If you’re considering watching Netflix’s new animated movie “NEXT GEN” with your kids… I’d recommend holding off on that for a moment.
We watched it.
And usually, I might reserve a review for a week when I don’t have anything else scheduled… but I feel strongly enough about this that I decided to go ahead and hit “publish” tonight.
And I really wish I could get that hour and forty-five minutes of my life back.
As one who loves story-telling in many forms: books, movies, TV shows, country songs… I have no problem stopping mid-story. I’ve closed, turned off, or walked out of many a movie/television show and never looked back. So, if I stick with something, I can usually give it at least 3 stars. You’ve read my reviews here. Even my “meh” reviews are pretty nice. I tend to mostly talk about things I like, because I want to share my fantastic finds with you.
But every so often, I find one that I feel I need to give fair warning about.
Next Gen is just such a one.
The following review contains spoilers!
The trailer looked cute. It was a little reminiscent of Big Hero 6, which I loved, and I was hopeful for that sort of fun, action-packed, emotional, adorable sort of story.
What I got was a mash-up of I, Robot meets Terminator meets The Goonies.
Now, before you get all nostalgic on me… I don’t mean that in a good way.
Take away the good parts of those movies. That’s what you’re left with in Next Gen.
Meet Mai. A troubled young girl whose father walked out when she was young. Mai lives in a world where robots are everywhere, helping humans with everything, even things they don’t need help with (including a ramen-like container of soup that sings and asks questions about how it tastes and then politely throws itself away when you’re finished). Virtual Reality games have also taken over everyone’s lives. Robots do all the main work, and even provide the entertainment and play sports against each other.
Of course, this begs the question: What do humans actually do? How do they make money to afford all their things? This question is never addressed nor answered in the movie. Even at school, the teacher sits in the corner playing video games, having handed over her lecturing duties to a robot.
Speaking of school: At school, Mai is bullied by the “popular” crowd who like to watch their robots play soccer after school and Greenwood, the leader of this crowd, will not allow Mai to join them. When Mai attempts to do so, Greenwood orders her robots to beat Mai up.
Mai’s mom is obsessed with robots, as is most everyone else on the planet. This leads her to neglect her daughter, instead immersing herself in computer games and ordering her robots around.
One day, Mai meets a strange robot (Project-77) who follows her home and begs to be her friend. Upon discovering that the robot can shoot lasers and missiles and turn its arms into a light-saber-esque blade, she realizes that she can use this newfound friendship for good and becomes a vigilante fighting crime and…
….what? Oh… no, wait… that would have been a cool story…. my bad…
Instead, troubled, neglected, bullied Mai takes Project-77 on a self-serving cruise of juvenile delinquency. Together they blast mailboxes, shoot down various robots passing by, spray-paint billboards, and generally create havoc and mayhem. She lies, sneaks around behind her mom’s back, and uses emotional manipulation to get 77 to do whatever she wants, accusing him of not liking her anymore when he politely suggests that maybe they could spend one day a week not doing something destructive. Mai sics her newfound friend on the bullies at school, becoming an even worse bully herself, to the point where she even orders her robot to “blast” Greenwood.
When Project-77 calls her out on this, Mai tries to back-pedal, claiming she didn’t mean to kill her, just to beat her up.
Why is it that the robot in this movie is the only one with a conscience?
Meanwhile, 77 is dealing with his own issues. He was wounded early on in the movie, and had to remove his extra memory dimm. So, as he creates memories with Mai each day, each evening he is forced to choose which of those memories to delete and lose forever. After the incident with Mai telling him to murder her classmate, 77 decides his weapons are not as important as his memories, and deletes them so that he can keep more of his memories.
Fast-forward to the main villain of the plot, the guy creating all the robots (spoiler alert… he’s a robot himself who has stolen the body of his creator and is using it to place robots in every home who all have a very unique feature: they turn into bombs). See, his creator named him “perfect” and told him to go and spread perfection across the world, and he took that to mean that he should wipe out humanity, starting with his creator.
Of course, the villain finds Mai just moments after 77 has deleted his weapons-controls. He does his best to fight off the villain and his killer robot-security-guard, but the villain manages to abduct Mai’s mother.
The movie ends with a montage of ridiculously contrived battle-sequences, in which Mai and Greenwood end up working on the same side and Greenwood both apologizes for how she’s been acting and then proves that she’s not a heartless jerk nor a sniveling coward by helping in the battle.
Seeing Mai in mortal peril, 77 begins a full-system reboot, which not only restores his weapons one at a time, but also deletes all of his memories as he battles the villain while he can still remember who the villain is… eventually, Project-77 emerges victorious, but he has reverted to his factory-default settings and has no memories of Mai, just as Mai realizes that the robot’s memories actually ARE important in a big, climactic *ALL THE FEELS* moment that ultimately fell flat, since I didn’t think Mai’s biggest issue actually had anything to do with her opinion of the robot’s memories one way or another. The movie ends with her beginning a new friendship with him and rehabilitating him.
Sounds kinda cute, huh?
So what are my problems with the movie?
1. The lack of consequences. It really bothered me that Mai never suffers a single consequence for any of her angry, cruel, destructive actions. She goes from being an angry brat to a crime-committing juvenile delinquent to a young person so consumed by their own rage and wallowing self-pity that she very nearly commits murder. While Greenwood later apologizes for her unkindness, Mai never does. There is never any remorse shown for the desire to murder her classmate, only anger that the robot wouldn’t back her up.
2. The “parent is an idiot” trope. Mai’s mother is not only neglectful and distant, she’s also a completely self-absorbed ditz. Even at the end, when she is grappling with the villain to keep him from killing her daughter, her every line and every move is nothing more than the punch-line of a very bad joke… a very un-funny joke.
3. The dog. I didn’t mention him in the plot-deconstruction… but Mai owns a small dog that Project-77 can actually understand. This could have been entertaining, if the dog weren’t a vile, foul-mouthed creature whose every line contained a “bleep” noise to cover the swear words he was saying.
4. Speaking of “bleep” noises… they also occur throughout the movie from other characters. What isn’t bleeped out are multiple instances of “Oh my G**”, which I find offensive anyway, but 1000 times more-so in a children’s cartoon. What’s more, the bleeped out words were done so very poorly. I could definitely tell which words they had put in the script that I was “not supposed” to be able to decipher. Many of them were poorly bleeped-out “F” words.
5. There is also rather a lot of violence and creepy imagery. Very “Terminator” level violence, but animated. Generally, violence is not something I’m bothered by, but this movie pushed my limits on what I consider appropriate in a film, especially one targeting the age-range this movie targets.
6. The poor storytelling. There were so many issues with the story… let me count the ways… from recycling the plot of every single “AI Gains Sentience, Decides Humans are the Problem that Must be Eliminated” stories to the incredibly unbelievable society in which nobody needs to work, apparently, because robots do everything, to the poor character development (which was so bad as to be practically non-existent). Even the big, climactic “aha” moment for Mai fell short of its mark, because what Mai really needed was (as Marilla Cuthbert would say) “A darn good spanking.” Perhaps “the world doesn’t revolve around me” or “two wrongs don’t make a right” or “just because someone hurts me, doesn’t mean that I should go on a rampage committing petty crimes and escalate to attempted murder” all would have been far better realizations for her to have. But that is not what the writers/directors decided to do. But honestly, the next thing that hurts Mai’s feelings could easily be the plot line of the sequel, because I don’t think she’s learned her lesson.
The only thing I loved about this movie… was Project-77′s selfless act of sacrifice. Giving up what he believed to be the most precious thing he possessed, his memories, the things that made him who he was, his very essence… for a bratty little girl who didn’t care about him beyond how she could use him to further her own agenda… that single, solitary, tiny, momentary glimpse of a portrait of Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” was the sole redeeming factor in the movie.