I, Robot didn’t just whomp Spider-Man 2 at the box office this weekend, it also beat it out in my overall opinion of the two.
Spider-Man 2 was a lot of fun, no doubt, but there were times I felt like Raimi was getting a little too wink-wink with the comic book fans, not to mention his own cult following. That Salomé, not particularly familiar with the details of Spidey’s background, was bored at times when he over-indulged in some of these moments confirmed it for me. The over-the-top nod to his Evil Dead movies in the scene where they try to saw off Doc Ock’s arms was a bit much. The campy segment where Peter Parker focuses on being Peter Parker while some goofy, Come on Get Happy-ish song plays in the background, annoyed me, as did J. Jonah Jameson’s obnoxious hamming it up as if he was on the old Batman TV series. And the big train fight scene that put an el in Manhattan was just lazy and uninspired.
All that said, as a comic book fan, there were several little moments that brought a smile to my face – POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT – like the introduction of Dr. Curt Connors (the Lizard) and John Jameson (Man-Wolf); Harry Osborne’s discovery of his father’s secret lair; MJ calling Peter “Tiger;” and New Yorkers promising not to reveal Spidey’s secret identity.
Comparing this one to the first Spider-Man, which took most people by surprise, is an apples and oranges scenario but if forced, I’d put it on par, not above.
I, Robot, on the other hand, unexpectedly jumped onto my Top 10 all-time list of summer blockbusters and, I suspect with another viewing, has a chance of making my Top 10 overall. A superior action movie that tackles the done-to-death robots taking over the world plot, liberally borrows from everything from 2001 to Terminator to Spider-Man, and pumps new life into the whole shebang. I’m not a sci-fi junkie and I’ve never read the source material but I’m guessing, judging from its Isaac Asimov pedigree that in some ways, those movies actually borrowed from I, Robot. The credits explain the movie was “suggested by” Asimov, which makes sense for the amount of tweaking I’m sure they had to do to bring it up to date. And I highly doubt Asimov’s leading man was black, a subtle but poignant reference point in the plot.
Will Smith is money in Hollywood for a reason, having become the black Bruce Willis circa Die Hard with his likeable, down-to-earth tough guy persona. Plus he’s much easier on the eyes than Willis ever was. Call him non-threatening if you want to but 10 years ago there’s no way this movie gets made with a black leading man – with this kind of budget Wesley Snipes could not have played Det. Spooner – plus a black actor in a significant supporting role, with Chi McBride expertly reprising his Boston Public role. Bridget Moynahan is solid as the cold female scientist, and Bruce Greenwood plays slimy corporate scum better than most.
The special effects are top-notch and the main robot is a Gollum-like accomplishment, but the fact is there’s a meaty mystery plot underneath it that holds the entire movie up and raises it a notch above the ordinary. Sitting through Spider-Man 2 a short few hours after watching I, Robot, I found myself frequently thinking back to Robot and how I would have preferred to end my movie night with it instead.
Spider-Man 2: B+; I, Robot: A-