A REBOOT THAT IS MORE HUMAN DRAMA THAN MECHANICAL ACTION
Debuting back in 1987, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop was adored by viewers with its dark humor, gritty “R” rated action, and great one-liners that many still say today. While the film, which was regarded as a cult classic, spawned a franchise; the franchise itself wasn’t as glamorous or well received as its first installment. This included two sequels, a cartoon series, and a live-action Television series. Now twenty seven years later, MGM and Columbia studios and director Jose Padilha revamped the infamous Robocop for a new generation titled Robocop (the same name as the 1987 original). Does this reboot surpass the cult-classic original film or is it a haphazard film that you wouldn’t buy for a dollar?
Set in the near future, warfare abroad is being mechanized with robots and drones keeping terrorists at bay. They been proven to be successful, but political red tape and questionable ethics have kept Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and his robotic company Omnicorp, who manufactures these mechanical beings, from being used on U.S. soil. In an attempt to work around this, Sellars, enlists the help of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a scientist in Omnicorp to build a cyborg cop; one that will be both favorable in the public’s eye and to the U.S government. Enter Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an average good cop from Detroit, who gets severely hurt in a botched car bomb from a local crime lord. As a last ditch effort to save Alex’s life, his wife Clara (Abbie Corminsh) allows Sellars and Norton to transform what remains of Alex into a powerful cybernetic police officer titled Robocop. However, the human element remains within this fusion of robotics and human flesh as many (Sellars, Norton, Clara, and even Alex himself) begin to wonder: Does the man control the machine or does the machine control the man?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While the film looks expensive with CG effects everywhere and thoroughly well-executed, the really downside to this Robocop remake is the lack of the intensely heavy and gritty action, which made the first film famous. People getting shot left and right, being dipped in acid, blood and anarchy running everywhere is replaced with a more tamed and contemporary tone that doesn’t push the envelope as nearly as much as its predecessor. Even Alex’s fatal tragedy that befalls him in the beginning of both films seems much more horrific and shocking in the original rather than this version. On the plus side, the film delves deeper into the human element, questioning motives and ethical reasons, much more so than the first Robocop. While in the original, viewers catch mere glimpse into Alex’s personal life, in the 2014 version, the viewers go deeper with Alex struggling to find the balance within and with his family. Emotional instincts, compassion, and love are rooted within Alex when he dawns the mechanical armor and plays out well in the movie’s narrative, which begins to corrupt the system put in place by Omnicorp, who see Alex as a product of their own design.
This is all good and makes for a slightly better story, in my opinion, but the truth is that the original film and this one are sold as action flicks and while the first one delivers on that front, then second one doesn’t as much. There is action in this movie and some great sequences, especially towards the film’s third act, but it’s very few and far between. In place for its allotted time for action, the movie also gets bogged down in heated debates of right and wrong, which is still interesting, but plays it out too much in it’s the Robocop’s narrative. This can be seeing in the character of Pat Novak, a news broadcaster that spreads propaganda for “Pro-Robots” and “Anti-Freedom”, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, though talented and delivers mild comedy to a film that is in desperate need of some comic relief, gets boring and overstay his welcome; taking time away from the film for some heavy-handed monologues. The film does get better towards the middle and that’s where the movie shines the brightest, but gets a little muddled down with a conventional plot that been done one too many times before. All in all, if you want gritty balls to wall action, watch the Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. If you want a more dramatic (Emotional and political) tone, watch Jose Padilha’s Robocop. I liked both, but my personally preference would be the first one rather than the latter one.
The cast of the film is a recognizable ensemble, but their performances and/ or characters are sort of a mixture of good and bad. First and foremost, is Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy (Robocop). Though not better than Peter Weller’s performance, Kinnaman, who most notably from the TV show The Killing, delivers a likeable Alex Murphy in the first act and does a more dynamic persona, but still likeable portrayal when he becomes Robocop; struggling and coming to terms of what happened to him.
Along with Kinnaman, Gary Oldman help anchors the film with his effective performance in the mortally conflicted character of Dr. Norton. Though I’ve seen her in other works and liked her in them, Abbie Cornish is general flat in this movie as Alex’s wife Clara. She seems cold and devoid of connecting with the character and with viewers and can’t emulate anything more than a weak performance for this movie. In the 1987’s version, Alex Murphy had a female police partner named Anne Lewis played by Nancy Allen. She was tough and added an intriguing relationship with Alex and when he later became Robocop. In this version, however, Lewis is portrayed as a male cop named Jack Lewis and played by Michael K. Williams. His character on-screen time has diminished greatly from the original film to being a minor one and though, I love William’s performances in both HBO’s The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, there is very little interest he brings in Robocop.
Coinciding with this is Jay Baruchel and Jennifer Ehle as Tom Pope and Liz Kline, both who work for Omnicorp. Both actor and actress are good in their own way (And their films), but their characters in the film are minor; offering little value to the story, except with questioning unethical decisions. Michael Keaton’s Sellars is okay, nothing really great in the villainy department as the villains in the original Robocop were great to watch; those ones you just love to hate and Keaton’s Sellars is very mild compared to them. On the other hand, Jackie Earle Haley’s character Maddox, a former soldier who now works at Omnicorp does fair better than Keaton and would’ve been better if he had more screen time.
As a side note, the film has several nods to the 1987’s original such several of the great one-liners, rescore music from the original film, the taser gun located on Robocop’s leg, more updated look to the well-known ED-209 Robots, even the classic silver armor of Robocop, which was cool to see again, but gets a makeover into a sleeker black outfit, which honestly looks better.
Who’s in control: Man or Machine?” is the movie’s tagline and, while this up-to-date reboot of a film poses that question and brings a more human element (drama) to its narrative, the movie Robocop doesn’t quite live up to its original film of which it derives from. A mix bag of performances and not enough gritty action can’t sustain this movie from coming off as a mediocre sci-fi action flick rather than a worthy and successful reboot. Perhaps (if a sequel is ever made), they can find a perfect balance of drama and action and create something for viewers to be “Wowed” over.
3.3 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Reviewed on February 13th, 2014
Robocop is rated PG-13 for for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material