Spoiler Alert: The following post contains spoilers for the ending of Netflix's Extinction.
"Machines are going to take over the world!"
That's a real fear, as illustrated by a nicely hyperbolic Forbes article from 2017. It's also the driving force behind Extinction, Netflix's latest end-of-the-world fare. (It's other apocalypse movie released this summer, a flick called How It Ends, sucked.) Extinction, directed by Ben Young, seems like a basic apocalypse scenario, at least at the outset. Michael Peña (Ant-Man & The Wasp) plays Peter, a man haunted by dreams of a war. He thinks the dreams are prophetic; the war for the world is coming. His wife Alice (Lizzy Caplan) thinks the dreams are signs of mental instability.
They're both wrong. Extinction's big twist is that Peter's dreams are not of the future: They're flashes of the past, when artificial intelligence — robots called "synthetics" or "synth" — took over the world. Peter and Alice are both synths, as are their two children, Hannah (Amelia Crouch) and Lucy (Erica Tremblay, sister to Room's Jacob Tremblay). The synths took over the world 50 years ago, forcing humans to relocate to Mars. The machines have literally taken over the world.
Fifteen minutes into the movie — Extinction is a tight 90 minutes — Peter's dreams start to come true. Spaceships flood Earth, and tall creatures carrying guns invade. Extinction purposefully keeps the creatures vague. The camera never fully rests on them, leaving them to be general "evil alien" types for the first part of the invasion. They make chirping sounds not unlike the demogorgon in Stranger Things. They are tall and lanky, not unlike every character played by Doug Jones.
After Alice gets injured, Peter corners one, shouting, "Why are you here?" That's what you might shout at an alien invader. This invader isn't alien, though. The creature removes its mask and reveals himself to be human named Miles (Israel Broussard).
Miles knows everything there is to know about synths, which is why he sticks around: Peter needs his knowledge of AI in order to save Alice.
"I remember the war. You guys tried to wipe us out," he tells Peter. From there, the rest of the details fall into place: Why Peter's flashbacks are so vivid, why David (Mike Coulter) was so prepared for this battle. Like The Others, Extinction decides to complicate things by making the victims the villains. The AI war is labelled a "genocide" and, when Miles recalls the war, he seems horrified.
But, then again, when synths didn't rule the world, they were scum. An even earlier flashback shows Alice being abused by her human employer. ("Pick up your shit, you stupid synth," she snarls.) Peter saw this encounter, and went to comfort Alice, starting their eventual relationship. After the synths rebelled, a company called Whole Life wiped the memory of the war from the minds of the synths. The synths also presumably don't age — Miles' grandfather fought in a war against Peter and Alice, who look no different 50 years later.
In The Others, Nicole Kidman plays a woman who's discovered that her home is haunted. But it's not actually haunted. She's haunting the house, having died months earlier when she took a shotgun and killed herself and her kids. The haunting she's experiencing is actually the new humans in the home doing their best to live in the home of a dead woman. The movie ends with Kidman clutching her kids and declaring that, in the future, she will adapt to having strangers live in her home.
Consider this the foundation of Extinction. That's actually almost exactly how Extinction ends. Peter saves Alice by jump starting her because, well, they are machines. (He has to slice his chest open to do so.) Then, he shoos Miles away, thanking him for his service. The synths scurry to an underground bunker where, presumably, they'll recoup from the human invasion.
"Our world keeps moving, changing, evolving. And so do we," Peter says in a voiceover. "I know who I am now, and I know my enemy. We're not that different. Maybe, if others can see that, we'll have a future after all."
Okay, point made. Extinction's big twist is that thine enemy is not thine enemy, actually, and we should all be friends. The real twist, though, is that Netflix made a pretty good movie in about 90 minutes — maybe, if others can do the same, we'll have a future with Netflix movies after all.