The latest batch of mind-blowing animation from Netflix’s sci-fi anthology might well be its most creative.
That thing about third times being the charm is true, for Volume 3 of Love, Death & Robots is the best of them all. All nine shorts—that’s one more than Volume 2—have stories with heft and consistency in animation, something that can only be said for a few outings prior. That unevenness plagued Volume 1, which debuted in 2019 with the right level of pomp and over-reliance on wanton sex and gore. For Volume 2 in 2021, a reversal came forth when the animation was filled with purpose and control, but ultimately a majority of the effort was in service of style.
But has the experiment reached its course? As true as it is that Netflix allowed creators Tim Miller and David Fincher to do their own take on Heavy Metal, it’s also Netflix that made the axe fall hard on animated shows promising newness—and departments promoting new voices—to weather losses. LDR is new, fertile ground for new voices in animation to either appear or hone themselves further. More importantly, it’s an outlet for animators to prove their works can still be artful and valid when they aren’t made for kids. That the anthology can disappear, if even it is currently not the case, is saddening. But for the thought to ideate when it has found its peak, maybe there’s some sweetness among the bitter.
Until that moment, here is how each short in Volume 3 fares:
Three Robots: Exit Strategies (Blow Studio)
The studying of humanity’s fall continues when the trio of android-like XBOT 4000 (Gary Anthony Williams), toy-esque K-VRC (Josh Brener) and Siri-voiced party speaker 11-45-G visit where we once lived. Considering how moronic certain factions of society have been in recent years, namely the moneyed and the “‘Murica!” crowds, it’s refreshing to see director Patrick Osborne and writer John Scalzi rip them a new one with a balanced mix of deadpan wit and passive-aggressiveness. And by saving the best one for last, they have rendered this a worthy follow-up. [A-]
Bad Travelling (Blur Studio)
A horrific and darkly gorgeous adaptation of Neal Asher’s story, courtesy of Se7en’s Andrew Kevin Walker, about monsters in the deep and among the crew. Much like Steven Spielberg with Tintin, here viewers get to see a David Fincher who discovers fun (and one epiphany or two, perhaps) as the freedoms inherent in animation present themselves. But in that freedom, the director hasn’t forgotten to deploy his affinity for tangible atmosphere or, through the protagonist Torrin (Troy Baker), complex heroism. [A]
The Very Pulse of the Machine (Polygon Pictures)
What if The Martian, but on Jupiter and drugs that cause hallucinations? In a sense, Emily Dean’s space exploration gone awry tale is the spiritual sequel of Volume 1’s Fish Night as it also flirts with the concept of (suggestive?) transcendence. There are emotional beats amid the increasingly wild, anime-inspired vistas, but in terms of delivery, there is a discrepancy between what you can see versus what you can hear, namely in the impassioned chords of astronaut Martha (Mackenzie Davis). [B-]
Night of the Mini Dead (BUCK)
Big things come from small beginnings, and in this diminutive satire from Robert Bisi and Andy Lyon the zombie apocalypse begins with some bad sexy time. It’s a “get in and get out” kind of short, but that allows the viewers to devote more attention to the tilt-shift stylings that amplify the scope and hilarity of the catastrophe in ways other animation styles can’t do. Remember to turn on the subtitles to catch some of the inane comments that will be heard when the (real) end times are afoot. [B+]
Kill Team Kill (Titmouse, Inc.)
Jennifer Yuh Nelson goes from kung fu panda to killer f***ing grizzly in this extra-overt, hyperviolent hunt to shut down a malfunctioning CIA weapon. If action cinema needs a mirror to show how male-driven, and thus silly in its seriousness, it can get, look no further. The star-studded nature of the short (Joel McHale, Seth Green, Gabriel Luna, and prolific voice actors Steve Blum & Andrew Kishino) both reinforces the point and adds a Jackass twang to the gratuitous bloodletting. [B]
Swarm (Blur Studio)
Two scientists, Drs. Afriel (Jason Winston George) and Mirny (Rosario Dawson), learn that their experiments within an alien nest will set in motion a devastating plan. While not the only short in the Volume to tackle the ills of capitalistic tendencies, Tim Miller’s adaptation of Bruce Sterling’s novelette is the most arresting with awe-inducing compositions and fusion of sensuality into the animation’s fluidity. The ending might divide viewers into a camp that thinks it’s only climactic for the brain and another that, if the Three Robots sequel is an indicator, believes just the first half of the story has been told. [A-]
Mason’s Rats (Axis Studios)
And the war between farmer Mason (Craig Ferguson) and a literal rat army is on. Despite the premise and grisly manner whenever a rodent is exterminated, Carlos Stevens’ short is the tenderest of the bunch. Sometimes dialogue is the best weapon to bring to battle. It’d be free, too, which is something that can’t be said to the mad devices the Beavis-esque salesman Nigel (Dan Stevens) won’t stop hyping up. Look out for a missable reference to the setting of the short, specifically a world post-World War III. [B+]
In Vaulted Halls Entombed (Sony Pictures Imageworks)
Having covered luck in Volume 1, director Jerome Chen tackles the opposite in Volume 3. In his following of a squadron (Christian Serratos, Joe Manganiello, Jai Courtney and others) awakening an ancient evil during a hostage extraction, Chen channels the uninhibited energy of late 90s–early aughts gun-toting horror cinema where every aspect feels colossal and the specter of illogic raises enjoyment. Think Deep Rising or Ghosts of Mars. Although Swarm also plays around with scale, In Vaulted Halls Entombed emerges as the winner in making it stirring. You will be convinced that the thing growling “release me” should never see its wish granted. [B+]
Assuming that Netflix isn’t tinkering with the viewing order, Volume 3 also legitimizes another adage—that of “saving the best for last.” Alberto Mielgo’s riff on the siren mythology is thrilling and ovation-worthy, with its parts together gelling and functioning as a unit so well it generates an irresistible pull. Yes, even if the song is more like a scream, sometimes accompanied with rave beats. Yes, even when Mielgo’s keyframing fuses grunge into the fantasy-Conquistador setting. It’s fine to boil the short down into a fatal attraction between the titular deaf knight (stuntman Girvan ‘Swirv’ Bramble) and the bejeweled aquatic maiden (looking a lot like Zawora of Volume 1’s The Witness), but it will be better to read it as an especial condemnation of greed. [A+]
Love, Death & Robots is currently streaming on Netflix.