Perhaps you’ve noticed that Netflix has been dropping major dough on acquiring studio films in the past year or so—international rights to Annihilation from Paramount, exclusivity for Andy Serkis’s Mowgli from Warner Brothers, and the Michael Peña and Lizzy Caplan sci-fi feature Extinction from Universal. Extinction hit Netflix on Friday, and yet for some reason it doesn’t exist in the Netflix Media Center anymore (meaning there are no media assets or a press contact available), and maybe that’s because Extinction is rough.
Frustratingly stilted, poorly written, and narratively nonsensical, Extinction is quite possibly the least original sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen. You want clichés, YOU GET ALL THE CLICHÉS! Characters are plagued by visions they can’t explain! Society is regimented and bland, and things seem wrong. Aliens make insect noises like the Prawns in District 9 for no good reason! Annoying children are extra annoying in the face of an invading force! The very first thing you guess about Extinction will be what ends up happening, so let’s jump right into spoilers, because FUCK IT!
SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILERS TO COME SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE
About 10 minutes into the movie, my partner goes, “I bet the wife is a cyborg,” and hell yeah, everyone in this damn thing ends up being a cyborg! The film focuses on Peña’s character, Peter, an electrician who has been plagued by visions he can’t explain: ships arriving in the night, shooting him and his neighbors; two bodies lay dead in the street, looking like Peter and his wife Alice (Caplan); a mob holds signs about humans’ rights; and Peter overhears a conversation about how humans and another group aren’t equal, and that humans need to be protected in case they end up wiped out.
The visions are keeping him from sleeping, they’re distracting him professionally and personally, and they’re driving a wedge between Peter and Alice and their two daughters, elder Hanna (Amelia Crouch) and younger Lucy (Erica Tremblay). “You don’t need to make excuses for him,” Hanna says to Alice when Peter misses family night because he collapsed from a vision at work, but Peter sticks to the idea that the visions are happening for a reason: “What if I’m meant to be seeing these things?”
And, lo and behold, he ends up being right! Because that same night, hundreds of ships arrive in the night sky, destroying buildings, causing explosions and fires, and killing tons of people. The invaders look sort of like steampunk insects, with golden-hued spheres all over their outfits and oversized facemasks and rubberized black material in their suits, and they make this metallic crackling noise that is extremely played out in this genre. Peter and Alice attack one and steal its gun, and when he follows them into a series of tunnels that run underneath the city, they learn that the aliens …
ARE REALLY HUMAN! WHAT A TWIST!
Yes, the “aliens” are humans, because Alice, Peter, their children, and all their friends …
ARE REALLY CYBORGS! WHAT A TWIST!
Do you remember The Animatrix, in particular the two-part The Second Renaissance? In that short film, humans developed artificial intelligence, an android killed a human in self-defense, humans argue that AI beings are not equal to them, and a revolution occurs in which the androids rise up against the humans, driving them out and creating their own society. That is basically exactly what happens in Extinction, and sure, it’s a narrative that is familiar in most of sci-fi, but how thoroughly this film follows that preceding movie’s beats is disappointingly uncreative.
Peter’s visions are revealed as memories of how he, Alice, and other cyborgs (degradingly called “synthetics”) rebelled against humans, drove them out of Earth to colonies on Mars, wiped their memories out of guilt for how many humans they killed, and then spent 50 YEARS doing the exact same shit humans were doing. They still organized into a capitalist society! They still had jobs! They still decided to live in high-rise apartment buildings! They still took the train to work, and it was probably late all the time! They convinced themselves they were human! WHAT and WHY! You had the chance to build an entirely new thing and y’all just copied the same shit we humans did? Nobody in your society asked any questions when, over the course of 50 years, no one aged, or when your extremely annoying children never grew older? That is not very intelligent, you guys.
So the humans are the invading force. The androids have to fight for their lives. At one point Alice gets injured, and while helping Peter save her (with a sort of jumper cable connecting their bodies, obviously), the helpful human soldier explains his change of heart: “It’s my grandparents you chased off the planet … No one said I’d be coming down here killing kids and families. That’s not what I signed up for.” REALLY? You PURPOSEFULLY SIGNED UP to be part of an invading force motivated by anger and revenge and greed and you DIDN’T THINK taking back an entire planet would involve KILLING THOSE WHO DROVE YOU OUT?
The humans and the androids are both dumb. Everything in Extinction is dumb. Peña (with none of the charisma from Ant-Man and the Wasp) and Caplan have absolutely no chemistry; the production design is uninspired; and there’s no originality here at all. Pass, you guys. Hard pass.