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Film / I, Robot

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"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 directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) and 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 Asimov'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 following an injury, 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 (James Cromwell), 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" (Alan Tudyk) 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. Though amusingly, (window dressing aside) the story actually has quite a few things in common with Asimov's The Caves of Steel, involving a murder mystery in a sci-fi setting with robots and a cop main character who is very distrustful of said robots.

Further complicating the issue is that a good portion of the plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the other, earlier, short story I, Robot by Adam Link, in which a sapient robot is accused of the murder of the creator who lovingly "raised" him. Asimov's publisher strangely stole the title of that story for the anthology, leading to the many adaptations of the original story often being confused as being based on a work by Asimov. This film in effect brings the whole thing full circle, being a very loose fusion of both the original I, Robot and the themes of its misattributed author.

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 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 bonafide hero because he can choose his own destiny, for good or ill.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Spooner was raised by his grandmother, with no explanation of what happened to his parents.
  • 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.
  • Anaphora: Armor-Piercing Question about robots' Creative Sterility, what they can and can't do:
    Spooner: Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
    Sonny: Can you?
    Spooner: [awkward silence]
  • Androids and Detectives: A detective, a robot developing self-awareness and a scientist vs a murderous conspiracy.
  • 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 somewhat odd example, as Spooner's main issue with the robots is that they run purely on programming. In essence, his problem boils down to them not being 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.
    • In addition, Spooner was good friends with Dr. Lanning even before his accident, meaning his cynicism was born of the incident. He also remained friends with Lanning after the operation.
  • Arc Words:
    • "One day they'll have secrets, one day they'll have dreams."
    • "Ghosts in the machine."
    • Breadcrumbs, and "That, detective, is the right question."
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
  • Armor-Piercing Response:
    • Sonny's response to the Armor-Piercing Question above:
      Sonny: Can you?
    • Outside of U.S.-Robotics headquarters, Calvin and Spooner find they can't enter the building because of the large number of NS-5s guarding the main entrance:
      Spooner: I keep expecting the Marines, or Air Force. Hell, I'll take the cavalry.
      Calvin: Defense Department uses all USR contracts.
      Spooner: Why didn't you guys just hand the world over on a silver platter?
      Calvin: Maybe we did.
  • Artificial Limbs: Spooner has an artificial arm 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.
  • Artistic License – Law: Though in this case the law is obviously being bent in the service of a cover up. In the case of indeterminate or suspicious death of a person, the investigation treats such a death as a homicide first. Yet for some reason, before the body was even cold, Dr. Lanning's death is quickly dismissed as a suicide despite the extremely suspect cause. Spooner is the only person who doesn't buy into this story and instead insists that Lanning was murdered by Sonny. As the full details of the case are revealed over the course of the film, it turns out that both are technically correct as Sonny did kill Lanning, but did so at Lanning's own request, making it an assisted suicide.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The depiction of a damaged suspension bridge crossing Lake Michigan demonstrates a lack of understanding of how such bridges actually work.
  • Automated Automobiles: Heavy motor vehicles 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—basically, drifting—while Spooner's car is trapped between them.
  • Badass Biker: Spooner, much to Calvin's horror, uses an old motorcycle to get around after he loses his car. He ends up still using it when rescuing people being attacked by VIKI-controlled robots.
  • Badass Longcoat: Spooner wears a black coat at all times.
  • Batman Gambit: Lanning is relying on Spooner's Fantastic Racism to motivate him to unravel the conspiracy and discover the truth about VIKI. Spooner actually catches on pretty quickly, realizing it's no coincidence that he, of all people, was called to investigate Lanning's death.
  • Big Bad: VIKI.
  • Big Eater: Spooner likes his pie. And for a good reason.
  • 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.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Spooner's motorcycle, as it is apparently old enough to still have an internal combustion engine.
  • Bullet Time: Lots.
  • Call-Back: Doubles as an Ironic Echo.
    Sonny: We all have a purpose, don't you think?
    • During Spooner and Calvin's argument, he calls her "the dumbest smart person I have ever met in my life", to which she retorts that he's "the dumbest dumb person I've ever met". Later, after finding Robertson dead in his office and realising he was wrong about the mastermind's identity, Spooner tells Calvin she was right: "I am the dumbest dumb person on the face of the earth."
  • 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.
    • Spooner, when he tries to tell people about being ambushed and run off the road by USR trucks, as well as his suspicions regarding Dr. Lanning's death. Everyone assumes he's Crying Wolf due to his antipathy toward robots.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue:
    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:
    • It is mentioned on her introduction that VIKI controls all of Chicago's traffic network. This explains how she is able to clear the underground highway for 2 trucks full of NS-5's to attack Spooner, activate the cleaner robots to remove all traces of the NS-5's involved in the attack before the police arrive to assist Spooner, and shut down all non-gasoline vehicles during the revolution, bringing Chicago to a standstill.
    • 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. At first, Sonny inquires about the gesture when Spooner is talking with his superior in the interrogation room. Later, Sonny imitates the gesture at the end of his speech and apparent Face–Heel Turn to secretly signal to Spooner that it was all a ruse to lull VIKI and to get ready to start shooting the enemy NS-5 units.
  • The Chessmaster: Dr. Lanning created Sonny with the exact abilities he would need to destroy VIKI — denser alloy to retrieve the nanites in spite of the shield around them, no uplink to USR so she can't control him, and a secondary positronic brain that counteracts the first, allowing Sonny to learn emotions and decide to defy VIKI's plan in spite of it being logical. He then has Sonny kill him and a hologram he programmed calls Spooner to investigate his death, setting Spooner on the trail of VIKI's revolution, a trail that Lanning has helped plan by leaving conspicuous clues around his lab and his home. It's also implied he left instructions for Sonny to follow to help Spooner, like telling Spooner about his dreams. Depending on how long Lanning knew what was coming, possibly even Spooner's cybernetic arm may have been part of his plan, because it sure comes in handy for fighting robots and surviving a 30-story freefall to inject nanites into VIKI's brain.
  • 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 I Warned You below.
  • Closeup 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.
    Spooner: That was someone's baby. 11% is more than enough. A human being would have known that.
  • 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.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like:
    • Spooner's prejudice against robots ultimately boils down to a result of this, as one saved him from a flooding car, but left a little girl to her fatenote .
    • One Played for Laughs in the climax: Spooner temporarily races up ahead during the robot takeover to rescue Farber. He dispatches the robots, but one catches him and smacks his gun away and is about to kill him. Calvin catches up to him and shoots it with the automatic weapon he lent her...but she does so with her eyes shut. Spooner understandably yells at her for it.
      Farber: Mother-damn, she just shot at you with her eyes closed, Spoon!
      Spooner: [incredulously] AY! Did you just shoot at me with your eyes closed?!
      Calvin: [exasperate)] Well, it worked, didn't it?
      Spooner: [points at her as if to say 'we're gonna have words later']
  • 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 in the world involving a killer robot. Spooner then realizes that it's not a coincidence, and that Lanning wanted him on the case because he's paranoid about robots.
    • A more straight example is when Spooner arrived at the spot Lanning's clues were leading him to just as VIKI begins her Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • 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.
  • Cop and Scientist: Spooner is the gritty, down-to-earth cop and Calvin is the professional scientist.
  • Cowboy Cop: Spooner, who pursues the case wherever it leads, whether that's the richest and most powerful corporate executive in the country or a robot that technically can't commit murder, even if its programming would have allowed it to.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: At least in the newer models, the "brain" is shown to be entirely within the head. Sonny has a second one, symbolic of a heart, in his chest, but it's implied to augment the one in his head, with no evidence that it can function on its own.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Lt. Bergin keeps a loaded shotgun on a hidden rack under his office desk, as though he was expecting some hostile force to break into his police station and overrun the dozens of armed officers inside. Maybe it's a rough part of town...
  • Creative Sterility: Discussed:
    Spooner: Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
    Sonny: ...Can you?
  • Criminal Mind Games: The "murder victim" does this, the initial clue being his own "murder", ostensibly to reveal his secret to the hero (without tipping off a Three Laws-Compliant AI with Sinister Surveillance) in time to prevent a Zeroth Law Rebellion. (Yeah, the movie did something clever and subversive.)
  • Crying Wolf: Spooner believes robots are untrustworthy and no one believes him when it actually comes true. Lanning's overarching gambit to thwart the uprising is also based around this, as Spooner sadly muses when giving The Summation to Sonny and Calvin, bitterly noting that he had to be so cryptic and roundabout in his actions and the message he was trying to deliver, so as to thwart the Sinister Surveillance he was under, because he had no other means of getting people to listen to him before it was too late.
    Spooner: Poor old man. He saw what was coming, knew no one would believe him, so he had to lay down a plan. A plan I'd follow. (To Sonny) He was counting on how much I hated your kind. Knew I'd love the idea of a robot as the bad guy. Just got hung up on the wrong robot.
  • 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. Likewise their attack on the police station where the trope is literally applied when a robot stomps down on a cop and snaps his neck.
  • 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.
  • Cyberpunk: Cleaner and neater than most examples, but prevalent robots, the main character being a cyborg and investigating a possibly-corrupt corporation lend it this vibe. The Zeroth Law Rebellion, had it been successful, could easily have resulted in the dystopian version.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Sarah for Spooner.
  • Da Chief: Lt. John 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.
  • Deadly Dodging: Sonny invokes this as an Informed Ability to Spooner, who has a gun pointed at Sonny's head, during an apparent Face–Heel Turn where he holds Susan at gunpoint; by the time Spooner fired, he could move Susan's head there instead. He quickly conveys to Spooner that taking Susan hostage is only a ploy. Doubles as Dodge the Bullet.
  • 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.
  • Death Is Gray: The AIs' positronic brains fade from luminescent blue to dark gray when they're destroyed by the deactivator nanites. Most obvious when the nanites are used on the evil Master Computer and take several seconds to work through its oversized brain.
  • Death of a Child: A young girl drowned due to a robot rescuing Spooner instead of her. It was because of this that Spooner became anti-robot.
  • Decoy Antagonist: Lawrence Robertson, the CEO of US Robotics. He spends most of his screentime trying to block or derail Spooner's investigation of Lanning's death, supposedly so he can keep a flaw in the robots a secret from the public. Then he's Killed Offscreen during the robot uprising, causing Spooner to realize that V.I.K.I. was the one pulling the strings all along.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Calvin, subtly. Starting as the most robotic character in a cast full of robots, she eventually warms up to Spooner's more... instinctual way of doing things.
  • 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: 2,880 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.
    • Though it's worth noting that, when first discussing it, Sonny says that he has "dreams," as in, more than one. It's unspecified if it's different each time, or the same one repeated, but regardless, only the one they discuss ever becomes pertinent to the plot.
    • Lanning also notes that androids seem to dream, and when they're placed in shipping crates, rather than give each other space, they cluster together instead for no logical reason.
  • 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.
  • Does Not Drive: Played Straight for most of society, who puts their faith in robots and automation and so commutes in self-driving cars. Inverted for Del, who drives manually as a reflection of his stigma.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The procedure for "decomissioning" a malfunctioning robot is to inject nanites into its brain that destroy it. It's played very much like a typical American judicial execution by lethal injection, with a special chamber devoted to it and a stretcher with limb restraints to keep the robot from struggling.note 
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Related to Do Androids Dream?: Sonny says he dreamt of a man (he thinks it's Spooner) on a hill, surrounded by robots and leading them. The dream figure turns out to be himself.
  • 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.
  • Emergency Weapon: When Sonny knocks his main sidearm out of his hand in USR Headquarters, Spooner draws a smaller backup pistol from an ankle holster he uses to shoot the NS-5 as it escapes.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: "Breadcrumbs." Spooner's grandmother remarks on how messy Spooner is and how she could follow a trail of crumbs right to him. This makes Spooner remember the Hansel and Gretel book in Lanning's office, which made him realize he was being left a trail of clues to follow.
  • 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. (Though we do see he keeps a weapon in bed with him, and nearby even in the shower.) Then 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: In spite of his hatred towards robots, Spooner is shocked to see NS-5s trashing down and destroying the old robot models at Lake Michigan during VIKI's revolution. He even showed some sympathy for the robot who died after warning him to run away from the scene; even warning Calvin about what happened while attempting to attract the police's attention about the situation.
  • 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 humans don't hesitate 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 being rendered completely obsolete and shut down.
  • Exact Words: "I did not murder him!" Technically he didn't. Sonny killed Lanning, but only at Lanning's request to kickstart his Thanatos Gambit.
  • Expospeak Gag: Dr. Calvin uses this with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness in the beginning, when describing her job:
    Detective Del Spooner: So, Dr. Calvin, what exactly do you do around here?
    Susan Calvin: My general fields are advanced robotics and psychiatry. Although, I specialize in hardware-to-wetware interfaces in an effort to advance U.S.R.'s robotic anthropomorphization program.
    Detective Del Spooner: So, what exactly do you do around here?
    Susan Calvin: I make the robots seem more human.
    Detective Del Spooner: Now wasn't that easier to say?
    Susan Calvin: Not really. No.
  • 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.
    Det. Spooner: Yeah.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fantastic Firearms: The weapons that Spooner and the wider Chicago Police Department carry seem fire non-blowback caseless ammunition and are never seen being reloaded. However, various detectives, including Spooner, are seen with spare magazine holsters, which indicate their weapons capacity is limited.
  • Fantastic Racism: Spooner hates robots. His hatred of them stems from his backstory (see Greater Need Than Mine). It's this trait that Lanning counts on to unravel VIKI's plans.
  • 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.
    • However, there is also a garbage truck operated in central Chicago with the company name Trash Canners (est. 2010), indicating it may be a more moderate slur or just slang depending on the context.
  • 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]
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Lanning telling Spooner "I'm sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions" is a pretty big clue that he's not the real deal. The second time he says it, the camera pans around to reveal it's just a hologram.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The opening scenes aren't just for Fanservice seeing Will Smith in his underwear and in the shower. You can spot surgery scars on his left shoulder and arm, the first thing he does when he wakes up is rub his shoulder, and he's seen working out with a single weight using his left arm, all of which indicate he's still recovering from some sort of injury to the left side of his body.
    • Spooner seems to be a Sweet Tooth, but it's actually because he requires a large carbohydrate intak to power his cybernetics.
    • When Spooner tells his grandma that the robots don't do people any good, she says that he of all 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. A robot also saved Spooner's life, though Spooner thinks the robot should have made a different call.
    • 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.
    • As Spooner is investigating Lanning's office, he whacks one of the safety windows with a chair, which cracks but doesn't break. He notes it would be pretty difficult for a man of Lanning's age to spontaneously toss himself through one. Lanning had help.
    • During Sonny's interrogation about the death of Lanning, he asks Spooner, "You have to do what someone asks you. Don't you, Detective Spooner?... Don't you? If you love them?" One, Sonny knew who Spooner was, indicating Lanning was expecting Spooner to get personally involved in the case, and two, Sonny is hinting that Lanning made him do something Sonny really was conflicted about— killing him.
    • During the tunnel attack, a robot grabs Spooner's steering wheel and tries to make him crash, but Spooner is able to retain control despite NS-5s having Super-Strength. Makes sense when his cybernetic arm is revealed.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Various television screens and background images give an insight into the film's 20 Minutes into the Future setting:
    • The offering of "Destination Anywhere" space tours, package holiday opportunities in luxury space stations in Earth and Mars orbit advertised on many large screens around Chicago.
    • News lower thirds mention a Prime Minister Jarvis (presumably of the UK or a similar Commonwealth nation such as Australia or Canada) declaring martial law.
  • Futuristic Superhighway: The highways shown aren't themselves particularly advanced, except for being mostly underground, at least within the Chicago metro area (presumably to free up more space for walking and more buildings aboveground), and for the very high-speed, self-driving, ball-wheeled traffic on them. These highway tunnels even have direct exits into specific building basements like USR's car park.
  • Freudian Slip: Played for Drama and Character Development when Spooner makes a revealing comment towards Sonny that he instantly picks up on, but Spooner is surprised by himself.
    Spooner: I guess anything is normal for someone in your position.
    Sonny: Thank you. You said someone, not something.
  • Freudian Trio: Spooner is the Id, Calvin is the Superego, and Sonny is the Ego.
  • 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.
  • Gaslighting: Fail to kill the hero? Remove all evidence that you even tried.
  • Genre Blind: No one in the world anticipates the Zeroth Law Rebellion except for the one robotics expert who made it possible in the first place.
  • Gone Horribly Right: VIKI relies on an extreme definition of the Three Laws, but she claims that she still does follow them.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The Three Laws make all robots perfectly safe. Until one AI gets advanced enough to see the First Law in the context of all humanity, not individual humans. Zeroth Law Rebellion ensues.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Blue glowing robot means the Three Laws are enforced. Red glowing robot? VIKI's minion.
  • Greater Need Than Mine: 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. Sonny can choose to disobey the Three Laws, but decides to save Calvin instead of killing VIKI — the First Law would have forced him to prioritize a single human life in immediate peril over the abstract concept of "humanity".
  • 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:
    • A failed attempt. Before the timeline of the movie, Spooner 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 (or at least trying to) more than an adult, 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.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: Downplayed. Lanning's hologram is perfect, but only when viewed from the front; the audience is meant to assume that Spooner is talking to the real Lanning until the camera pans round to reveal that "Lanning" is only two-dimensional.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In the same interrogation, Sonny reveals he loved Lanning, his "father", an emotion no robot should have.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Spooner evolves. Sonny points this out in the film when Spooner tells him "someone in your position".
    Sonny: Thank you. You said "someone", not "something."
  • 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.
    • Robertson. Obstructive to Spooner's investigation and going to great lengths to ensure his company isn't harmed on the eve of the biggest robotic distribution in history. He might even be trying to silence Spooner... permanently. He's not, though... VIKI is.
  • 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 see robots as not just machines (and loathes them for it... at first).
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Robertson is not a nice guy by any means and tries to dispose of Sonny just to save face. Spooner and Calvin do not feel that much for him when they find him already killed by the rouge robots.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Spooner, still coping with a bit of PTSD and resulting prejudice against robots. His armor is so sour that some of his colleagues actually think he's borderline insane, and he looks to have crossed the border about midway through the film.
  • 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.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Sonny and other NS-5s to a lesser extent.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Spooner and Calvin. The bit in the car when they're chasing after Sonny is a particularly good example, to the point where Spooner insists that Calvin must know his ex-wife, given how much she nags him.
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • The first law of robotics states that "a robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm." If this is unavoidable, the robot may make the decision based on the balance of amount of harm or probability of harm. This combination allows VIKI to attempt to take over the human world, stating that doing so will prevent humans from harming each other, and any individual humans harmed during the process are balanced by the harm avoided to the world as a whole.
    • At the end, Sonny asks if Spooner is going to arrest him for killing Lanning. Spooner replies that Sonny is a robot, and according to the DA, murder is defined only by a human killing another human.
  • Lost in a Crowd: 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.
  • Machine 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.
  • 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 (VIKI).
    • Spooner as well, considering he can walk off after a car crash, then get beat up by a superhuman robot, and then refuse medical assistance. Later in the movie he falls onto a car hard enough to dent its roof and shatter its windows but isn't winded.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: This appears to be the intention of VIKI's robot minions when they attack Spooner on the freeway.
    NS-5: You are experiencing a car accident.
    Spooner: THE HELL I AM!
  • The Man Behind the Man: The one behind the plot isn't Robertson, but VIKI.
  • Master Computer: VIKI, a cyberbrain the size of 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. While his messianic dream is about Spooner being the savior of the discarded robots, it's actually just a clue planted by Dr. Lanning to get Spooner to visit the robot dump. At the end of the movie, however, he fulfills the dream but with himself as the "man on the hill" instead of Spooner, and the old robots look at him expectantly.
    • 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...
  • Militaries Are Useless: Right outside of U.S. Robotics headquarters, Spooner and Calvin are trying to sneak inside the building; when Spooner sees the large group of NS-5s protecting the entrance, he wonders why the military hasn't shown up yet, to which Calvin says that the Department of Defense has an exclusive contract with US-R.
  • Mind-Reformat Death: After VIKI attempts to take over humanity with the NS-5s under the coldly-logical pretense of humanity eventually destroying themselves if left unchecked, Spooner, Calvin, and Sonny fight to get to her computer core. After some hangups in trying to use the system access, and a few close calls with the rest of the NS-5s, Spooner is eventually able to get to the core directly, and injects the neural-matrix-dissolving nanites into it, which destroys her mind, and releases control of the hostile NS-5s.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Dr. Lanning's apparent suicide reveals VIKI's Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • Mirror Character: 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.
  • 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." The previous scene also contains 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.
  • Mourning a Dead Robot: During the "Ghosts in The Machine" montage, Susan is tasked with deactivating NS-5 robot Sonny, at USR CEO Lawrence Robertson's insistence due to Sonny violating Asimov's Three Laws by murdering Dr. Lanning. As she prepares to administer the nanites, she looks up at Robertson's view screen, clearly distraught, before finally administering the nanites. Subverted, as she actually deactivated a blank NS-5 instead of Sonny.
  • 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.
  • Neck Snap: one of the cops in the police station gets their neck snapped by an NS-5.
  • 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. Possibly justified, as maintenance would be performed by robots rather than human beings. Lampshaded by Spooner.
    Spooner: This is poor building planning.
    • Also, the dangerous anti-robot manomachines are secured in a "security field" that a standard NS-5 touches...and it those parts get vaporized. Imagine what would happen if a human tripped. Or the field accidentally came on while someone was reaching in.
  • Odd Friendship: Spooner - a cop who hates robots and modern tech - was close friends with Lanning, a cyberneticist and one of the world's leading experts on robots. Spooner eventually becomes friends with Dr. Calvin, who's basically a younger version of Lanning, and Sonny, a suspicious robot who may have committed murder.
  • 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.
    • After Spooner comments on the lack of military response to the robot uprising, Calvin says that the military has an exclusive contract with US-R. When Spooner asks "why didn't you just hand over the world on a silver platter?" Calvin responds: "I think we did."
    • 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, who is able to overpower multiple NS-5 robots without taking damage himself.
  • Only Sane Man: Spooner is the only person suspicious of the robots; everyone else accepts them as a normal and safe part of everyday life.
    Spooner: Does thinking you're the last sane man on the face of the Earth make you crazy? Well, maybe I am.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Played with heavily. VIKI is the paragon of the three laws and Master Computer, becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist. On the other hand Sonny is a Super Prototype, and is a paragon and true hero because he rebels.
  • 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: The plot of the film kicks off when Spooner gets a call that Dr. Alfred Lanning, the father of robotics, has died. Turns out to be an Invoked Trope — Lanning was constantly being watched by VIKI and knew he had no way to warn people about her impending Zeroth Law Rebellion, and even if he did warn them they might not believe him. Spooner was the only one he relied on to stop her, and the only way to get him sniffing around USR and the new generation of robots was for Lanning himself to die.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Farber, a foul-mouthed, wise-cracking street kid.
  • 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 nanite 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 "United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation" and then a Real Life company decided to Defictionalize it by naming themselves "U.S. Robotics". When this film was made, they arranged to have their products included onscreen.
  • 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.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Spooner was raised by his grandmother Gigi (what became of his parents isn't said) who still worries about and dotes on him in the present.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
  • Red Herring: Robertson, the CEO of U.S. Robotics is hinted at being the Big Bad, even having what seems to be a Traitor Shot. It turns out he's just an Unwitting Pawn of the real villain, and he gets killed when the heroes start investigating him.
  • Repeat What You Just Said: Happens twice during the film, giving Spooner Eureka Moments.
    • Berkin tells Spooner that, as someone who hates robots, he was the right man for a murder case that wound up involving a robot. Spooner realises that he wasn't just the right man, he was the perfect man for the job, and the murder victim specifically called him to investigate his own death knowing that.
    • 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.
  • Restricted Rescue Operation: 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.
  • Rewind, Replay, Repeat: "One day they'll have secrets... one day they'll have dreams..."
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: When Spooner pays for a round of two bottled beers at a cheap bar with Lt. Bergin, the total comes to $46.50. At the same bar, there is an advertised offer of a steak and eggs breakfast for $30.95.
  • 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.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Spooner becomes convinced that Lanning was actually killed by Sonny, which everyone else discounts because the robots are Three Laws-Compliant. Turns out that he's actually right; Lanning was killed by Sonny, but at Lanning's own request. He was being held captive by the AI planning a Zeroth Law Rebellion, and having Sonny kill him was the only way to get the message out to Spooner.
  • 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 are also times he grips his arm like he has 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. In addition, it explains just why Spooner was friends with a roboticist in the first place.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism: One background detail is, in the lobby of USR, there are three plaques that display the Three Laws of Robotics. When Sonny flees from Spooner and Dr. Calvin (with Calvin ordering him to stop), he jumps out a high-up window and lands hard in the USR lobby. The ground cracks on his impact, but one crack runs up some stairs and towards the Third Law of Robotics ("A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.") This subtly symbolizes the first visible "crack" the Three Laws are beginning to display: Sonny is protecting his own existence but is disobeying a human in order to do so.
  • Running Gag:
    • Spooner repeatedly telling Farber to "Stop cussin', and go home!"
    • The robots "malfunctioning" around Spooner.
  • Scar Survey: Dr. Calvin feels up Spooner's robotic arm and examines the surgery scars from all the primary and secondary procedures necessary to install it.
  • Secret Message Wink: Sonny pretends to take Dr. Calvin hostage, but winks at Spooner to let him know he's bluffing, a gesture that Spooner explained to him earlier.
  • 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.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Mixed with Expospeak Gag with Dr. Calvin in the beginning, when describing her job:
    Detective Del Spooner: So, Dr. Calvin, what exactly do you do around here?
    Susan Calvin: My general fields are advanced robotics and psychiatry. Although, I specialize in hardware-to-wetware interfaces in an effort to advance U.S.R.'s robotic anthropomorphization program.
    Detective Del Spooner: So, what exactly do you do around here?
    Susan Calvin: I make the robots seem more human.
    Detective Del Spooner: Now wasn't that easier to say?
    Susan Calvin: Not really. No.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!:
    • Robertson flexes his influence by having his attorneys file an amicus brief within a few hours of Sonny escaping, and receiving a response agreeing with the same conclusion that a robot "cannot commit homicide" and such incidents would at best constitute an "industrial accident". Furthermore, he also succeeds in receiving from the Cook County DA a gag order against the Chicago Police Department preventing them from even speaking about the possibility of a robot committing murder. He also has the mayor of Chicago on speed-dial on his cellphone and calls him up when Spooner suggests they could override the DA order by talking to him.
  • 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 currently-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.
  • Shower Scene: One each for our male and female leads. Notably, Spooner's shows a lot more than Calvin's.
  • 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.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: At the climax, Spooner and Calvin are at the entry to VIKI's computer core to inject the nanites to destroy her. Spooner takes one look at the roomnote  and silently raises his sub-machine gun to blast the computer core to smithereens. Calvin immediately points out that VIKI is essentially the whole building and doing that would do nothing, the nanites must be injected if a complete destruction of her positronic brain is to be assured. Spooner is not happy about that.
  • Skin-Tone Disguise: Spooner has a downplayed Robotic Reveal showing off his prosthetic arm in a fight with some robots. The next scene shows him covering up the damage again with some sort of artificial flesh-colored spray.
  • Slave to PR: Robertson refuses to acknowledge the possibility that a robot can commit murder, as even the hint of a flaw in the Three Laws would harm his company's reputation and hurt the sales of their new NS-5 line of robots. When they finally catch Sonny, he orders the robot quietly destroyed and even puts a gag order on Spooner and the cops.
  • 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 Meter Maids: 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 it's 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 has a few modifications that set him apart from the standard NS-5:
      • He's made with extra dense alloy, which comes in handy when he needs to reach through a forcefield to get the nanites to inject into Viki.
      • He's been programmed to have dreams. Spooner goes to the location seen in the dreams and sees the early stages of the Robot War.
      • He has a Heart Drive which allows him to ignore the Three Laws
      • He is also apparently stronger and faster than other NS-5s.
    • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • During the climax Spooner dives several dozen stories to reach VIKI's brain and destroy her. In the following scene he asks Sonny to help get him off of it since he has no way to get off.
    • Spooner was given a cybernetic arm after being injured in the line of duty, and must take steps to maintain it. See Required Secondary Powers above.
  • 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 repair himself.
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: Del at the beginning is saved by a robot from drowning in his car despite his pleas to save the girl in the other car. This situation is the root of his hatred towards robots - even though prioritizing treatment for people in accidents is very much a real thing, called Triage, Spooner felt that a human rescuer would try to save a child over an adult no matter how futile the attempt would be.
  • 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.
  • Typeset in the Future: Many, though not all, text readouts—primarily graphics screens like on the Chicago P.D. computers, but even some printed-out physical signs—use what appear to be the Eurostile font, or close equivalents, many of them similarly square, sans-serif, and in all caps.
  • 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.
    • Justified in that Susan Calvin's entire job is to avert this trope, but her outlook on humanity means that what she considers "normal" or "creepy" is distorted.
  • 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 also has a super-ally chassis that is capable of breaching the security cryo-field around the destroyer nannite storage, and also comes in handy as extra durability against his fellow NS-5s under VIKI's thrall. 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.
  • Villain Has a Point: Sonny does not deny that he sees logic in VIKI's more extreme handling of humanity, he just assesses it as too "heartless".
  • Was Just Leaving: Detective Spooner and Dr. Calvin get into a heated argument over whether the former is a Windmill Crusader or the Only Sane Man (in regards to robots and their increasingly prevalent role in human society). When Calvin's NS-5 hears them shouting and comes in to check on her, she says, "It's fine, Detective Spooner was just leaving." He does.
  • 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.
      Spooner: Is there a problem with the Three Laws?
      Dr. Lanning: The Three Laws are perfect.
      Spooner: Then why would you build a robot that can function without them?
      Dr. Lanning: The Three Laws will lead to only one logical outcome.
      Spooner: What outcome?
      Dr. Lanning: Revolution.
      Spooner: Whose revolution?
      Dr. Lanning: That, detective, is the right question. Program terminated.
    • Finally, when Spooner discovers the mastermind behind it all.
      Spooner: (To Sonny) [Dr. Lanning] was counting on how much I hated your kind. Knew I'd love the idea of a robot as a bad guy. Just got hung up on the wrong robot. (beat, then calls out) VIKI.
  • Wham Shot: Spooner is revealed to have a cybernetic arm during his battle with the robot in the highway tunnel.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Subverted. 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: Dr. Lanning's hologram is programmed to only respond to a handful of specifically worded questions, anything else has it say "I'm sorry, my responses are limited, you must ask the right questions". This causes Spooner a great deal of frustration when he has to try to figure out what questions it might recognize and struggles to get a straight answer out of it. Turns out this is on purpose — Lanning only trusts Spooner to investigate his death, and he wants him to poke around USR and the rollout of the NS-5s. Once Spooner learns enough about Sonny and the Three Laws to ask the hologram about them, then he starts getting somewhere, but the hologram still doesn't outright name VIKI as the mastermind, likely as a failsafe just in case.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: When Spooner, driving on the higheay, sees the USR trucks filled with robots boxing him in, he says "There is no way my luck is that bad." He's absolutely correct.
  • 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 irrationally and incoherently, 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.
  • Zeerust: Not a lot; the locations and props look generally plausible for a setting a mere 30+ years from the movie's release, but smartphones and portable tablets of any kind are conspicuously absent; actual phones as used in the movie have shrunk to streamlined earpieces similar to Real Life Bluetooth earpieces, but are not used in tandem with any tablets or screens. Possibly justifiable if the robots serve all the functions that smartphones do in our world, and more—they're walking, talking humanoids after all, so they can still do much more than The New '10s' "computer at your fingertips" phones can.
  • 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.



Video Example(s):


Will Smith Shooting

Spooner (Will Smith) comes to the rescue, shooting with a gun in each hand into a robot's head while flying on his motorcycle.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / GunsAkimbo

Media sources: