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I, Robot (2004)

What will you do with yours?

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 115 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

In the year 2035, detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is something of a misfit. He wears retro clothes (including vintage 2004 trainers), he likes to drive his futuristic car manually, and he has a profound distrust of robots – even though all robots are hardwired with a set of three laws preventing them from causing, or even allowing, humans to come to harm.

Just as the huge corporation US Robotics is launching a new model of robot onto the mass market, Del is summoned to investigate the apparent suicide of one of the company’s founding scientists, Dr Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who had invented the three laws. Assisted by roboticist Dr Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), Del follows a trail of breadcrumbs leading to Sonny (Alan Tudyk), a unique and uniquely temperamental robot with an identity crisis, an unknown purpose, and a head full of dreams (and we are not talking dreams of electric sheep). As Del comes under increasing attack from robots that are supposed to protect him, it becomes clear that Sonny holds the key to the salvation – or destruction – of humankind.

Starting life as a script by Jeff Vintar entitled ‘Hardwired’, ‘I, Robot’ was then reworked by Akiva Goldsman (‘A Beautiful Mind’) who appropriated the film’s title, the principle of the three laws of robotics, and the characters of Alfred Lanning and (a younger) Susan Calvin, from Isaac Asimov’s ground-breaking collection of short stories. Like Minority Report, it features an unexpected yet logical flaw in an apparently perfect system of the future (and a bunch of flashbacks to do with a drowning); like ‘Blade Runner’, it explores the point at which distinctions between human and android start to break down; and like both those films, its science fiction is wrapped in a palatable detective plot full of fast-moving chases and die-hard action. Yet what makes ‘I, Robot’ stand out is its vision of a future that, for all its metaphorical darkness, is lit to look surprisingly bright – even though the film is directed by Alex Proyas, who previously brought us the sombre gothic landscapes of ‘The Crow’ and ‘Dark City’. Whether this lightness sets the right tone will depend on the tastes of the viewer – but it does make it easier to see the magnificent design work that has gone into Chicago’s treeless cityscape of the future.

For a film that pits man against machine, ‘I, Robot’ strikes a fine balance between the amazingly expressive computer generated imagery used to create its legions of robots, and the all too human presence of Will Smith whose typical wise-ass delivery keeps things grounded. The plot makes good sense only so long as you do not think about it too hard, but as a summer crowd-pleaser with edge-of-your-seat pacing and spectacular stunts, ‘I, Robot’ would be hard to beat.

It's Got: A wise-cracking detective who is so superstitious that he listens to Superstitious first thing in the morning; a cat-rescuing dash through a collapsing building; a soulful robot messiah; a gun-toting motorcycle stunt so hyperkinetically over-the-top that you will not know whether to laugh or gasp; and the most vertiginous climax since Darkman.

It Needs: A plot with fewer obvious holes in it.


This crowd-pleasing tale of android revolution and evolution is as sleek, efficient and dynamic as a robot – and, but for the presence of Will Smith, just as soulless.