Written by: Jeff Vintar & Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride
Fears surrounding the dangers of artificial intelligence have not been necessarily used sparingly in the science-fiction genre but even with all of the warnings these stories tell, we’re seemingly running into the same future. An era where automation threatens to lull us to sleep to the point where our creations begin to dictate the terms to the creators. This fear gets utilized to a tremendously entertaining degree in I, Robot even when the story takes itself a bit too seriously at times.
Harboring major mistrust towards robots that have pretty much become a pet to citizens living in 2035, Del Spooner (Will Smith) investigates the apparent suicide of a famous creator of a new line of robots. As he uncovers more about potential foul play involved, he runs into a robot named Sonny, which seemingly has a sense of free will absent from other robots, thus uncovering more secrets behind the death of this inventor.
Starting out stating the laws of what a robot can and cannot do sets the foundation for much of the discussion in I, Robot. A feature film both trying to be entertaining but also dig into some larger philosophical ideas about free will in regards to these robots seeing as they have three laws programmed into their hardware. Robots must follow a command given by a human, cannot harm a human, but can defend themselves as long as it does not interfere with the first two laws. These established rules, which everyone knows about, make the case that Spooner refuses to let go that much more difficult. He believes there to be more foul play, but when the prime suspect proves to be a robot, it does not match up with their programming.
This breakthrough makes the robot Sonny so intriguing to follow in this story as he begins to bend the expectations of what a robot can realistically express and do. This becomes at its most evident with a particular conversation held by Spooner and Sonny with the robot held in custody. Spooner sees with his own eyes this robot shows more human tendencies and emotions than the people around him, especially with the robot erupting in anger from accusations of being a killer. A powerful scene in trying to decipher the truth about this character and what its purpose serves for the larger story is still shrouded in mystery.
With this film coming out in 2004, the chances of the special effects not holding up 17 years later sat at quite an alarming rate, especially with the reliance on having robots jumping all over the place. Rewatching this film showed that most of it still looks fairly good all of these years later. A major part of it comes from the look of these robots and the fear they pose as pure machines versus the malleability of humans. When some turn evil and begin to attack the humans, the effects hold up well in creating this potential menace and only further reinforcing the dangers of turning potentially smarter and stronger than us into subservient beings considering they can turn the tables at any moment.
Additionally, this serves as yet another film where we get a glimpse of what a future could potentially look like. In this version of Chicago in 2035, there are self-driving cars that can move incredibly quickly and of course, robots that can handle any errands we do not want to take on. It serves the purpose of showing us the possible technological advances we could achieve in the coming years, but also the looming threat of what overreliance on these technologies could mean for our society. Spooner very much represents one of those individuals who refuses to go all-in with the future by keeping a gas-fueled motorcycle for use and even an actual CD player. The fact those machines have aged already from 2004 could probably cause a shiver down the spine of many already. Let’s see what we can achieve in 14 more years, but I doubt it will match what gets portrayed in this film. At the very least, with the robot apocalypse, we can hope we do not reach it.
As one can imagine, things get a bit wild in this film and Will Smith meets this particular hilarity with his performance as Spooner. Working on two levels of taking this all seriously, but also knowing the wacky nature of the action scenes. I mean, you have a sequence where Spooner rides his motorcycle up a ramp to shoot his guns at some menacing robots where the flying motorcycle then wipes out a few more. This film knows what kind of action it brings and goes fully on board with it all, which continually adds entertaining segments to the feature, which gets a bit too serious at times.
Admittedly, a favorite from my childhood and one that can harshly show the impact of artificial intelligence, I, Robot brings the heat while also trying to have some heady conversations about this topic. The technological advances add some extra spice to the story as we have an existential robot trying to figure out its purpose. This film works on different levels of silliness and seriousness but never was there a whiplash because of it as it all comes seamlessly together.