a critiQal film review I, Robot (2004)

Plot: It's Chicago, 2035, and robots are everywhere...but Det. Spooner (Smith) has a thing against robots, despite the 3 Laws of Robotics that protect humans. When USR, the biggest robotic manufacturer in the world, populates almost every home in the world with it's newest robot version, however, one robot seemingly breaks the 3 Laws...and suddenly humanity's chances aren't looking very good.

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  • ...in spite of the film's wide deviation from Asimov's original vision, Will Smith delivers yet another fun summer popcorn flick.

Will Smith has come back from his Wild Wild West (1999) slump with another highly anticipated summer blockbuster. Yes, the recent king of summer blockbusters (Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Bad Boys (1995), etc.) is at it again. But, with I, Robot branching far from it’s popular short stories’ basis, will fans jump again at the chance to see Will in action – or is it time for him to move on to smaller films?

Will Smith doesn’t seem to be as comfortable in I, Robot as he has in his previous summer hits. His acting seems a bit forced and he seems rather more subdued than what we’re used to from Will. It’s unfortunate, and brings down the movie a bit. He does come up with some classic Will lines (“Did you just shoot at me with your eyes closed?!?”), but all in all, it’s a little bit more subdued for him – and this isn’t the right type of film to act subdued in. The other characters do a decent job, but most of them are just background to the incredible robot special effects (more on that later).

Alex Proyas seems to have gone from smaller, impressive action films to big-budget big time, and it’s kinda sad, really. He did an excellent job a few years back on both The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998), both of which seemed to be more in his element. He does a great job when dealing with a few characters in up-close action sequences, and he doesn’t really get a chance to work on that in I, Robot.

This film’s action sequences are more geared toward huge battles between hordes of robots against Will, other hordes of robots, or hordes of people. That realism he brings to the smaller scale fights he’s used to slims up a bit when he has to navigate to such vast battlegrounds, unfortunately. Still, he does manage to make the fights interesting enough, if not up to the viewer’s standards after seeing the epic The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and it’s sequels, where it seemed massive battles was it’s forte.

I, Robot should say it is “loosely based” on the Isaac Asimov collection of short stories by the same name. Or even “based on the same concept” might be a better way of putting it. Fans of the films will not recognize much in this big-screen adaptation, with the exception (of course) of the 3 Laws of Robotics.

Mr. Asimov usually was able to adeptly skirt around the laws in his book while making it entirely plausible. In the film, they seem to almost skirt the laws as an afterthought (as the entire ending of the film seems to be). The film isn’t really concerned with skirting the Laws, as we learn that one of the robots was built to be able to override the Laws. Now how much fun is that? It really takes a lot of the mystery out of the film, and turns it into just another explosion-filled action adventure film.

The special effects are the real star of I, Robot. The vast majority of the scenes involve robots in one way or another, and getting those effects in place was obviously priority number one for the film. Luckily for us, the special effects come through big-time on this film. The new generation of robots are incredibly impressive, and the viewer is easily drawn into this futuristic world by them.

The viewer is even able to readily identify the first robot, Sonny, (who is a bit different from all the others) and tell him apart quite easily from the other robots. Not a bad achievement, considering he looks identical to the other robots of his generation. Maybe they did it with a bit of softening of his humanistic face expressions, I’m not sure. However they did it, it’s still quite an achievement.

So, for all the fans of the book, be prepared: I, Robot is just loosely based on a concept of the sci-fi short stories you know and love. Once you get that out of the way, you’ll be quickly drawn in by the incredible special effects – and even though Will’s performance isn’t up to what you might expect, he still manages to keep the viewer’s interest throughout the film.

Trust me, 15 minutes into I, Robot, and you’ll want to see it through to the end. The ending is a little disappointing, but does wrap up the film nicely. There are a few twists and turns, but you’ll most likely see those coming. Just settle in for a fun summer popcorn flick, and you’ll thoroughly enjoy yourself. Go into it with higher expectations and you’re bound to be a little disappointed.

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