Capsule Review: AXL

Man's worst friend.

If you’re the audience that reads this site, you probably saw the trailer for the robot dog movie and thought it might be a good choice for some afternoon entertainment to share with your kids. They’d get to see a heartwarming story about friendship and responsibility and you’d get to see some bargain-basement Transformers action.

That is not what you’re in for here.

A.X.L. (Attack, Exploration… Logistics?) is the result of a shadowy government contractor which decided murder dogs were the future of the military drone industry because “Dogs are always used in war and have been throughout history.” I mean… sure, sometimes? Mostly the film just opens on a lot of footage of those dog-like Boston Dynamics robots that scientists are always being mean to in those videos that get shared on Facebook. A.X.L. is not one of those dogs.

When murder dog shows up, we get one of the most effective jump scares I’ve seen in years (in a kid’s film) of two glowing red eyes bursting from the darkness. Then protagonist Miles attempts to flee on his dirt bike while the robot chases him. This is all seen through Miles’ GoPro so it’s all heavy breathing and suddenly flashes of movement around the periphery. And those sequences are intercut with A.X.L.’s vision, which is a mix of Predator and Terminator vision. In a film, you know, for kids!

The rest of A.X.L. from this point is Miles hooking up with his heterosexual love interest and Rich Kid Minor Antagonist torturing the dog with a flamethrower while he livestreams the whole thing, which is both unsettling and a pretty accurate assessment of YouTube stars. The US government tries to have the kids killed and the evil contractors scream things like “Unleash the drones; I don’t care if it’s illegal!” We never do get an answer for why anyone would design a barking gatling gun to feel pain and cry out for its suffering to end.

But A.X.L.’s real crime is just how horrifying it would be for a child to experience. A.X.L.’s mouth is full of spinning blades, like the engineering tunnel in Event Horizon. It actively threatens to eat two children by shoving its blades into their faces. The non-action sequences are perhaps are the most upsetting, because the design of this creature is Return to Oz levels of creature discomfort. Its eyes follow you and change colors depending on how angry it is, but the eyes are also at points clearly too far apart and a little cock-eyed, so it’s supposed to be… cute? Zany? But it’s got a gigantic metal death-face?

It is wholly unsettling and I cannot recommend this film for even the most ironic of viewings. But at least Thomas Jane hasn’t aged a day in the last 20 years. Good on him.

VERDICT

NO. Are you kidding me? Did you read a word that I wrote?

Main takeaway: Even if you think it'd be funny to traumatize your children for a laugh, don't. Maybe show them Watership Down instead.