There’s no reason it had to be made, but Robocop is enjoyable enough to justify its crowded Valentine’s Day release.
How do I grade a movie which is a remake that nobody clamored for nor really needed?
Well, I will do my best to be objective and work under the assumption that this 2014 reboot of Robocop just HAD to be made. And surprisingly, once I throw away the veneer of head-scratching as to why this film exists in the first place, the retelling of the cyborg policeman’s story actually was a great deal of fun.
Much like Paul Verhoeven’s classic 1987 original, the film centers around Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop wounded horrifically in an attempted murder. Given a second chance at life by OmniCorp’s groundbreaking technology, Alex re-emerges as Robocop, and must struggle between the emotional needs of his human half and the strict adherence to code of his machine half.
Let’s take care of the negative aspects of the film first. Right off the bat, let me say that in no way will the 2014 version replace Verhoeven’s original. The 1987 version is still considered one of the most brutally violent films of all time, whereas Jose Padilha’s checks in with a predictable PG-13. Translation: still plenty of action sequences, but very, very tame when compared to the graphic nature of its source material. Second of all, Joel Kinnaman is not a strong-enough actor to handle the responsibilities needed to be the lead in a big-budget action picture. One of the keys to Robocop working as a thoughtful sci-fi is that the audience needs to be able to see the struggle between humanity and technology. While Kinnaman certainly tries his best, there are times when his line deliveries were so wooden that he appeared to be all robot.
However, the rest of the cast is top-notch. Michael Keaton gives yet another wonderful performance as Raymond Sellars, the CEO of OmniCorp whose money-first philosophy comes into quick conflict with the morality of his actions toward saving Alex. Gary Oldman is superb as Dr. Dennett Norton, the doctor whose intelligence brings about the technology responsible for Robocop. His sympathy towards Alex’s condition and increased mechanization is one of the film’s strongest subplots, and Oldman’s acting range is on full display. A talented cast of supporting characters salvage any of Kinnaman’s shortcomings, from Jay Baruchel as a quippy marketing expert at OmniCorp, to Abbie Cornish in a surprisingly well-acted role as Alex’s traumatized wife. Perhaps the most show-stealing role goes to Samuel L. Jackson though, as a Bill O’Reilly-esque political commentator whose TV program airs his unabashed love and desire for all things in the name of robotic peacekeeping.
The story is also reasonably thoughtful, carefully cataloging the ever-relevant admonishments of the military-industrial complex. This is clearly a movie for a post-Iraq America, as it hints at repercussions for using superior technology to enforce the will of the government and authorities. As Alex fights his programming more and more throughout the movie, we are shown how OmniCorp views him as more and more of a dangerous financial liability than a human being inside a mechanical body. Without being too preachy, Padilha’s film is able to make several timely commentaries on current American foreign policy, especially the use of drones. For a movie billed (correctly) as an action movie, there is a great deal of care put into the screenplay. This prevents the scenes of dialogue from existing purely as bridges between scenes of violence.
While some of the action sequences feel ripped straight out of video games, the visual style employed in the many action sequences is fairly captivating. As the plot lays out for us, the computerized parts of Alex’s surgically-repaired brain are the ones making all of his combat decisions. Thus, the occasional choice to give us a first-person view of these lightning-fast analyzing, aiming, and firing mechanisms is quite exhilarating. I was also a fan of Padilha’s ability to not rely solely on gunplay, as there are some very well-choreographed hand-to-hand fighting scenes as well.
All in all, I forgive Padilha’s choice to reboot Robocop. In a more perfect world, I would have liked to see an original screenplay incorporating the same elements, much like Oblivion was able to accomplish last spring. But for what it was, Robocop was a film with few major flaws. The action was cool and well-staged, the story kept me captivated throughout, and there were some very memorable supporting performances. In the long run though, we’ll all just stick with Paul Verhoeven’s original.
RYAN’s RATING: 2.5 Stars out of 4