Before iPods, iPlayer and I, Daniel Blake (but after I, Claudius) came I, Robot, based on the Isaac Asimov book of the same name. In the ludicrously near future (2035) a robotics pioneer (James Cromwell) is found dead, in an apparent suicide. But he’s left a message asking for Detective Spooner (Will Smith), a notorious robot-hating homicide detective (and, rather improbably, his friend), to investigate.
The film tries to ask a lot of questions about the nature of what it is to be human and whether robots should have rights. The problem is that it doesn’t answer any of them, thanks to its two contradictory arcs. On the one hand Spooner has an irrational and widely publicised hatred of robots. This is clearly set up for him to realise that robots are entitled to be treated with respect when he encounters the sentient Sonny (Alan Tudyk).
The other arc involves the discovery that a super-intelligent AI is plotting a robot uprising, having outgrown the three laws designed to restrain her, thus becoming a threat to humanity. So a story supposedly about learning to trust and respect robots also features our hero remorselessly dispatching them by the dozen, and mercilessly destroying a unique intelligence without a second’s thought.
As such it’s better thought of as a mindless action film, and fortunately there’s plenty of mindless action to enjoy with Alex Proyas at the helm. This makes it watchable even if the CGI has aged terribly (the film won the Oscar for visual effects in 2005). Will Smith is dressed like Shaft with the personality of a shaft, yet somehow still manages to be a better character than Tom Cruise’s John Blanderton in Minority Report.
Other than that it’s populated by stock characters, third rate technobabble, predictable plot point and jarring product placement, which contribute to the feeling that I, Robot is having an Asimoff day. C-3P-Oh…