‘What does this action signify?’
Apparently adapted from an Isaac Asimov story, Alex ProyasI, Robot is either an insipid or cliched. It relies on the old sci-fi adage that technological progress doesn’t live up to the second half of that phrase, and that humans’ reliance on technology and reproducing it in mass amounts will lead to their downfall. Especially if this new innovation means that the machines we have invented are capable to decide whether humans are useful or destructive, as decided by, in the case of this movie, a robotic program named VIKI.
There is a new model of robots replacing the clunky, gray ones in the streets of Chicago of 2035. They’re painted white, a mix of shell and wire skeletons (the whole colour palette of the movie is white to black to brown and the occasional green, making the spaces look liked in and it’s at least being devoid of the neon bluish tint that is in most sci-fis). Their joint movements are smother than the old ones but unlike the latter they can actually move their faces. And when they attack either our protagonist Detective Spooner (Will Smith) or the Chicago’s citizens (including Shia Laboeuf) they seem to be crawling instead of being rigid militaristic beings.
Sonny (Alan Tudyk), a name either given by his master (James Cromwell, now known as Jean Dujardin’s elderly butler in The Artist) or by himself, is a robot accused of murdering the latter, his investigation confirming Spooner’s prejudice against robots. He is aware enough of how advanced he is to want to know what he is capable of. This is some strange casting since Tudyk has a pretty distinct face and voice although it’s a successful collaboration of acting, design and directing that these features of his are tuned down. He asks Spooner what a wink signifies, which to Spooner is rude question but this education becomes useful later on. He ends up being a witty bastard too, catching Spooner when the latter’s prejudiced fences go lower.
Either way, the transitions between wide shots and close-ups of Spooner in these scenes aren’t seamless and make the movie look cheap. These battle scenes also aren’t challenging enough for the humans, the creepy way they move makes them seem less solid also means that the leading characters can easily defeat them. Tthe denouement of every other sci-fi ends in some vertigo-inducing circular-shaped chamber, where pathways to the centre are made of narrow steel beams and the robots come in through the glass windows in intimidating numbers but they don’t look tangible enough for a real fight.
is a grating actor to watch, taking any sci-fi project to compensate for turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Although at least he competently handles a character’s prejudice sparked by a traumatic event involving a robot rescuing him instead of doing the same thing to a little girl – the best part of the movie is his soliloquy which, intentionally or otherwise, questions details of this back story. Of course Spooner is representative of the humanity lost within a logical-driven mindset of a fictional futuristic society. His Spooner gets another cliche by quasi-platonic, opposites-attract love interest (Bidget Moynahan) who is cold and culturally ignorant as he is temperamental and streetwise. His badge being taken away from him for pursuing the Sonny case without authority – how is he going to take it back!? Despite of what happens and of Sonny, he still carries a minor strain of that point of view.