Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: (loosely) based on the classic story collection by Issac Asimov written by Jeff Vintar, Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Will Smith, Bidget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Chi McBride, Jerry Wasserman, Terry Chen, Aaron Douglas, Shia LeBeouf and more
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Detective Del Spooner is a throwback; he has retro style from his old-style sneakers to his confrontational, belligerent, and skeptical attitude (of which he has plenty), he’s an old-school cop with an old school approach to solving crimes and intentionally annoying people. Spooner is the chief protagonist in this suspenseful, murder mystery, thriller of a crime drama that takes place in the future world of 2035. This movie feels like a modern take on the classic murder mystery/detective story genre that was immensely popular during the 30’s through the 60’s. The future depicted in the movie is one full of robots. Their behavior gets controlled by Asimov’s three laws of robotics which the film’s narrative revolves around, but that’s where the similarity between this film and Asimov’s stories begins and ends.
The robots are everywhere; they are a part of life that everyone takes for granted, everyone but Spooner, that is, and soon after the film begins, there’s a shot of a street scene full of the mechanical servants. As far as I could tell, this scene was intended to make sure anyone watching the movie knows that’s the way things are in the not-so-far-away-future. Spooner has an intense dislike and distrust of them because one of them rescued him from a car crash but left a 12-year-old girl to die because her survival was statistically less likely than his. Spooner’s critical injuries were repaired with a cybernetic left arm, lung, and ribs, personally implanted by the co-founder of US Robots and Mechanical Men (USR), Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell). USR is a vast corporate entity reminiscent of Apple or something similar in today’s world, and they are about to introduce a new, more advanced model to replace all of their older devices.
When Dr. Lansing dies, the apparent victim of suicide, the facts don’t add up, and Spooner suspects murder. At this point, the movie takes on the feel of a classic detective story with plenty of suspects to go around. His investigation meets a lot of resistance in the form of USR’s attorney’s and the company’s CEO, who in turn, makes Spooner’s boss antagonistic towards him also. Along the way, he meets Susan Calvin, USR’s robot psychologist who worked closely with Lanning, and together they discover Sonny, a prototype of the company’s new NS-5 model robot. It soon becomes apparent that Sonny is different from most robots and says and does things that other robots would not say or do. Sonny is Spooner’s chief suspect for what he feels sure was the murder of his friend Lanning, and he leads Spooner on a merry chase for a while before being apprehended.
Subsequent attempts on Spooner’s life, one in a house scheduled for demolition that begins with him still inside it, and another on the freeway when he gets suddenly attacked by a pair of massive trucks that start spewing a plethora of robots that attack his car while it is traveling at super-high speeds. These events are (two of the film’s set pieces that are both enjoyably entertaining) meant to demonstrate there’s something more involved here than Spooner initially suspects and he doggedly follows the clues until they lead him to the real culprit behind the crimes and the attempts on his life. The film culminates with the new robots attempting to enforce a takeover in the form of robotic authoritarian governance that immediately results in chaos. These events shift the movie seamlessly from suspenseful crime drama to a slick science fiction techno-dystopian thriller.
I, Robot mostly succeeds in a lot of what it sets out to do, and the result is an enjoyable and entertaining movie. I noticed when looking the film up at Rotten Tomatoes it had a significantly higher rating with audiences than it did with critics. It is a film with a dual personality; a homage to the classic murder mysteries/detective stories, and a slick science fiction thriller that mostly succeeds in shifting seamlessly between the two. The special effects are spectacular especially the design of the Ns-5 robots and the film is visually stunning in the places intended to be that way with some memorably inventive robot filled action packed scenes.
Smith is playing Smith as he has been prone to do for the last decade or so. He always seems to play the same character in every film, and either you like him or you don’t. The supporting cast does an excellent job, Moynahan is believable as the cold and clinical psychologist revealed to be hiding behind her work because she is afraid to leave herself emotionally vulnerable. Chi Mcbride is enjoyable as always in his role as the sort of bombastic character he usually ends up playing, and Tudyk is especially effective and enjoyable as the voice of Sonny who seems, as is the intent in these sorts of stories, to be more human than his actual human counterparts. Revisiting the film the other night, I, Robot left me with the impression of it being a good solid film whose only mistake may have been borrowing the title of the classic collection of stories by Asimov.