Robocop (2014) - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
JOSE Padilha’s remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is, much like its central character, a film that wrestles with corporate greed and a conflicted morality.
On the one hand, its very reason for being smacks of the profit driven culture of remaking movies that has come to embody a lot of mainstream cinema, while flying in the face of the subversive spirit that made Verhoeven’s original so memorable.
But while certainly conforming to plenty of modern blockbuster norms, right down to the reduced certificate (12A instead of 18), there’s actually a surprising amount to like as well. There’s a lot more intelligence at play while the film’s willingness to be different from the original reaps its own rewards. It feels like a movie of its time.
Set in 2028, the film is set within a landscape where a corporation, OmniCorp, is desperate to replace flesh and blood police officers with robocops designed to drastically reduce deaths. A smart opening sequence in the Middle East illustrates their ‘effectiveness’ until the shit hits the fan.
Back in Detroit, OmniCorp head Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) needs to sway public opinion in order to persuade the government to allow him to put his machines on US streets. Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a good cop determined to bring down one of the city’s most ruthless criminals and expose corruption within his own force, who is blown to pieces by a car bomb designed to bring his investigation to a close.
With the help of genius scientist Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Sellars rebuilds Murphy as a new-look, partly human Robocop and immediately wins that approval. But once Murphy begins looking into his own murder and his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son raise emotional complications, OmniCorp must decide how much of Murphy’s humanity can be allowed to remain.
Padhilla’s film embraces a lot of current themes, from the use of drones in the war on terror to corporate politicking, police states and even media manipulation, and is at its best when giving these ideas chance to breathe, thereby playing to the strengths of its starry cast (and Oldman’s conscience driven Norton in particular).
It also delivers some telling, albeit toned down, set pieces while allowing Kinnaman room to build a suitably complex central character – one who is very aware, when science allows, of the torment of his predicament.
There’s even a nice line in subversive humour that stems from nods to the original (in looks, score and dialogue) as well as a recurring Wizard of Oz reference.
But there are also times when the film isn’t brave enough. The nasty streak inherent in Verhoeven’s original is missing here, even though Padhilla tests the boundaries of the 12A limit with some of the injury footage, as are the flamboyant villains and the go-for-broke anti-corporate elements that felt like Verhoeven didn’t care if he was biting the hand that feeds.
This is anti-corporate but in a more polished way, and one that is careful not to ruffle too many feathers by being too provocative or reactionary. It very much exists in the current landscape of good men turned superhero who triumph against the odds.
Hence, Robocop is equal parts intelligent sci-fi with lofty aspirations and dumbed down crowd-pleaser that remains aware of its own commercial potential. As remakes go, though, it has to rate as one of the better and more enjoyable updates.
Running time: 118mins
UK Release Date: February 7, 2014