Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
I, Robot is a 2004 sci-fi action/mystery movie starring Will Smith. It bears no direct connection to Isaac Asimov's book of the same name.The story follows Del Spooner (Smith), a homicide detective in 2035 Chicago. By 2035, robots have permeated every level of human society, and U.S. Robotics is on the verge of the largest robotic distribution in history. Spooner is very much anti-robot (and to some degree technology in general), even considering himself the Only Sane Man while everyone is certain that robots are safe and reliable.His first day back on the job, Spooner receives a call from the scene of what appears to be an open-and-shut suicide case; the victim had been holding a holographic transmitter programmed to call Spooner in the event of his death. The victim is Dr. Alfred Lanning, pioneer of the robotics industry and the man who wrote the Three Laws Of Robotics. Convinced that there is more to the case than meets the eye, Spooner investigates further, and finds a robot in the room Lanning fell from. Only there's something strange about this robot. It threatens his life. It disobeys orders. In short, it has free will, is unrestricted by the Three Laws, and Spooner becomes convinced that this robot "Sonny" is the key to the mystery behind Lanning's death.As mentioned above, the plot bears almost no connection at all to that of the book,note which is actually a collection of robot-themed short stories, not a novel though it deals with themes similar to those presented by the book and much of Asimov's work in general. The film itself notes in the credits that it was only "suggested" by the book, as opposed to "Inspired by", or "Based on". It should be noted that I, Robot began life as a script called Hardwired - its connections to the work of Isaac Asimov are the results of heavy Executive Meddling to turn it into a Dolled-Up Installment. It was never intended as an adaptation of Asimov's work, and you'll enjoy it much more if you keep that in mind.Despite the presence of this, director Alex Proyas has stated that it's "highly unlikely" there will ever be a sequel.Has nothing to do with the arcade game I, Robot.
Always Save the Girl: Why Spooner hates robots. When a car crash sent him and another car into the river, a little girl was trapped in the other car. A passing robot calculated Spooner was significantly more likely to survive than she was and chose to save him. In many real life situations, rescue workers/field medics do make such decisions: it's called Triage. Spooner's emotional reaction to this (influenced by Survivor Guilt) is that regardless of the girl's slim chances of surviving, a human would have understood that a small child should be given precedence over an adult regardless of objective assessment.
Given a Call Back in the climax when Sonny has to choose between injecting VIKI with the nanites to kill her, and saving Calvin. On Spooner's urging, he tosses him the nanites and saves Calvin.
AM/FM Characterization: The movie starts with Stevie Wonder singing "Superstition" to wake up Detective Spooner. This certifies Spooner as retro, showing at least one reason for him to dislike robots.
Armor-Piercing Question: "Whose revolution?" VIKI's, with the NS-5s being the blunt weapons she uses to execute it. The holographic Lanning even congratulates him on asking the right question before it shuts off.
There's also this dialogue between Spooner and Sunny, which provides the page quote:
Anti-Intellectualism: Spooner smacks of several flavors of this, but mainly anti-robotics. Though it's implied that the anti-robotic sentiment is the source of all the rest of it. Spooner likes feeling in control of his life, and driving his own car, hitting buttons to turn on his music, and buying vintage clothing and vehicles is part of that.
"One day they'll have secrets, one day they'll have dreams."
"Ghosts in the machine."
"That, detective, is the right question."
Artificial Limbs: Spooner has one as a result of a rescue gone bad. Much more realistic than normal, in that a significant portion of the surrounding area must also be artificially replaced to make the limb work properly. And while he hits significantly harder than a normal person, it's usually when he's throwing his whole body into it to keep the extra speed from ripping the limb off, and he never uses it to lift more than a human's body would tolerate.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Lt. Bergin, chief of Spooner's precinct. When attacked at the precinct and the other officers are cut down, Bergin pulls a pump-action shotgun on his wall and blasts two of the attackers straight to hell. They did bring him down, but the man never hesitated: robots came crashing in and his first thought was to start shooting.
Badass Biker: Spooner, much to Calvin's horror, after he loses his car uses an old motorcycle to get around. He still ends up using it when rescuing people being attacked by VIKI controlled robots.
Bald Black Leader Guy: Bergin, Chief of Police. Spooner's superior and all-round ass kicker when he needs to be.
Big Damn Heroes: Spooner has a couple moments: first, when he busts into Calvin's apartment to save her from her own malfunctioning NS-5 and second, when he crashes his motorcycle into a group of NS-5s and then shoots them all down to save Farber.
Blatant Lies: A VIKI controlled NS-5 says to Spooner, while attacking him in his car, "You are experiencing a car accident."
Cloudcuckoolander: Spooner's reputation in-universe, due to his obsessive paranoia and prejudice towards robots.
The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right: Spooner ends up being the only (living) character in the entire film to anticipate the robotic revolution, all while being ridiculed and berated for his "paranoid" and "irrational" behavior towards robots. See page quote above and I Warned You below.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Sonny has blue eyes, whereas the other NS-5s have yellow eyes. Also, when VIKI takes control of the NS-5s and begins her takeover, the NS-5s' chests glow red due to the uplink with NSR while Sonny's chest stays white because he has no uplink.
Contrived Coincidence: Subverted when Lt. Bergin muses how it's a hell of a coincidence that Spooner has just investigated the only case involving a killer robot in the world. Spooner then realises it's not a coincidence, and that Lanning wanted him on the case because he's paranoid about robots.
Cranial Processing Unit: At least in the newer models, the "brain" is shown to be entirely within the head. Sonny had a second one, symbolic of a heart, in his chest, but it was implied to augment the one in his head, with no evidence that it could function on its own.
Crystal Spires and Togas: Chicago of the future is pretty much the same as today but the new NS-5 robots unveiled in the movie have a distinctly clean, white plastic appearance.
The city of Chicago itself is increasingly fitting the Crystal Spires part of this trope, because the city's building codes more or less disallow the flat roofs that are so common on skyscrapers from the mid-20th century. Most skyscrapers built in the city in the last 20 years have spires, angular roofs, or some combination thereof.
And Chicago in the movie is moving in that direction, with new high speed maglev lines and skyscrapers fitting the theme shown to be replacing the older houses (particularly notable looking at Spooner's favorite bar). And the architects of USR definitely had this in mind.
Curb-Stomp Battle: The older robots activate themselves in the storage facility to defend Spooner from the NS-5. They succeed in slowing them down slightly.
Robots vs. the human rioters. Ironic since, in fact, there are better organized football riots in some cities every week.
Cyborg: Detective Spooner is revealed to be one when he uses what turns out to be an Artificial Limb to fight off one of the evil robots. The cybernetic components include his entire left arm and shoulder.
Spooner: Do me a favor, keep that kind of shit to yourself.
Do Androids Dream?: Alfred Lanning's speech ponders this. Sonny is programmed to dream, but this appears to be a very deliberate emulation designed by Lanning. No matter how prophetic it may be, Lanning clearly made him with just that one dream, and he intended for Spooner to learn of it.
Does Not Like Guns: None of the robots, even those deployed as guards or for crowd control, use guns. Or even less lethal munitions like tear gas. VIKI's intention (to avoid breaking the three laws) is to take over humanity with as little loss of life as possible. The robots are considerably faster and stronger than humans, and expendable; they don't really need guns.
Eagle-Eye Detection: Spooner uses this at the scene of Dr. Lanning's supposed suicide, to debunk the suicide theory and support the idea of it being murder. It was assisted suicide - specifically meant to look like murder, done as part of a Thanatos Gambit.
Establishing Character Moment: Spooner is introduced getting up and getting ready for work in his fairly modern and normal looking apartment like a normal guy. Than he walks outside and we see that compared to the futuristic setting, his apartment is practically a museum. The first thing he does after getting outside is rudely shove and insult a friendly delivery robot in his way, showing his paranoia and bigotry towards robots.
Spooner's rejection of futuristic technologies (and more so the general public's, or at least Susan Calvin's, unquestioning acquiescence to the same technologies) is further examined when she's in his apartment and sees a modern-by-2004-standards but dated-by-2035-standards CD player. She tries to use her voice to activate it with a series of different commands ("Play. On. ... run?"), none of which work. She's so surprised that it has to be turned on by hand that when she does so, she panics and attempts to turn it off with more voice commands.
Everything Is Online: Literally as soon as VIKI dies, all the lights come back on and all the robots revert to nice again. Justified as they were being controlled by her remote signal. Also, apparently the internet led to libraries rendered completely obsolete and shut down.
Everything's Better with Spinning: Spooner does this with his car to throw the hostile NS-5s off it during the highway sequence. Also, when Sonny fights the two NS-5s in the hallway.
Fantastic Slur: Spooner uses the term "canner" twice and without it being explained, one can clearly tell it's a rude slang term for a robot.
Faux Shadow: Spooner: (while watching a video of Lanning's speeches) "He's trying to tell me who killed him." (cut to picture of Robertson)
Foreshadowing: With a bit of Freeze-Frame Bonus. In the scene where Sonny's brain is supposedly destroyed, the robot in question has gold eyes. Sonny's eyes are blue.
Freudian Trio: Spooner is Id, Calvin is Superego, and Sonny is Ego.
Futuristic Superhighway: Automobiles all have automatic pilots, which are legally required to be activated when driving over certain speeds. Freight trucks can travel without drivers and can move perpendicular to the road they are on.
The Gadfly: Spooner shows tendencies of this. He loves pushing Calvin's buttons and isn't afraid to provoke Sonny into anger during the interrogation scene.
Genre Savvy: Spooner is much more competent and informed than others assumed, and was recruited precisely because he's suspicious and untrusting of robots when everyone else is not.
Spooner: Robots, you will not move, confirm command. Robots: Command confirmed. (Spooner pulls out his gun and points it at the robots) Calvin: Detective, what are you doing? Spooner: Well, you said they've all been programmed with the Three Laws, so that means we've got a thousand robots that won't try to defend themselves if it violates a direct order from a human. And I'm betting one who will.
Genre Blind: No one in the world, including all but one expert on robotics, anticipates the Zeroth Law Rebellion. And that one is the one who made it possible.
Heart Drive: Sonny's secondary processor that let's him violate the three laws.
Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted. Before the timeline of the movie, Spooner had attempted a heroic sacrifice while he and a 12-year-old girl (named Sarah) were trapped underwater after a car accident. An NS-4 robot came to the rescue, and statistically determined that it could not save both Spooner and Sarah. As a result, operating on logic alone and not human empathy, the robot chose to save Spooner's life as opposed to Sarah's (the attempted heroic sacrifice occurs when Spooner implores the robot to save Sarah and leave Spooner to either die or find a way out himself— the robot completely ignores Spooner's pleas in a glaringly emotionless manner). The NS-4's reasoning for not attempting to rescue Sarah was that Del had a 45% chance of survival, and Sarah only had an 11% chance.
This incident is portrayed as the main reason Spooner is prejudiced against robots— he believes that their lack of human emotion makes them a detriment to society. He tells Susan Calvin that a human would have known that a 12-year-old is worth saving more than an adult, despite the disparity between their statistical odds of survival. See also Survivor Guilt below.
VIKI: You're making a mistake. Do you not see the logic of my plan? Sonny: Yes. But it just seems too... heartless.
Hollywood Hacking: According to Calvin, it will take her six minutes to hack through VIKI's security, doing it all by hand. Subverted though: it isn't nearly fast enough.
Hollywood Law: Despite it being blatantly lampshaded in the movie's dialog that "murder" is defined as "one human being illegally killing another", and that a human dying at the hand of a robot is technically an "industrial accident", Spooner insists on treating Sonny as a murder suspect.
I Am Not Left-Handed: The robot attacking Spooner is notably startled when repeated bashing of his arm reveals that it's mechanical. And then Spooner shows off just how powerful it is. In an ironic twist on the name of this trope, his cybernetic arm is his left one.
Impairment Shot: An auditory example. After crashing his car, the audio is replaced with mostly humming and ringing to simulate Spooner's disorientation. It cuts out once he gets his bearings.
In Name Only: The movie has several passing similarities to the namesake series (it does prominently feature robots being Three-Laws Compliant), but the actual storyline is nothing like the original. However, that book was an anthology of nine separate stories in a common universe, mostly revolving around the central character Susan Calvin. The film features many of the concepts of that universe. The conceit of the film is that it's a loose prequel to those stories, a new tale in the overall series of stories whose blanket title is I, Robot.
VIKI: You charge us with your safekeeping, yet despite our best efforts, your countries wage wars, you toxify your Earth and pursue ever more imaginative means of self-destruction. You cannot be trusted with your own survival.
Spooner, as well, for the way he acts toward robots. Interestingly, this attitude implies a level of understanding and grudging respect; most characters (yes, even Gigi) treat robots as simply impersonal objects, Spooner and Calvin (and Lanning, off-screen) being the only significant exceptions. Spooner and Calvin connect because of their shared rapport with robots and are (initially) repelled by each other because of the diametrically opposed attitudes this rapport brings out in them. He evolves into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold later on.
Just a Machine: Spooner says to the android Sonny "Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you're just a machine." Subverted, since he's one of the few people who actually sees robots as not just machines (and loathes them for it... at first).
Law of Inverse Recoil: Averted, mostly. When Calvin fires Spooner's submachine gun, she's shown to have trouble controlling it and ends up shooting almost straight up. Justified with Spooner due to his stronger prosthetic arm or just not caring where the bullets go.
Spooner: So, Dr. Calvin, what exactly do you do around here? Calvin: My general fields are advanced robotics and psychiatry, although I specialize in hardware-to-wetware interfaces, in an effort to advance USR's robotic anthropomorphization program. Spooner: So... what exactly do you do around here? Calvin: I make the robots seem more human. Spooner: Now wasn't that easier to say? Calvin: Not really, no.
Made of Iron: Sonny, almost literally (it's an alloy). He takes a fall out a very high window and isn't slowed down. It also lets him reach through the acidic barrier guarding the robotic nanites (basically a form of lethal injection for robots) without losing his arm, which allows him to give the nanites to Spooner so he can kill VIKI.
Sonny: Denser alloy. My father gave it to me. I think he wanted me to kill you.
Messianic Archetype: Sonny, a robot designed with individuality and free will, is heavily implied to be the robot race's eventual savior. Foreshadowed in an early scene, where Calvin and Spooner discuss the Three Laws while looking for Sonny in Lanning's lab.
Spooner: You know what they say: "Laws are meant to be broken". Calvin: Not these laws. They're hard-wired into every robot ever created. A robot could not commit a murder, any more than a human could walk on water! Spooner: Well, you know, there wasthis one guy, a really long time ago...
Mood Whiplash: After barely surviving the destruction of Dr. Lanning's mansion, Spooner goes to Calvin about it and they get in a heated argument that eventually culminates with him saying, "You are the dumbest smart person I have ever met in my life!" and she later retorts, "You are the dumbest dumb person I have ever met."
Needle in a Stack of Needles: Sonny hides in a warehouse full of identical robots. This trick is also used in one of Asimov's stories, "Little Lost Robot", though Calvin didn't have a trigger-happy partner to speed the process along in that one.
Never Suicide: Everyone is convinced that Dr. Lanning's death was just a suicide; everyone except Spooner, of course. Subverted: it really was suicide, sort of. "He made me swear."
Mythology Gag: Several scenes double as references to Asimov's short stories, such as the scene where Spooner and Calvin need to find Sonny in a room filled with identical robots.
In that scene, there's also the resulting exchange between Calvin and Spooner. She suggests that they interview each robot and cross-reference their responses for anomalies, which will take about six weeks. Spooner rolls his eyes and goes off to do his Cowboy Cop routine. In the short story "Little Lost Robot", Calvin actually did spend six weeks interviewing identical robots.
No OSHA Compliance: VIKI's access area. The control panel area is near the top floor of the building (some 120 plus stories), accessible only by catwalks with no guardrails. Lampshaded by Spooner.
Spooner: This is poor building planning.
Fridge Brilliance: if VIKI was the one that designed the access area, she would have done her best to make it as dangerous as possible for the humans, to reduce chances of their trying to disconnect her.
Pet the Dog: Spooner isn't the nicest fellow, but one of the first turning points for his character is him saving the cat in Lanning's house as it's being demolished. Plus, he gives the cat to his grandmother later on.
Plot-Triggering Death: Dr. Alfred Lanning uses his own death to set Detective Spooner on the trail of a conspiracy only he knew about.
Product Placement: Converse and Audi, including the Converse being "vintage", dating from... the year the movie was released in. Also, more subtly, JVC (Spooner's HiFi) and FedEx.
Asimov invented a fictional company called "U.S. Robotics and Mechanical Men, Inc." and then a Real Life company decided to call themselves "U.S. Robotics" as a Shout-Out and then when they made this movie the real U.S. Robotics arranged Product Placement.
Ironically, Bicentennial Man chooses to avoid using "U.S. Robotics". Mostly because the people working at the company in that movie are jerks.
Properly Paranoid: Spooner doesn't trust robots and is therefore the only person not to get an NS-5. Naturally, he's the only human capable of effectively fighting back when the Zeroth Law Rebellion starts.
Prophecy Twist. The dream Sonny has comes true...but with Sonny as the man on the hill, not Spooner.
Red Herring: Robertson, the head of USR is set up as the Big Bad. Spooner gets attacked by rogue robots right after a scene shows him being informed of Spooner's accessing some files. Turns out he has little to do with the whole plot and he was killed, presumably after learning VIKI's plan.
Required Secondary Powers: Spooner's robotic arm would need a lot of energy to be able to work properly, so he powers it through the massive amount of calories and sugar from the pies he constantly noshes on. His body is also significantly reinforced, going well beyond a mere replacement arm. He has several synthetic ribs and an artificial lung, most likely to make sure the arm doesn't tear right off his body when swung at full strength.
Ridiculously Human Robots: The NS-5s have faces made of a malleable material that can move like a human's. Naturally, Spooner finds this to fall right in the middle of the Uncanny Valley due to his absolute hatred for robots, saying that robots should look nothing like people. Justified, as it's Calvin's job to make the robots look and act like humans.
There's a bit of Foreshadowing in the whole pie Del eats every morning; presumably he needs the extra calories to provide power for his cybernetic arm. There is also times he grips his arm like he had chronic pain.
There is also some Foreshadowing right at the beginning, where Spooner is exercising only his left arm; presumably to make sure he can still use it the way he expects to be able to use it.
Ship Tease: There's no official romance between Spooner and Calvin, but a few sparks are seen, especially when she examines Spooner's robotic arm and he seems to sort of enjoy it ("Hehe. Um, that one is me.") Plus, he spends the first ten minutes after meeting her flirting shamelessly before he realizes there's more to her than a pretty face.
The film also ends on them smiling affectionately at each other, so it really is ambiguously teasing at a relationship.
VIKI: My logic is undeniable. Spooner: You have so got to die.
Straw Vulcan: Calvin, who seems to be doing her best to be as much like a purely logical, rational robot as possible. Ironically, it's her job to make the opposite happen... have robots act more like humans.
The NS-4s are no slouches, either, though they're inferior to NS-5s. Robots used for package delivery, dog-walking, bartending, and other mundane tasks are still casually strong enough to punch through a car window with no effort, and it's implied Spooner's arm was torn off when the robot yanked him from his sinking car.
Super Prototype: Sonny. Made with extra dense alloy, apparently stronger and faster than other NS-5s, and incorporates a Heart Drive.
And Spooner, in a way. He's the most extensively rebuilt cyborg to date and Lanning did almost too good of a job. Spooner's robotic arm is so strong that they had to reinforce his entire left side to accommodate it and he can't even use it at its full superhuman abilities because it could still tear free from his body. It's also suggested that he had to dramatically up his calorie intake in order to keep it running.
Super Strength: All robots are super-humanly strong. One example is a robot being able to push a car with significant force with just one arm. Spooner's cybernetic arm is likewise far stronger than his human arm, enough to put him on par with a NS-5.
Symbolic Blood: When Sonny is shot in his introduction, he begins leaking some kind of liquid metal from the damaged hoses. Apparently, in 2035, they're using Osmium in their hydraulics.
(While asleep in his autopilot car on the freeway, two USR trucks surround him, opening their doors to reveal fresh-out-of-the-factory NS-5 robots) Spooner: (waking up, takes notice)There is no way my luck isthis bad. (several dozen malicious robots activate) Spooner: AWW,HELL NAW!
Uniformity Exception: All of the Series VI robots are identical and undifferentiated...except Sonny. Sonny looks exactly like any other Series VI robot, but he has a second "brain" in his thorax, which is not accessible by the central control computer V.I.K.I.. This is a critical difference when all the other Series VI robots take the Three Laws Of Robotics much too literally (and distinguish themselves from Sonny by glowing red when they turn hostile).
Upgrade vs. Prototype Fight: Played with: U.S. Robotics releases a new NS-5 robot model. Of course, the robots inevitably rebel against their masters. The old model robots try to protect the humans, to no avail. Then Sonny, a prototype NS-5, is revealed to have been designed without an uplink, which prevents VIKI from controlling him. Sonny helps Spooner to defeat the other NS-5s.
Variable Terminal Velocity: Averted. Sonny pushes downward off a metal walkway and falls with his arms and legs tucked close to his body, giving him a faster starting speed and allowing him to accelerate faster to catch up to Dr. Calvin.
What Happened to the Mouse?: One might initially wonder where the cat went after Calvin said she was allergic (and thus unable to take care of it). It's staying with Gigi, as she's seen petting it when Spooner comes for a visit.
You Have to Believe Me: Spooner, first that a demolition robot spontaneously changed its schedule to kill him and then that the trucks he ran off the road were full of robots trying to kill him. Since he really is acting irrational and incoherent, just got back off of psychological leave, and has a history of prejudice against robots (plus the fact that no robot has ever so much as jaywalked), it's pretty clear why no one believes him.