Just by virtue of being a smaller, lesser-known project with a scrappy underdog mentality, Automata has an instant advantage over similar sci-fi dystopias of recent memory like Elysium, the Dredd remake, Oblivion and the godawful In Time. The comparison to Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and his earlier District 9 is especially unavoidable, as the world-building employed here is every bit as important and every bit as impressive. This is a distinct Earth that’s very unlike our own, but it doesn’t take a second to get used to.
The credits sequence says it all, really: our ecosystem has crumbled and our atmosphere has become unbearable, and so the future humankind invents a whole host of technological solutions: mechanical “clouds” that produce fake rain and shield our planet, massive walls that keep the desert from encroaching upon our cities, and most importantly a vast array of “automata” – robot slaves who weld our machines, cook our food, wash our dishes and wipe our asses when we get old. The credits sequence already pulls a 180 on us, though, by depicting this future as the past. By the time the events of Automata take place, humankind is jaded to the wonders of these technological advances, and the automata themselves seem to have become a bit jaded too.