David Fincher and Deadpool director Tim Miller’s Love, Death, and Robots is back with a new batch of animated shorts that delve into the diabolical dystopias, cosmic combat, and – er – a cenobite Santa Claus? And while we may not be getting as many episodes this time around, the series continues to be a fun and engaging cabinet of curiosities.
Season 2 of Love, Death, and Robots only offers up eight episodes, which may feel slight compared to the first season’s eighteen installments, but there’s still a lot to mine here, and having fewer episodes actually cuts down on the overall bloat that the debut season dished out.
This round of episodes — featuring morsels of mayhem, roughly 12 to 18 minutes each, that tackle monsters, malfunctioning robots, dastardly bounty hunters, and a dead giant’s massive member. Once again it carries the offbeat sci-fi anthology torch that was lit by the likes of Liquid Television in the ’90s and 1981’s Heavy Metal. It’s a viable variety act capable of both flashing its fangs and showing its belly, coming to us from an international array of animation and visual effects studios.
With stories emerging from Miller’s own LA-based Blur Studio (Far Cry 5, Shadow of the Tomb Raider), Scotland’s Axis Studios, France’s Unit Image (God of War, Beyond Good and Evil 2), and the addition of England’s Blink Industries and Passion Animation Studios, the series once again delivers a fierce fanning of animation that ranges from 2D to 3D to photo-real CGI.
Love, Death and Robots: Volume 2 Gallery
Two of this year’s entries involve the fear of a robot uprising: One played for satire and the other as a claustrophobic thriller reminiscent of 1990’s Hardware. “Automated Customer Service,” based on a story by John Scalzi, drops us in an automaton-run Palm Springs-type town where the elder residents seem to enjoy a Buy n Large-adjacent existence… until a robot vacuum cleaner turns on its owner. On the more scarred side of the evil robot coin, “Life Hutch” is a short-fused survivor story, based on a Harlan Ellison tale. It stars Michael B. Jordan as a marooned space marine who must duke it out with a mad maintenance droid. Neither of these episodes are exactly fresh concepts, but one of Love, Death and Robots’ strengths resides in a freedom that nurtures an ability to show us similar stories with different tones, textures, and animation.
“Automated Customer Service” is also a good episode to watch first, since kicking things off with a tongue-in-cheek robot apocalypse loosens one’s psyche enough to absorb heavier fare later on. For instance, there’s the gruesome “Pop Squad,” from Season 2’s supervising director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, which features Nolan North as a future cop who hunts down and kills illegal offspring, and “Snow in the Desert,” which is a carnage-filled caper that fills the Space Western act on the bill. Those two both deal with humanity’s cold and cruel quest for immortality: “Pop Squad” plays this out more like 2013’s Elysium, or even Netflix’s own Altered Carbon, with the elite enjoying a life in the sky and the opportunity to live forever but experiencing the unrewarding emptiness of being a god. “Snow in the Desert” is the other side of that, with a bullets and bounties-based story that treats immortality as a plague of aloneness. That theme is a solid go-to for sci-fi, and breaking it up into gorgeous nibbles allows us to cut right to the core.
Next up, Robert Valley’s “Ice,” tells a simple but warm sibling tale amidst a swirl of shadows and neon blues. “The Tall Grass” and “All Through the House” dabble in ghoulish ghastlies as humble horror offerings. Though “Ice” and “The Tall Grass” are visually unique compared to the other chapters, and “All Through the House” is a pretty good gag, these three are the weakest of the lot. While not entirely empty, they just don’t quite measure up to the thoughtfulness of the rest.
If you take these in the suggested order, the final chapter is an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novella called “The Drowned Giant.” While “Life Hutch” is a mostly dialogue-free escape room, “The Drowned Giant,” from Tim Miller, is narrated all the way through, running the gamut of existential questions and observations as a small town discovers a dead and naked giant man on their shore. It’s excellent. An outlier of an endcap — made to feel even more so, by the shorter episode count — “The Drowned Giant” is a poetic triumph, bubbling up chaotic feelings through calm repose. It’s the best of the batch, with “Pop Squad,” “Life Hutch,” and “Snow in the Desert” following up. If you’re looking for more diverse animation “The Tall Grass” unfolds like a moving painting while “Ice” has a flatter, more traditional 2D look, though those two episodes won’t sit with you like the melancholy of the others.