Review: RoboCop / Cert: 12A / Director: José Padilha / Screenplay: Joshua Zetumer / Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Aimee Garcia, Zach Grenier / Release Date: February 7th
For those few not familiar with the 1987 original, José Padilha’s RoboCop mostly follows the same plot – it’s 2028 and crime and terrorism are still rife. In Detroit, a large corporation called OmniCorp is developing the warfare technology of tomorrow – large robots accompanying trained men into battle. Only, they’re not very popular with the public, especially when they shoot people who aren’t perceived threats.
What they need is a man inside a machine. A more human touch. Some sort of... robot cop (well, cyborg actually). Step in Alex Murphy, a dedicated police officer who meets his untimely demise at the hands of the ruthless gang he’s chasing. If this rings any bells, that’s about where the similarities with Verhoeven’s version stop.
As expected, the 12A classification of the film severely inhibits the dark humour and ultraviolence that made the original so popular. For starters (spoiler), Murphy is not sadistically blown to pieces, or even killed, but is blown up by a car bomb. In a change from the first film, his family are well aware of his situation, as Murphy is himself, with Joel Kinnaman displaying some great acting amongst an all-star cast as the emotionally turbulent man living on in a cybernetic suit, unable to forget his attempted murder.
Unfortunately, you’re not really rooting for him though – the street criminals are tossed aside in favour of the corporate bad guys, updated to a more PR/brand-concerned team of creatives headed by CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton). The anger and desire for revenge is missing – while the ‘bad guys’ certainly lack ethics, they also lack personality, reflecting a more disinterested modern generation. What is interesting is how the date of RoboCop is unchanged – 2028 – the real-life bankruptcy of Detroit presumably making the sci-fi vision seem closer to reality.
There is no sense of cruel dystopia however, another theme from the original that added to the world Murphy inhabited and made you more interested in his fate, and the fate of those who deserved to be taken in, dead or alive. There are a few hit-and-miss nods to the original, such as several (but largely unimportant) ED-209s. Disturbing questions about the nature of humanity still raise their heads. Elements of cynicism remain - some are relatively hidden (look out for news ticker tapes), and some are more obvious and welcome, such as Samuel L. Jackson’s brilliant right-wing TV anchor Pat Novak. However, there are no happy families playing Nukem and nothing is bought for a dollar.
Despite impressive CGI and a quick reimagining of Murphy becoming half-machine, Padilha's RoboCop only really gets going halfway through. A scene featuring a battle test for RoboCop impresses, and there’s a brilliant sequence where he scans a friendly crowd for potential criminal suspects. RoboCop 2014 is sleeker and more driven by empathy than revenge, with a lot of emphasis on human relationships – particularly with sympathetic Dr Norton (Oldman), abrasive soldier Rick Mattox (Haley) and Murphy’s loving wife Clara (Cornish). There is no shortage of action but it is somewhat unfulfilling without a solid purpose, and although the ensemble cast’s acting is exceptional, perhaps surprisingly so for an action movie, the film doesn’t keep the momentum going when it should.
One can only wonder what Darren Aronofsky would have made of this, or even what Hugh Laurie may have added to the film, if anything. Fans of old may already be smirking (‘It’s a 12,’ ‘The suit’s black,’ ‘He has his hand,’ ’Lewis is a man!’) but the film is definitely worth a watch on its own merit. The reboot is here, and it would be nice to see Robo kicking ass again (preferably an ass belonging to a nastier, certificate 18-rated bad guy).
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10