Release Date:  July 16, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense stylized action, and some brief partial nudity)
Genre:  Sci-Fi/Thriller/Adventure
Run Time: 105 min.
Director:  Alex Proyas
Actors: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Adrian Ricard, Chi McBride, Jerry Wasserman

It’s 2035 in Chicago, and robots handle all of our manual labor. These robots are programmed with three laws: they must never hurt a human; they must always obey humans, unless doing so would violate the first law; and they must never hurt another robot, unless doing so would violate the first or second law. Everyone appreciates the robots, except for Detective Del “Spoon” Spooner (Will Smith), who doesn’t trust their judgment – much to the derision of his colleagues on the police force.

A new generation of robots are about to be revealed, with one for every five humans. On the eve of its launch, the project’s creator and the inventor of robot intelligence, Dr. Lanning (James Cromwell) is found dead inside his office building. The owner of the company, Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood), who is also the richest and most powerful man in the world, insists that his employee committed suicide. The police are inclined to agree. After all, robots cannot hurt humans.

For Spoon, however, the facts don’t add up, and when a robot, who is hidden in Lanning’s office, assaults Spoon and takes off, Spoon goes after him. Obviously, this is one robot that doesn’t obey humans. In fact, it takes a whole S.W.A.T. team to catch it. In the interrogation room, Spoon is startled to discover that this robot can also feel emotions – something else that was never meant to be. Spoon wants to stop the release of the fifth generation robots, but no one listens to his dire warnings.

The robots are released and immediately try to take over society. Now, the only people who can stop them are Spoon, who has a bionic arm that rivals the robot’s superhuman strength, and Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), a robot psychologist who understands how to deprogram the machine-like monsters that are rising up against their masters.

The sets are futuristic and stylish, as are the costumes. All of the actors do a decent job, although Smith’s motorcycle jumping, shoot-‘em-up skills are a bit too “Rambo”-like for credibility. Director Alex Proyas, a relative newcomer, leaves the audience in suspense and keeps the action going for a fast-paced film that is reminiscent of “Blade Runner,” with its ruthless robots that are searching for identity, purpose and immortality. There are several superfluous elements, including two gratuitously nude shower scenes that serve merely to show off the lead characters’ bodies, and several scenes with a foul-mouthed, perverted teen that Spoon protects.

The film asks us to ponder the question of whether technology liberates or enslaves us. Although humans are “freed” from blue-collar tasks like garbage collection, bartending and deliveries, they become overly dependent upon the robots, much as we are on our technology today. The humans also forget to be “human” and treat the robots like, well, machines. Interestingly, the more human the robots become, the more machine-like, or robotic, the people become. They can’t think outside the box, they don’t display emotion and they are terse and increasingly calculating. It’s a clear warning.

There is no mention of God (although Spoon’s grandmother tries to go to church), and there is a strong evolutionary message in the film. The robots have evolved past their moral code, to the point where they keep secrets and have dreams that cause them to commit criminal acts. It’s a fall from innocence that can only be stopped by the Messiah-like character of Spoon. Yet the theology of the film, expressed by the lead robot, is that “sometimes the created needs to help the creator, even against his will.” It’s the Hollywood assumption that God needs our help, which is arrogant at best and suicidal at worst.