(It’s not Bubo, sorry to disappoint) It’s Debate Day here on Trope and Dagger! Today, Andy and I are putting forth our opinions on film’s greatest robots! To read Andy’s ridiculous selection, go here: Incorrect Things. Now, let me tell you all about the best bot ever to grace the silver screen, and why.
Over the years, there have been many different robotic entities that have captured imaginations and sparked excitement in movie-going audiences. These bots have ranged from cute and friendly:
To depressingly hilarious:
However, there’s one robot that encapsulates all of that, and more. I believe that the greatest robot ever to be put on film is the Iron Giant.
If you haven’t seen The Iron Giant, go and do so right now. First, because it’s a fantastic film. And second, because Spoilers for The Iron Giant ahoy! (Obviously)
There were several other contenders for the Best Robot in Film, and picking The Iron Giant wasn’t easy. There were some other serious contenders, like R2-D2 from Star Wars, Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Data from Star Trek: First Contact. I would have chosen BB-8, because I’m certain that he will be the spirit of victory in robot form, but I figured I should limit this to robots who have already been in theaters. While they have their admirable, frightening, and inspiring facets, I’ve found that only the Iron Giant encapsulates all of those traits into one. His journey is one that makes us think, it forces us to reflect on what humanity truly is and take a good long look at ourselves.
Before anything more, however, I have to say that Vin Diesel, as the voice of the Iron Giant, did a fantastic job. He had even less to say here than he did with Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, yet in the few lines he had, he conveys intense emotion and does amazing work. Of course, even more credit goes to the animators. He comes to life like nothing else.
When we first meet the Iron Giant, he’s wandering through the wilderness, scavenging for metals and destroying things wherever he goes. He’s also confused and frightened, not much more than a child at this point. He is suffering from some sort of amnesia caused by damage to his head and is unaware why he is here and what he is supposed to do, so he is simply satisfying his basic needs. When he does find something he can consume, it’s just happens to be an electrical substation which hurts him terribly, prompting Hogarth, the film’s protagonist, to save him. This bonds the Iron Giant to Hogarth, much the same way that a child bonds to its parents. The Giant trusts him, listens to him, and learns from him.
One of the themes of the movie is that of self-determination. Hogarth shows the Giant comic books, with the Giant becoming instantly interested in Superman. However, he is confused by Atomo the Metal Menace, which he sees as more similar to him. That’s when Hogarth tells him that “you are who you choose to be.” The Giant wants to be Superman, he wants to help people in need, not menace them. He demonstrates this in the film, even before being introduced to Superman. When he begins eating train tracks and Hogarth tells him to put them back as a train is coming, he recognizes that he’s doing something wrong and fixes the tracks, even though he is hurt in the process (and he shows off his neat re-building trick here!). Of course, we see how this behavior conflicts with his programming when later on he almost kills Hogarth, his weapons accidentally activating when Hogarth brandishes a toy gun. It’s clear that the Iron Giant was not built for altruistic purposes, which makes his journey all the more compelling.
Later in the movie, of course, we discover what the Iron Giant was actually built for. Hogarth is knocked unconscious and the Giant believes him to be dead. The Iron Giant displays real despair in this moment, and it changes him. The trauma cures his amnesia and activates his original programming. He turns into a walking weapon, attacking the completely outmatched army and destroying all that he can see. The Giant is truly a powerful force, sent from places unknown to annihilate humanity. But fortunately for mankind, the Giant has forged a close friendship with Hogarth, who awakens and is able to calm the Giant and get him to deactivate his weapons. The Giant recognizes his friend and is able to fight his programming.
Humanity, however, has already decided to obliterate the Giant, and a nuclear missile is heading towards the Giant and the town they are all in. The Giant realizes that the only way to stop the missile in time is to sacrifice himself protecting the innocent people. He flies into the atmosphere to collide with the missile, smiling and speaking the word “Superman.” He knows who he wants to be, and meets his fate with that knowledge…but we know that’s not the end.
The Iron Giant is the best bot ever to grace the silver screen. He’s lovable, badass, kind-engined, and a friend in the truest sense of the word. He is the epitome of the philosophical question: Is it more admirable to be good inherently, or to be bad inherently and fight to be good? While in the end it may not matter one way or the other, I find it very admirable that he was able to fight his natural programming, befriending his intended targets and even saving them from themselves. Many robots are completely static characters, with no development or moral dilemmas, but the Iron Giant is more than just a robot, he’s a hero.