Taking a revered sci-fi author’s starkly original works and translating his vision to multiplex screens is a role not everyone would relish. Indeed, making a Will Smith box office success would seem at least on the surface a rather different enterprise to rendering the philosophical works of Isaac Asimov into film. But this summer blockbuster marries the two nevertheless.
The three basic laws for all robots mean the machines cannot harm humans, even when it is 2035 and robots are all around us, emptying our rubbish, serving us drinks, walking our dogs. But what if they evolved? What if they began to be creative, to have emotions, to feel? And then would they be happy with their lot? I, Robot examines these issues and in so doing conjures forth a mechanistic world dealt with many times before in films as diverse as The Terminator and most searchingly in A.I..
Smith, gym-pumped to an extraordinary size for his role here, plays the amusingly named Detective Del Spooner, a man suspicious of machines who, it transpires, is half machine himself following extensive surgery after a car accident. Called to a suspected suicide at the headquarters of US Robotics, he finds the victim to be none other than the man who rebuilt him after his accident. Worse, instinct suggests that suicide was not the cause of death. Against the wishes of the company and his department, Spooner investigates what he believes to be a murder – and uncovers a robot unlike any other in the process.
Spooner soon finds himself fighting for his very life and the freedom (that Hollywood blockbuster favourite) of humanity against an army of ant-humanoid robots, who appear as though a cross between video game characters and storm-troopers. They’re not at all scary – and we know Will Smith, that blockbuster bastion, isn’t going to die on us mid-film. It makes for a predictable, if nonetheless enjoyable, film, and provides executive producer Smith with a bevy of smirk-inducing one-liners, the chance to wear some designer gear and plenty of opportunity for product placement.
Bridget Moynahan provides solid if uninspiring support as the robotics psychologist “who makes the robots more human” and in so doing seems to have a pass to enter every part of the US Robotics building.
The intelligence of Asimov’s ideas is not completely undone by the screenplay here, which wrestles between philosophy and gung-ho action flick and just about succeeds. And director Alex Proyas deserves credit for being completely unobtrusive – the film flows so well from action sequence to set piece to shoot-em-up that we barely see a directorial hand in the mix. If there’s one criticism to be made here it’s that the action is so non-stop that there’s little time to get to know the characters involved, which is a pity – the opportunity was there for more development.
Asimov aficionados may scoff at the treatment of the great man’s work here, but audiences wanting a sci-fi escapist evening at the flicks with a box of popcorn will lap up I, Robot, a film that is rather better than it might have been.