Next Gen: A Film Review

It should come as no surprise when someone tells you we are in an new era of information technology. It should be even less surprising when new media is released relating that topic. The Digital Age is a gold mine for fans of fiction, allowing new concepts of computing and technology to funnel together to create whole new vistas of imagination. The goal of the storyteller is to link these grand themes with the personal struggles and challenges that we face everyday. Today we’re taking a look at how Netflix’s 2018 film Next Gen balances these ideas and takes its own unique spin on it.

The story is set in the somewhat near-future. With advanced technological progress, pretty much everything is now a robot. Teachers are robots, mailboxes are robots, and even a door as well. The city of Grainland, where the film takes place, is a caricature of modern consumer culture, openly mocking the huge lines people wait in to get the new gadget with a planned obsolescence of a few years. This is not a critique as more than a backdrop as we follow Mai Su, a young punk girl with abandonment issues and no pretty much no friends. Through high jinks, she comes across a robot designed with Artificial Intelligence. She rejects its at first, but soon befriends it as she learns about its powers. They soon run into IQ Robotics, a vast corporation headed by the Steve Jobs-esque Justin Pin. Together, they have to stop his evil plan and save the world.

When you first look at the movie, it looks a lot like Big Hero 6. From the aesthetic to the concept of a child befriending a robot, it all seems pretty similar. I will say that this concept in-of-itself is not original, as this was even done by 1999’s The Iron Giant. Plenty of reviews of talked comparisons. I want to discuss the film on its own merits. What I will say is that Next Gen does enough to distinguish itself from these other two films.

The characters are a good place to start. Like I said earlier, the tech/consumer concept is really just a backdrop for the central idea of human emotion and machine logic. Mai struggles with the departure of her father and as such takes her frustrations out on the robots that inhabit their world. This stands in stark contrast to her mother, who fully embraces the robots as a kind of surrogate husband, further distancing herself from her daughter. The Robot loses its memory storage, and every night must make the choice of choosing which memories to delete, and which to keep. This problem becomes harder and harder to solve the more time it spends with her.

The Villain is an interesting one as well. I don’t feel as saying the Man-bun-clad Steve Jobs is the antagonist is really a spoiler, as this is revealed very early on. There is a bit more to him, though. And if you forgive the quick comparison, the twists in this film feel much better than the ones in Big Hero 6. There’s one moment with Justin Pin that kind of took me by surprise. I won’t spoil it, but if you watch the film, you’ll know what it is.

The animation is also something to behold. It’s surprising that the software used to make this film was Blender, an animation software completely free for the public to use. They’re able to both demonstrate the clean and sterile environments of an advanced lab, yet also able to dirty and muck up the textures after an intense action scene. While nothing was breathtaking, it was a pleasant film to look at.

The only few criticisms I have to say about the film is that its tone often feels abit off. Halfway through the film, there is a moment where the robot translates Mai’s Dog so that it can understand the dog. The Dog then continues throughout the rest of the film to be a wisecracking animal with an attitude and a potty mouth voiced by Michael Peña. I’m not sure if it was to have some sort of comedic relief via Disney talking animal or what, but it felt jarring. The movie also did not know if it wanted to be a superhero movie like Big Hero 6 or a fish-out-of-water story like The Iron Giant (those darn comparisons showing up again!) But when the film finds itself, it is a wonderful experience.

Next Gen is a solid movie, with a good general appeal to all audiences. It has nice visuals, decent storyline, and characters who can easily hold your interest for the entire running time. It may not be the next IPhone, but at least you don’t have to deal with waiting in line to see it.

Next Gen is streaming on Netflix now

Movie, ReviewsAdam Hoeft