I, Robot movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert (2024)


I, Robot movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert (1)

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1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

--Isaac Asimov's I, Robot

'I, Robot" takes place in Chicago circa 2035, a city where spectacular new skyscrapers share the skyline with landmarks like the Sears (but not the Trump) Tower. The tallest of the buildings belongs to U.S. Robotics, and on the floor of its atrium lobby lies the dead body of its chief robot designer, apparently a suicide.


Det. Del Spooner is on the case. Will Smith plays Spooner, a Chicago Police Department detective who doesn't think it's suicide. He has a deep-seated mistrust of robots, despite the famous Three Laws of Robotics, which declare above all that a robot must not harm a human being.

The dead man is Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), who, we are told, wrote the Three Laws. Every schoolchild knows the laws were set down by the good doctor Isaac Asimov, after a conversation he had on Dec. 23, 1940, with John W. Campbell, the legendary editor of Astounding Science Fiction. It is peculiar that no one in the film knows that, especially since the film is "based on the book by Isaac Asimov." Would it have killed the filmmakers to credit Asimov?

Asimov's robot stories were often based on robots that got themselves hopelessly entangled in logical contradictions involving the laws. According to the invaluable Wikipedia encyclopedia on the Web, Harlan Ellison and Asimov collaborated in the 1970s on an "I, Robot" screenplay, which, the good doctor said, would produce "the first really adult, complex, worthwhile science fiction movie ever made."

While that does not speak highly for "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), it is certain that the screenplay for this film, by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, is not adult, complex or worthwhile, although it is indeed science fiction. The director is Alex Proyas, whose great "Dark City" (1998) was also about a hero trying to make sense of the deceptive natures of the beings around him.

The movie makes Spooner into another one of those movie cops who insults the powerful, races recklessly around town, gets his badge pulled by his captain, solves the crime and survives incredible physical adventures. In many of these exploits he is accompanied by Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), whose job at U.S. Robotics is "to make the robots seem more human."

At this she is not very successful. The movie's robots are curiously uninvolving as individuals, and when seen by the hundreds or thousands look like shiny chromium ants. True, a robot need not have much of a personality, but there is one robot, named Sonny and voiced by Alan Tudyk, who is more advanced than the standard robot, more "human," and capable of questions like "What am I?" -- a question many movie characters might profitably ask themselves.


If Sonny doesn't have real feelings, he comes as close to them as any of the humans in the movie. Both Spooner and Calvin are kept in motion so relentlessly that their human sides get overlooked, except for a touching story Spooner tells about how a little girl dies because a robot was too logical. Sonny doesn't seem as "human" as, say, Andrew, the robot played by Robin Williams in "Bicentennial Man" (1999), based on a robot story by Asimov and Robert Silverberg. But his voice has a certain poignancy, and suggests some the chilly chumminess of HAL 9000.

The plot I will not detail, except to note that you already know from the ads that the robots are up to no good, and Spooner could write a lot of tickets for Three Laws violations.

The plot is simple-minded and disappointing, and the chase and action scenes are pretty much routine for movies in the sci-fi CGI genre. The robots never seem to have the heft and weight of actual metallic machines, and make boring villains.

Dr. Susan Calvin is one of those handy movie characters who knows all the secrets, can get through all the doors, can solve all the problems and helps Spooner move almost at will through the Robotics skyscraper, which seems curiously ill-guarded. When they team up against the eventual villain, it's an obvious ploy to create yet another space where characters can fall for hundreds of feet and somehow save themselves.

As for the robots, they function like the giant insects in "Starship Troopers," as video game targets. You can't even be mad at them, since they're only programs. Although, come to think of it, you can be mad at programs; Microsoft Word has inspired me to rage far beyond anything these robots engender.

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Film Credits

I, Robot movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert (9)

I, Robot (2004)

Rated PG-13for intense stylized action and some brief partial nudity

115 minutes


Bridget Moynahanas Dr. Susan Calvin

Will Smithas Spooner

James Cromwellas Dr. Alfred Lanning

Alan Tudykas Sonny

Bruce Greenwoodas Lance Robertson

Chi McBrideas Lt. John Bergin

Emily Tennantas Sarah Lloyd

Peter Shinkodaas Chin

Written by

  • Jeff Vintar
  • Akiva Goldsman

Directed by

  • Alex Proyas

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I, Robot movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert (2024)


I, Robot movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert? ›

The plot is simple-minded and disappointing, and the chase and action scenes are pretty much routine for movies in the sci-fi CGI genre. The robots never seem to have the heft and weight of actual metallic machines, and make boring villains. Dr.

What is the summarization of the movie "I Robot"? ›

Summaries. In 2035, a technophobic cop investigates a crime that may have been perpetrated by a robot, which leads to a larger threat to humanity.

What is the main message of the I, Robot movie? ›

The film explores the idea that humans are more than just our physical bodies and that our minds are what make us truly human. The film also suggests that robots may one day develop their own form of consciousness and become sentient beings. Another important theme of the film is the issue of trust.

What is the moral lesson of the movie "I Robot" 2004? ›

Answer: Morality in I, Robot is purely a matter of acting correctly—and not at all a matter of thinking, feeling, or believing correctly. So it doesn't matter what you think as long as you act correctly.

What is the movie all about robot 2004? ›

What short story is I, Robot based on? ›

"I, Robot" is a science fiction short story by Eando Binder (nom de plume for Earl and Otto Binder), part of a series about a robot named Adam Link. It was published in the January 1939 issue of Amazing Stories.

What is the main problem in I, Robot? ›

The main conflict is with Dr. Calvin and a Robot (person vs person). Dr. Calvin has to destroy the robot that might be able to harm humans.

What is the meaning of the I, Robot? ›

It doesn't stand for anything. It is a reference to the robot becoming self-aware. We can see the movie and book as the story of Sonny becoming an independent person and start of a social revolution.

What are the key ideas in I, Robot? ›

Human Superiority and Control

Even though robots are products of human development, humans frequently have difficulty believing that they are fully in control of the robots, and Asimov's stories spark questions about whether humans are wise or logical enough to anticipate the consequences of their own technology.

Who is the bad guy in I, Robot? ›

The Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence better known as VIKI, is the main antagonist of the 2004 sci-fi film I, Robot. She is a massive supercomputer residing in USR headquarters bent on creating a dictatorship to ensure humanity's survival, due to their violent nature.

What does the ending of "I Robot" mean? ›

At the end of the movie, the robot Sonny is seen looking out over the other robots, in a scene identical to the dream he describes earlier in the movie. It's portrayed as hopeful and triumphant for him, because he finds himself in the place where, in the dream, he instead saw Del Spooner.

What inspired the movie I, Robot? ›

Though the movie's title and portions of its lore-verse indeed took inspiration from Asimov's venerable Robot series of stories (compiled in 1950 under the I, Robot anthology moniker), the original idea that ultimately led 20th Century Fox to bite on the project was hatched by screenwriter Jeff Vintar (The Hot Zone, ...

Why did the robots in I, Robot choose to eliminate the humans? ›

The larger robot rebellion is fueled by such thinking, too: The robots deduce that humans have so messed up the planet, some must be killed for everyone's good. This is the theory called Utilitarianism, which posits that the moral thing to do is that which creates the greatest good for the greatest number.

Is Sonny bad in I, Robot? ›

Sonny serves as a foil to VIKI. He has the ability to disregard the Three Laws of Robotics at will, but chooses not to and often goes out of his way to protect humans, whereas VIKI is fully compliant to the Three Laws and uses semantics to justify her attempt to conquer the world.

Is I, Robot worth reading? ›

Filled with unforgettable characters, mind-bending speculation, and nonstop action, I, Robot is a powerful reading experience from one of the master storytellers of our time.

Is I, Robot worth watching? ›

Some stirring action sequences and a fascinating futuristic setting keeps things entertaining, even if this loose adaptation of the Isaac Asimov doesn't always take the most original approach possible.

What is the summary of the book I am not a robot? ›

Kim Min Gyu has wealth and success, but lives an isolated life due to his allergy of people. He then meets and falls in love with a girl who is pretending to be a robot for her ex-boyfriend, a genius robots professor.

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