From the transparent, gratuitous opening shower and pumping iron scenes, Detective Spooner (Will Smith) is showing off for the ladies in what we all know will fundamentally be another robots gone bad movie.
All the trailers and secrecy in the world can’t shroud the obvious facts that this is a plotline seen so many times in film history that there just has to be something fresh to make it come off well. I was hopeful, as I’m sure other Asimov fans will be too and that is the slant for this review.
Apparently the screenwriters — credited to Jeff Vintar, titling and inspiration paying homage to Isaac Asimov, but reworked by others — were all too fascinated with Robin Williams gripping human robot portrayal in Bicentennial Man and Arnold Schwarznegger in Terminator and have tried — and failed — to faithfully reproduce either the humanity, drama and/or interest in either of those storylines. Instead, viewers are left with a somewhat shallow, robot-hating protagonist (Smith) running around in a cliched plotline that has more holes in it than a gopher-infested backyard.
They do get the action stuff right though. Well, sort of.
Somewhere the late, great Isaac Asimov is muttering uncontrollably over the butchering of his penned famous Three Laws of Robotics. The gist of these Laws is that robots will be manufactured with their positronic brains being forced to adhere to these Laws. It will be a part of the chip and made so that it cannot be reprogrammed. But I, Robot shows absolutely zero respect for these Laws or to Asimov’s vision of their implementation.
According to I, Robot plot logic (er, illogic) there is a way to get around this with — say it isn’t so — programming? Asimov postulated that the Laws would be enforced through hardware and yet I, Robot talks about a daily computer uplink — which turns the blue robots chests to red and calls home to the mother brain — as being the ticket for Viki, the super brain, to reprogram the bots to do its bidding. Hardware being reprogrammed? Ok, ok, so maybe it’s some super futuristic flash ROM type memory, but tech geeks immediately are going to be doubtful of the technology angle and that any serious robot makers in the present or future would ever allow entire reprogramming through a daily — and quite hackable — network uplink. Doh!
So the writers have provided an all too convenient and totally contrived plot device for getting around these Laws which goes against everything that Asimov preached in his writings and beliefs about how robots could safely and usefully be introduced into society.
Could things go wrong even with these Laws implemented with Asimov’s vision? Sure, that’s what his great stories were all about (go read them if you haven’t), but this foundation is almost entirely missing from the movie which bears the same title. In my opinion, that’s a travesty.
I’m absolutely certain that Mr. Asimov were he still alive would be at the very least disappointed that his name, and book title were used like a kitty litter box. He was all about responsible science and I, Robot is all about popcorn thrills and how we should all fear the coming of the bots. Please. There were so many other stories that could have been written that viewers didn’t need this hackneyed action flick exercise for the zillionth viewing.
Hollywood has been going downhill in the summer blockbuster department for awhile, opting
for fancy, expensive CGI effects as opposed to skilled acting and writing. When and if the day comes that the movie studios get hurt in the wallet over this practice, moviegoers will not have to suffer through these cool special effects with subpar acting and anemic plotlines.
On the positive side these special effects are addictive, and I’d be not forthcoming if I said I didn’t enjoy them. The robots look very intriguing with a special calming blue-white metallic design that is very much like the suits from Tron and yet when
the bots need to be menacing they deliver with that eerie red glow chest plate. Nice effect!
I honestly thought from the trailers of I, Robot that this would be a really cool movie that was more faithful to the outstanding Asimov stories, but I was totally wrong: it’s really just another poorly realized science fiction summer blockbuster vehicle for a typed Will Smith. Seen Men In Black or its sequel? Then you’ve seen Will Smith
acting already. Consider I, Robot sort of an unofficial third sequel. The names and dialogue are different but the character is the same.
And what about the acting?
Missing is any chemistry with another actor like with Men in Black there was the gruff, but brilliant Tommy Lee Jones, but here is only the limp skilled scientist Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) too often muddling through her lines as emotionlessly as reading off cue cards.
Seen Terminator or any of its sequels (particular T2)? Been there done that.
James Cromwell posthumously provides some skilled acting as Dr. Alfred Lanning, but there
just isn’t enough of him. The devices used to insert him into the story are clever, but serve as one-way communication to the audience. Will Smith just seems lost through most of the movie, searching for somebody to passionately interact with before the credits roll.
I found myself just not caring all that much about the protagonist or any of the characters (including humanity) despite the well intentioned but failed attempt to provide backstory for why Detective Spooner is a robophobe.
So what’s to actually like about this movie? The sound effects are effective and the scoring is well done. The timing of the sounds and suspense are good. The action scenes are engaging and what viewers will expect from a summer blockbuster. The fight scenes are
especially cool but again just way too unrealistic. This all adds up to three stars at least to me, but I knocked off one star because of so many moments where the plausibility was strained.
For example, one scene has Detective Spooner incredibly fighting off hordes of robots while driving 125 MPH and then spinning inside his car fast enough to make a seasoned astronaut puke. Time and again, I said to myself: never happen. Sure, most movies can
never happen, that’s the point: escape reality and have fun, but stretch plausibility too much and it ruins the experience. That’s the coup de grace with I, Robot.
Bottom line: if you are/were a fan or purist of Asimov’s stories and/or expecting something faithful to the stories then forget it. If you are looking for something fun and aren’t concerned about plausibility and/or have never even read the Asimov stories, then you might wait for it on DVD or catch the matinee. The theater we went to was barely a
quarter-full as opposed to Spiderman 2 on opening day being completely full.
As a self-admitted geek, I was positronically disappointed. Grade: D
Note: I’m on vacation currently but took time out to see this movie and thought I’d pass along this review. It also appears at Things That … Make You Go Hmm