Love, Death & Robots: Volume 2 (2021)
A modern-day revamp of the concept behind the 1977 sci-fi magazine Heavy Metal and its 1981 movie adaptation, Netflix’s anthology series Love, Death & Robots, hit the ground running in 2019 with a collection of eighteen wildly inventive, extremely adults-only, superbly animated shorts. Created by Tim Miller, Deadpool (2016), and David Fincher, Fight Club (1999), the series showcased a range of ground-breaking animation styles with each short helmed by a different filmmaker.
This time around we only get eight stories which might feel like a bit of a letdown considering it’s ten fewer entries than the prior season. As a result, we also get limited experimentation in terms of both art and narrative as most individual installments are computer animated. On the plus side, this new Love, Death & Robots feels less adolescent than its predecessor, with nudity and violence dialed down for a more mature and poignant set of tales. Additionally, most of the entries are adapted from short stories, from writers such as Joe R. Lansdale, Harlan Ellison, and Neal Asher.
Volume 2 opens with Automated Customer Service, directed by Meat Dept (Kevin Dan Ver Meiren, David Nicolas, and Laurent Nicolas), which is set in a futuristic retirement community and looks at how new advancements in security and technology can be a blessing and a curse. Similarly, Life Hutch, directed by Alex Beaty, explores comparable themes, this entry focusing on a pilot, Terence (a photorealistic Michael B. Jordan), who, after crash landing on an alien rock, makes his way to a rescue station or ‘life hutch,’ and must fend off a malfunctioned maintenance bot. While these stories are quite alike — they both examine the subject of ‘tech gone bad’ — the latter tackles the material in a darker and realistic manner, whilst the former is more comical in tone and execution.
Taking place in unique and immensely detailed worlds, some stories are more about worldbuilding and surveying different kinds of dystopias and the questions inherent in each. Pop Squad, helmed by new executive producer Jennifer Yuh Nelson, is a heart-wrenching entry that does a lot with its limited time. It gives us a glimpse into a future where the wealthy are immortal and have made it prohibited for anyone to have children. Therefore, those few who have decided to have kids live in the slums below, afraid that the police might find their young ones and kill them.
Ice, directed by Robert Valley who gave us Zima Blue from Vol. 1, is a simple coming-of-age story that pops due to its aesthetic; an icy planet occupied by modded humans and giant alien whales. Another highlight is Snow in the Desert — directed by Dominique Boidin, Léon Bérelle, Rémi Kozyra, and Maxime Luère. Set in a barren, Mad Max type of mutant wasteland, this short is tremendously rich in almost tactile grotesque detail and palpably illustrates the loneliness of immortality. Although some of these installments run for fewer than twenty minutes, they are complex and exhaustive enough to be fleshed out further, possibly into movies or maybe even a television series.
There’s fun to be had with entries like The Tall Grass, directed by Simon Otto, a little tale about a train passenger who encounters some ghouls when his locomotive breaks down in front of some grassy fields. A somewhat straight-forward Lovecraftian-type of horror, this entry stands out thanks to its rather distinctive animation. Then we have the fantastic Christmas tale, All Through the House, directed by Elliot Dear, which is both humorous yet disturbingly twisted. A delectable mix of stop-motion and CGI, this is a short, sharp but clever installment that reminds young’uns that, no matter whether you believe in Santa Claus or not, it pays to be good all year round; needless to say, this one might even give Krampus chills.
The season ends on an excellent but slightly melancholic note with the folktale The Drowned Giant. Written and directed by Tim Miller and based on a short story by J. G. Ballard, this episode is more philosophical over and above anything else. Reflective and contemplative, the short explores how memories fade and how people forget, no matter the circumstances. The story is told through our narrator, an academic who comes to see a gargantuan naked giant that gets washed up on the shore of a small seaside town, observing how mankind deals with the oversized corpse. At first, the cadaver is the talk of the town, being visited by hundreds of spectators and professors, but as time passes and the body decomposes and is dismembered, interest and memory fade. The giant once loomed large, but by the close of the story, all that remains are his bones, which serve as a small reminder of his existence. While kind of bleak and depressing, this is true of all our fates; as most will forget about us and very few will remember our time here on earth; everything rots away, even memories.
Strong entries aside, Love, Death & Robots: Volume 2 feels like a half a season or a season 1.5. Perhaps it’s the measly eight entries that left me partly unsatisfied. With that said, Love, Death & Robots 2 is still worth plugging into. I just wish filmmakers had held this off for another year and compiled it with the eight episodes they’ve got planned for the proposed Volume 3; then we would have gotten a more substantial second serving.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)