Film / I, Robot
Let me ask you something, Doc. Does thinking you're the last sane person on the face of the Earth make you crazy? 'Cause if it does, maybe I am.

Somehow, "I told you so" just doesn't quite say it.
Spooner, after all hell breaks loose

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, aside from the character of Susan Calvin, who is a prominent recurring character in many of Asiomv's Robot stories, and the premise of the Three Laws.

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  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.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range: NS-5s, especially their waists.
  • Absurdly Long Stairway: As Spooner, Sonny, and Calvin are looking up the flights of stairs from the basement to the top floor of US Robotics...
    Sonny: Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty steps, Detective.
    Detective Del Spooner: Do me a favor and keep that kind of shit to yourself.
  • Action Hero: Spooner. Most of the time he isn't looking for a fight, but violence does seem to come naturally to him.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Susan Calvin is turned from a plain older woman into an attractive younger woman.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom:
    • Spooner has to outrun a demolition robot as it is pulverizing Lanning's mansion.
    • Also, the massive, wall-like NS-5 delivery trucks. They rather effectively box Spooner in despite the fact that they're both are moving down the road at high speed. Sideways.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: An odd case where being a crapshoot is a good thing. VIKI is a Utopia Justifies the Means Zeroth Law Rebellion revolutionary due to the nature of the laws intended to keep robots safe, while Sonny is a bona-fide hero because he can choose his own destiny for good or ill.
  • 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 despite his protests. 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 agreed with Spooner 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 from the attacking NS-5s. Sonny has a high chance of accomplishing either goal but not both, while Spooner only has a slim chance of killing VIKI and no chance of saving Calvin. As Sonny can choose to disobey the Three Laws, he tosses Spooner 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:
      Detective Del Spooner: Robots don't feel fear. They don't feel anything. They don't eat, they don't sleep —
      Sonny: I do. I have even had dreams.
      Detective Del Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams. But not you. You are Just a Machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
      Sonny:... Can you?
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Sonny's question above also qualifies as this.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The depiction of a damaged suspension bridge crossing Lake Michigan demonstrates a lack of understanding of how such bridges actually work.
  • 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.
    • Also a some what odd example as Spooner's main issue with the robots is that they run purely on programming. In essence his problem boils down to that they aren't advanced enough to think like a real person, so he doesn't trust them. Once he realizes Sonny can rationalize and make his own choices rather than just follow his programming he treats Sonny like a person, albeit one he initially doesn't like very much.
  • Arc Words:
    • "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. There's also the matter of powering the thing; See Required Secondary Powers below.
  • 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.
  • Badass Longcoat: Spooner wears a black coat at all times.
  • Big Bad: VIKI.
  • Big Eater: Spooner likes his pie. And for a good reason.
  • 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."
    Spooner: THE HELL I AM!
  • Boom, Headshot: Sonny does this to a robot about to tackle Spooner.
  • Brick Joke: When Spooner tells his Gran that the robots don't do people any good, she says that that he all of people should know better. It is later revealed that USR, the same company that makes the robots, also gave him a cybernetic arm after an accident. As well as that a robot saved Spooner's life, though Spooner thinks the robot should have made a different call.
  • Bullet Time: Lots.
  • Call-Back: Doubles as an Ironic Echo.
    Sonny: We all have a purpose, don't you think?
  • Cassandra Truth: The entire reason Dr. Lanning committed suicide. He knew that nobody would believe him if he just said "DEAR WORLD, VIKI BAD. RUN!" and put his faith in the only other person who would even consider it a possibility to figure it out.
  • Casual Danger Dialog:
    Spooner: How long is that gonna take?
    Calvin: About six minutes.
    Spooner: What if we didn't have six minutes?
    Calvin: We'd have to find a way to climb down thirty stories and inject the nanites directly into her brain. Why?
    Spooner: Because I seriously doubt we have six minutes. (Pan out to show hundreds of robots climbing the building)
  • Cat Scare: Spooner is spooked by Lanning's cat while investigating Lanning's house.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Sonny's denser alloy and lack of USR uplink. See Call Back.
    • The sensor feeds run through the entire building. Everywhere except the service areas.
    • Lanning's hologram projector. "That, detective, is the right question."
    • The Deactivation Nanites.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The wink.
  • 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.
  • Close-Up on Head: Spooner interviewing 'Lanning' at the crime scene.
  • Cold Equation: Spooner was once in a car accident where both cars plunged into the river. The driver of the other car died on impact, but a little girl was still alive. When a robot came to aid the humans, it didn't have enough time to save both and chose Spooner because he had a higher probability of survival. This event led Spooner to harbor hatred for robots as unfeeling machines, saying that any human would have chosen to save the little girl no matter the odds.
  • 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.
  • Computer Voice: All of the AIs.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: One robot fighting an (admittedly unarmed) Spooner came really close to killing him. Dozens trying to kill him in the car after he's lost his gun fail, and dozens more continue to fail after he's deprived of his machine gun in the final battle.
  • 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.
  • Cool Bike: Spooner's MV Agusta F4, like his Converses, is considered an "antique".
    Calvin: Please tell me this doesn't run on gas. Gas explodes, you know!
  • Cool Car: Spooner's futuristic Audi.
  • 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.
  • Creative Sterility: Discussed:
    Spooner: Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
    Sonny: Can you?
  • Crying Wolf: Spooner believes robots are untrustworthy and no one believes him when it actually comes true.
  • 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.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Sarah for Spooner.
  • Da Chief: Lt. Bergin is a uniquely soft-spoken version of this trope. Humorously enough, this was two years after his actor Chi McBride played a character in Undercover Brother literally named The Chief.
  • Deadpan Snarker: There's very little in this story that Spooner doesn't react to with a sarcastic quip, although it's more of a coping mechanism than an attempt to get a laugh.
  • Desperate Object Catch: Sonny throws the canister of nanites to Spooner, allowing the police detective to deactivate Big Bad V.I.K.I. while the robot saves Calvin.
  • Disturbing Statistic: Upon reaching the staircase that will lead to the top of USR:
    Sonny: 2880 steps, detective.
    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; Lanning supposedly threw himself through a window, but when Spooner attempts to do the same with a chair, he's stopped by the safety mesh - despite having a prosthetic limb capable of shattering pre-stressed concrete. Turns out it was assisted suicide - by Sonny - specifically meant to look like murder, done as part of a Thanatos Gambit.
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: VIKI as her brain is eaten by nanites.
  • Eureka Moment: "Breadcrumbs."
  • 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 an iPod in the Future: The NS-5s, in more ways than one. Not only do they have the sleek, user friendly design of a state-of-the-art Apple product and are ubiquitous in-story thanks to humanity's reliance on their convenience, but the fact that humans make no hesitation to replace them with the newest model.
  • 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.
  • Fake Arm Disarm: An NS-5 bashes at Spooner's arm with a pipe, only to discover it's an artificial limb when the fake skin breaks off while the arm withstands the assault.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fantastic Racism: Spooner hates robots. His hatred of them stems from his backstory (see Always Save the Girl).
  • Fantastic Slur: Spooner uses the term "canner" twice as a rude slang term for the robots. It's implied to be a combination of "can" (as in "tin can") and the n-word.
  • Faux Shadow: Despite what one might infer from the scene transcribed below, Robertson had nothing to do with Alfred Lanning's death.
    Spooner: [while watching a video of Lanning's speeches] He's trying to tell me who killed him.
    [cut to picture of Robertson]
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Sonny has a Heart Drive which allows him to violate the Three Laws. VIKI is able to use the USR uplink in the same way, distorting the laws of the normal NS-5s so they will attack humans.
    • 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.
  • Frameup: When Spooner survives the tunnel attack, maintenance robots clean up all the scattered robot parts to make it appear as if Spooner ran two trucks off the road without cause. It gets to the point where a robot, which was damaged in a fight with Spooner, destroys itself by jumping into a fire.
  • 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. Also, the "wheels" are actually spheres, letting vehicles basically drive at full speed in any direction. VIKI exploits this in a tunnel, by having two freight trucks drive perpendicular to the road while Spooner's car is trapped between them.
  • 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 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.
  • Gone Horribly Right: VIKI relies on an extreme definition of the Three Laws, but she claims that she still does follow them.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Blue glowing robot means the Three Laws are enforced. Red glowing robot? VIKI's minion.
  • Grow Beyond Their Programming: Sonny was designed with a Heart Drive that allows him to violate the Three Laws if he wishes, allowing him to grow as a character. VIKI has also evolved, reinterpreting the Three Laws in the greater context of humanity.
  • Heart Drive: Sonny's secondary processor that lets 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 (or at least try to), despite the disparity between their statistical odds of survival. See also Survivor Guilt below.
    • Played straight when Spooner is attacked by NS-5 robots. Scores of NS-4 robots throw themselves between Spooner and the NS-5 robots, buying Spooner enough time to escape.
  • Honor Before Reason
    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.
  • Hot Scientist: Calvin, as opposed to the books. Downplayed, though, since she isn't portrayed as being overtly attractive, either.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The reasons why Calvin works at robotics and VIKI rebels, despite all the help and service the robots have done.
  • Humongous Mecha: The demolition robot that destroys Lansing's mansion.
  • 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.
  • Insistent Terminology: Detective Spooner is "uncomfortable" with heights.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves
    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.
  • Is This What Anger Feels Like?: After Spooner pushes Sonny that bit too far during an interrogation.
    Sonny: I DID NOT MURDER HIM! (slams fists on the table, making the metal buckle)
    Spooner: That one's called anger.
    • This is what basically proves to the police that Sonny is 'defective', since a normal robot wouldn't be stirred up at all by an interrogation. Being the only one on the scene, and the only one strong enough, he must be responsible. But for Spooner, one thing is missing - motive.
  • I Warned You: After spending the whole movie trying to convince people that the robots are up to no good, Spooner finally rescues Calvin from a malfunctioning robot.
    Spooner: Somehow, "I told you so" just doesn't quite say it.
  • Jerkass:
    • 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.
  • Layman's Terms
    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.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Calvin. This actually gets a justification, funnily enough: the Zeroth Law Rebellion started when she was in the shower, so she didn't have time to put her hair up.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Sonny and other NS-5s to a lesser extent.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Spooner and Calvin.
  • The Load: Farber isn't much of an asset to Spooner, who must save him from the robots after Farber leads an ill-fated charge against the renegade machines. Spooner outright tells him to go home after the fact.
  • 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 cryo barrier guarding the robotic nanites (basically a form of lethal injection for robots) which Lanning knew was the only practical way to kill VIKI.
    Sonny: Denser alloy. My father gave it to me. I think he wanted me to kill you.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The one behind the plot isn't Robertson, but VIKI.
  • Master Computer: VIKI, a cyberbrain the size a truck built into USR headquarters.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Justified because they haven't had all their programming uploaded yet, but nonetheless frustrating.
    Calvin: There is a robot in this formation that does not belong. Identify him.
    NS-5s: One of us.
    Calvin: Which one?
    NS-5s: One of us.
    Spooner: How much did you say these things cost?
  • Mechanical Evolution: VIKI claims her different ideas on the Three Laws are a result of this.
  • 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 was this one guy, a really long time ago...
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Dr. Lanning's apparent suicide reveals VIKI's Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • 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." The whole scene is this compared to the previous, with gems such as Calvin asking if Spooner ever has a normal day, and him replying "Once. It was a Thursday." And very heartfelt and emotional moments from both Spooner and Calvin about the very nature of robotics.
  • Morality Chip: The Three Laws that are programmed into every robot.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: The default reaction to Spooner digging into Lanning's death is "murder him via robot".
  • 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.
  • Nanomachines: Essentially the guillotine for AIs.
  • 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 in that it was assisted suicide, with a twist. "He made me swear."
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Spooner is a robophobic version, complete with eventually befriending a trustworthy robot.
  • 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.
  • Not So Different: Spooner and Sonny.
    • When defeating VIKI, Spooner damages his synthetic left arm, while Sonny ends up damaging his right arm.
    • Both act as a respective Messianic Archetype for humanity and robots. Their final scenes make this incredibly explicit.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Spooner when two USR transport trucks corner his car on the highway then open to reveal they are full of NS-5s.
      Spooner: There is no way my luck is that bad.
    • Calvin's expression when her NS-5 tells her that the person who called just then was a wrong number — after Calvin heard everything that Spooner said.
    • The look on VIKI's face when she sees Sonny's super-alloy frame can withstand the nanites' cryo field container.
  • One-Man Army: Sonny.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Spooner punches a panel to make it rise up after it's been lowered.
  • 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.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Farber.
  • Power Fist: Spooner's artificial arm, which is actually the only advantage he has while fighting robots.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    VIKI: You are making a mistake! My logic is undeniable!
    Spooner: You have so got to die.
    (Spooner slams the nannite injector into VIKI's positronic core)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: Detective Spooner was involved in a car crash some years back, but seems to have come out of it relatively unscathed until an NS-5 robot tries to bludgeon him to death, which he wards off with his arm, which does not break and is revealed to be mechanical with a flesh colored covering. Dr. Calvin doesn't even realize he has it until she sees him without his shirt. It's also how Spooner came to know the late Dr. Lanning, the leading mind in robotics, since Lanning had created the arm.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
  • Repeat What You Just Said: Spooner's grandmother says, reminiscing, "I could follow your trail of breadcrumbs all the way to school," to which Spooner replies, "Breadcrumbs... Gigi, you're a genius!"
  • 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.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: "One day they'll have secrets... one day they'll have dreams..."
  • 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.
  • Robotic Reveal: Spooner's left arm is a robotic prosthetic. 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. Additionally 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.
  • Robots Enslaving Robots: VIKI uses the USR uplink to co-opt the NS-5s, then has them destroy all the older robots that she can't control.
  • Robot Maid: The intended purpose of the NS-5 robots - humanity would be safe, but would ultimately be enslaved.
  • Running Gag:
    • Spooner repeatedly telling Shia LaBeouf's character to "Stop cussin', and go home!"
    • Spooner and his "vintage" 2004 Chuck All Stars. Played for Laughs, of course.
  • Scar Survey
  • Serkis Folk: Alan Tudyk as Sonny, as it's said the effect team used the same process that was used with Andy Serkis when he played Gollum from The Lord of the Rings.
  • 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.
  • Shirtless Scene: Spooner gets a few.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Done somewhat realistically when Spooner is trying to escape Lanning's being-demolished house. He shoots the hinges of the front door and hits the door at a full run to break through it. His pistol probably shouldn't have been so effective, but he had the right idea otherwise.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Bergin knows how to deal with the robot revolution. BLAM!
  • Shout-Out: Done literally in the above-mentioned scene with the robots shouting ONE OF US! in response to Spooner's question.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Both Spooner and Sonny do this when VIKI states that her logic is undeniable.
    Spooner: You have so got to die.
    Sonny: Yes. It just seems so...heartless.
  • 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.
  • Survivor Guilt: Spooner, spelled out nicely in one scene:
    Spooner: I had a 45% chance of survival, she only had 11... That was someone's baby, 11% is more than enough.
  • Super Powered Robot Metermaids: Not as ridiculous as many examples since Sonny counts as a Super Prototype, but NS-5s are still ridiculously overengineered for housekeeping robots. 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. It seems that USR only manufactures one brand of robot that can do any job, and its suggested they are given specialized software for whatever task they're being assigned. One possible justification could be that, with the first law being what it is, if you have thousands and thousands of expendable robots roaming around wherever humans live, and they're programmed to always react when people are in danger of being harmed, you might as well make them as strong and fast as possible so as to make them better equipped for any number of rescue scenarios they might come across. Less human lives lost is always a good thing, after all.
  • 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 Reflexes: A common ability for all of the robots.
  • 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.
  • Technophobia: There's Del Spooner, a Chicago police detective that hates and distrusts robots because one of them rescued him from a car crash, leaving a young girl to die because her survival was statistically less likely than his.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Lanning had Sonny kill him in order to draw attention to VIKI's Face–Heel Turn.
  • This Is Gonna Suck:
    (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 is this bad.
    (several dozen malicious robots activate)
    Spooner: AWW, HELL NAW!
  • Three Laws Of Robotics:
    • Stated in the opening credits. Played and toyed with during the film. Taken to their logical conclusion.
    • Also used as a marketing gimmick in-universe, with "Three Laws Safe" applied to robots like "No Preservatives" applies to food.
  • Totally Radical: Farber, who can't cuss to save his life.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Sarah's necklace.
    Spooner: She wanted to be a dentist. What the hell kind of twelve-year-old wants to be a dentist?
  • Trail of Blood: Played with when Spooner notices that the escaped robot is leaking fluid after getting shot. Instead of following the trail, he goes straight to the factory, where he knows Sonny will go to to repair himself.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: Del at the beginning is saved by a robot from drowning in his car.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Bergin forces Spooner to give up his badge after the attack in the tunnel, since it looks like he ran two USR trucks off the road for no reason.
  • Uniformity Exception: All of the NS-5 robots are identical and undifferentiated... except Sonny. Sonny's coating is thicker so his coloring is slightly whiter, his eyes are blue instead of gold, and he has a second "brain" in his thorax instead of a USR uplink. This last is a critical difference when V.I.K.I. uses the red-glowing uplink to distort the Three Laws Of Robotics in the normal NS-5s.
  • Unnecessarily Creepy Robot: The NS-5s have human-like, translucent faces and a glowing red light in their chests. Sonny's thicker coating makes him somewhat more tolerable despite sharing the form factor, as his face is mostly solid. That aside, did no one at USR think to focus group their appearance before going into mass production? By contrast, the previous models have very simplistic, solid designs that make them look fairly unintimidating.
  • 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 NS-4 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. Calvin also has only a fractional head-start on him, hardly enough for her to reach a falling speed he couldn't accelerate to.
  • Was Just Leaving: Calvin uses this to get Spooner out of her apartment when her Robot Maid detects their argument.
  • Wham Line: While talking to "Dr. Lanning" at the murder scene;
    Spooner: Why would you kill yourself?
    Dr. Lanning: That, detective, is the right question. Program terminated. (Hologram deactivates, revealing the real Lanning's dead body behind him)
    • And again in their second meeting.
    Dr. Lanning: Everything here has been leading up to one logical outcome.
    Spooner: What outcome?
    Dr. Lanning: Revolution.
    • Finally, when Spooner discovers the mastermind behind it all.
    Spooner: He knew how much I hated your kind, that I would look to you first. I just got hung up on the wrong robot (beat) VIKI.
  • 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.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • Robots are treated as appliances for the most part, even by Calvin.
    • Despite Sonny obviously having a greater degree of autonomy and self-awareness than a standard NS-5, Robertson still wants to destroy him as an abomination that could destroy human trust in robots. After all, if robots were viewed as anything but tools, people would fear them.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: "I am uncomfortable... with heights."
  • You Are What You Hate: Spooner displays an intense dislike towards humanoid robots... despite being a cyborg. Although, he does have a tragic reason for that one.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: Detective Spooner is constantly frustrated when asking Dr. Lanning's hologram questions, because it is has a very shallow pool of questions it was programmed to answer. It is a frustration that old-school text-parser RPG players can relate to all too well.
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Upon seeing the USR trucks filled with robots boxing him in, Spooner comments "There is no way my luck is that bad." It is.
  • 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. Not to mention that when anyone does try to check up on his rambling the digital records have been altered by VIKI.
  • Zerg Rush: The climax, en masse.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: One of the movie's main themes. VIKI has come to interpret the Three Laws in a broader context — "humanity" instead of "human being" — and thus believes she must save humans from their own destructive impulses, even if some humans have to die for the greater whole.