UK Release: February 7th 2014
When it was announced way back in 2005 that ‘ROBOCOP’ was going to be remade, there was a lot of hostility online about the film. With several well publicised arguments between the current (‘Elite Squad’s Jose Padilha) and past directors (one of which was Darren Aronofsky) before and on – set with the producers, things were not looking optimistic at all. To add even more salt into the wounds fans saw how Paul Verhoeven’s other film (‘Total Recall’), was remade into a average affair back in the Summer of 2012. The thing about ‘Robocop’ is how a little exploitative/ ultra-violet B-Movie film which came out in 1987(directed by a European) had such an impact on popular culture. Spawning a franchise which went on to have two sequels in its canon (all wrote by Frank Miller, one directed by Irvin Kershner of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ fame), and then further went on to have a 90’s TV series (titled ‘Future of Law Enforcement’), a cartoon series, a direct-to-DVD series and a tie-in toy line and videogames.
Known for its big ideas the original ‘Robocop’ was released on a backdrop of Reagan’s second term as President. Hallmarked by Verhoeven’s craze of making satire out of US pop culture and politics (bogus TV ads promoting a board game titled ‘Nukem’ appear in the first film, after a horrifying news story is shown), which he continued with in ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Starship Troopers’. This is the idea which made Verhoeven wanting to do the original film. One thing what he might have not counted on was the fact that a lot of the technology on show in that film, has actually been achieved today, with cybernetic implants and such. In its defence, the 2014 ‘Robocop’ does very much try with this idea of greed, and the idea that companies in this day and age are part of big conglomerates (something which was predicted in the original) controlling their own news stations (here seen with Samual L. Jackson ‘Fox News’ style anchor) and the money ploughed by the US Government into middle-eastern conflicts. And this all works fine, it does reflect what’s going onto today. It’s just a shame there isn’t any of this profound European satire here, something which ‘Robocop 2’ and ‘Robocop 3’, however flawed they were, tried. I don’t know if this is something to do with the arguments between the producers and Padilha or what, but it just doesn’t seem to add anything new.
Broadly speaking, there are good references to the past though. The older ‘Robocop’ model is visually evoked in the earlier designs of this new model, classic lines and remixed themes (Padilha usual Pedro Bromfman, again scoring here) and gags about stairs are all present here. Padilha certainly brings identity to his direction here also. Feels very guerrilla-style with his handheld and fluidity in the camera movement (see also his Brazilian ‘Elite Squad’ films). There is also a good play on the idea of a modern style (if yet very Christian approach) of telling the story of ‘Frankenstein’ between Gary Oldman scientist and Joel Kinnaman’s robot. And for a ’12a’ certified film, there is certainly levels of gun violence and explosions which does feel like as if its pushing that certification, then what you might expect. Performance wise Joel Kinnaman is fine as Alex Murphy (even if he lacks that Peter Weller ‘’robot’’ voice), Abbie Cornish does well with very little as his wife (and a son who looks different in every scene). Standout thought are Gary Oldman as the Dr (here he clearly stated he was doing it for the money more than anything) and more so Michael Keaton (who replaced Hugh Laurie) as the head of Omnicorp, snarling away with his excellent team of Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel and Jackie Earle Haley (who are more extended cameos if anything). But Keaton does very much outshine people on screen here.
There is some standard plot holes, it never explains how they saved his left eye, even though it is seen badly burnt, and how the visor doesn’t really make him act any differently than to what the first person sequence wants to give off. The whole idea of Alex Murphy trying to a father and husband is intriguing, but it soon turns more into a standard (if yet) silly affair, despite the two leads working well together on screen. I think one of the main issues I had with this version of ‘Robocop’ is that it’s more a Superhero origins story if anything. The whole recreation process is something which reminds me of that of ‘Iron Man’, with the different beta suits, robot fights and a super jump he seems to have. There are other elements taken from other comic book texts as well here. The slums of ‘Dredd’ are noticeable here and the whole ‘detective vision’ from the ‘Batman: Arkham’ games are evident as well (even down to the red block tracker). And this is a shame as rather than influencing something (like what the original did), it feels like it’s taking from it instead. And this leads this into the bigger issue. Since its got carried away in doing this, the script strangely lacks any real sense of character perspectives, which makes it feel very hollow like a ‘Tin Man’ if anything. This is perplexing particularly with its clear sense of wanting to try and comment about the US Government in the Middle East and business practises, meaning it leaves it to appear nothing more but just a little flat and more referencing than anything else.
So in conclusion there is effort made, and at times it works well, but it is few and far between. This something which even at best efforts can’t hold a candle to the original nor to other Sci-Fi franchises out there.