significant failing of so much of the series does a great disservice to the few really good episodes mixed in, which deserve a better showcase than this.
“Sonnie’s Edge is pretty impressive, the story plays like bad kaiju anime and tentacle porn, with nudity and faux lesbian titillation so gratuitous I felt dirty watching it.”
Just no. Zero tentacle porn. Two girls kiss and one girl shows her boobs.
“The Witness, in which a mostly-nude stripper is chased through seedy city streets and back alleys by a psycho rapist/murderer.”
No rape in this episode. She sees herself killed and then he sees her kill him. It was a weird episode but also kind of cool and trippy.
The murderer is naked, and the dead body he’s straddling is naked, and your reaction is, “Nope, nothin’ rapey about this”? Riiiiiiight.
I’ll preface this by saying I enjoy watching the original ‘Heavy Metal’ every now and then. Part of the charm is the thematic time capsule. Similar to the Paul Newman movie ‘Slap Shot’, which is is a snapshot of when it was created…closing factories and homophobic “jokes” every other scene. My point is, I know how sexist ‘Heavy Metal’ is.
I only watched the first episode of LD+R..and it had that ‘Heavy Metal’ tone…but I felt like it did this weird attempt to empower women by way of the same format. The dialog, and attempt at a hook, seemed very much pulled from the zeitgeist. It still turns women into sexual objects amidst graphic violence (again, just the first episode, haven’t seen the rest yet). I don’t think it works, but I think the intent was the opposite of the effect.
It should surprise no one that Sonnie’s Edge was of course written and directed entirely by men. (Yes, even co-director Gabriele Pennacchioli is a man.) The “female-empowerment” twist at the end is a token attempt to distract attention from the fact that the entire piece exists only to show boobs, a lesbian make-out scene, and considerable graphic and brutal violence against women. It’s a transparent incel jerk-off fantasy.
I disagree completely. Two girls barely kissed and one shows her boobs. Big deal. I suggest that folks watch the episode and judge for themselves. The episode is extremely violent but a lot of the violence is between two beasts/monsters. The only violence against a woman was from another woman and in the end it plays out with a twist. It’s actually pretty cool. Just watch the episode. Btw, I have no idea what an incel is and I’m not even going to bother looking it up.
You’re probably better off not looking it up. The short version is that they’re little misogynist twerps. To be clear, I’m not accusing you of being an incel. I’m just saying that the main purposes of that episode seem to be treating women as sex fantasy objects and watching them be brutalized, which make it feel like it was made by a bunch of incels who probably said, “Ooh, we better put some empowerment stuff at the end to trick those stupid SJWs into thinking it’s feminist. They’ll swallow anything we give them so long as it has some girl power shit in the last couple seconds. Ha!”
For what it’s worth, this is my ranking of the episodes:
The Good Ones
1. Alternate Histories
2. When the Yogurt Took Over
3. Three Robots
4. Ice Age
5. Fish Night
6. Lucky 13
8. Helping Hand
9. Beyond the Aquila Rift
10. Good Hunting
11. The Dump
12. Shape Shifters
13. The Secret War
Waste of Time
15. Sucker of Souls
16. Zima Blue
Just Plain Turds
17. Sonnie’s Edge
18. The Witness
Josh: “I’m certain she would have walked out a few minutes into the first episode and thought less of me for sitting through the rest.”
Wives thinking less of their husbands. Let’s be frank, that ship has sailed 8 speakers, 4 receivers, and 2 projectors ago.