Detroit's most famous cyborg cop returns in the rebooted Robocop! But does the film satisfy fans of the original or come up short? 411's Terry Lewis checks in with his full review!
Joel Kinnaman - Alex Murphy Gary Oldman - Dr Dennett Norton Michael Keaton - Raymond Sellars Samuel L. Jackson - Pat Novak Abbie Cornish - Clara Murphy Jackie Earle Haley - Rick Mattox Michael K. Williams - Jack Lewis Jay Baruchel - Tom Pope Aimee Garcia - Jae Kim John Paul Ruttan - David Murphy
Remaking a film in the current day is almost like dropping a fresh leg of lamb into a piranha tank of fanboy criticism and there's next to no point apart from making money from an established well. Well maybe to full realise the potential of a film, like the full force of Stephen King's original vision of Carrie like we saw last year, but I look upon the new Robocop reboot as an excuse to turn Robo into (to paraphrase a line from Andy Millman from Extras) yet another lowest common denominator PG-13 action film.
It's nearly 15 years in future United States of America and American-made droids and robots police the world, except for one country - their own. Thanks to a piece of Government legislation, robot manufacturers Omnicorp, run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton, The Other Guys), have their hands tied on making ludicrous amounts of money until Ray decides to scoot around the issue by offering a half-machine, half-man compromise. Despite a few emotional teething issues, Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, Paranoia) scrapes together what's left of exploded Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, The Killing) off his driveway and shoves it into Omnicorp's replacement for the average cop for the Detroit Police Department - Robocop.
To be fair, I'm quite happy with the supporting cast for the most part. There's tonnes to enjoy like Jay Baruchel (This Is The End) as a corporate marketing guy & Jackie Earle Haley (Lincoln) as a Robocop hating drill instructor and your mileage may vary with a Samuel L. Jackson pastiche of Bill O'Reilly. The problem is, there's not enough of them in the film to make them particularly memorable. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the main villain Raymond (Yeah it's that predictable) is probably shunted to what is the supporting cast as he's barely unique with bog standard evil chairman, "for the money" evil, despite Keaton doing his best.
Robocop is meant to be held up by scientist Norton and the titular cyber detective and here it falls over. Oldman barely can keep hold of whether he's a sympathetic scientist or not with some dodgy ethics with him not giving a toss about Murphy the man at times then in the next scene he's begging Raymond to leave some emotion intact. Although I doubt that would help Kinnaman that much. I look back to the original Robocop and something as modern as Dredd and remember fantastic acting from both Peter Weller and Karl Urban with just the bottom half of their faces. To convey a fantastic range of emotion with just your mouth, chin and cheeks is a fantastic trait. Joel Kinnaman doesn't have it. In fact, he barely has the iconic visor on most of the time, until it's necessary for the combat mode to turn on or when convenience dictates, losing half of the enigma behind. Kinnaman only really has his angst or neutral look on post-accident and you'll be pressed to find the difference in the two.
And there lies half the problem with this reboot of the 1980's classic action film. There's so much humanity issues and goddamn angst added to the origin, it distracts from everything else. In the original, Robocop started off as what felt like a computer program after the reconstructive surgery but gradly aspects of his humanity came back before he evoked vengeance on those who killed him, restoring himself but still maintaining a cold, metallic aura. Here, he's fully aware and fully human but then Norton and his science team can turn his caring aspects on and off willy-nilly to make him more efficient so there's hardly a gradual progression of him breaking his controlling programming. I don't see Alex Murphy as half a man at all and what's worse is that it's handled all so terribly. There's an ill thought and laughable scene where we see what's left of Murphy which consists of his face, an exposed brain, two working lungs in see through casing and a hand with director Jose Padilha almost reaching through the screen and shaking you, screaming "Look! Look! Can you not see he IS a human, trapped in a robot body?!" in a less than subtle encounter. The thing is, I wouldn't mind too much about seeing a film talking about humanity with a half-man, half-machine person, as clobbering as it is, I just don't really want it to be done in a Robocop reboot.
Away from that, I wanted to see more of where they were going with the "robots replacing human" theme from the start of the film, but it's merely chucked away until reigned in towards the end for all the BILLIONS Omnicorp stands to make as the ballot is going through. That's a great angle, sadly wasted by Raymond dodging Senator questions much like the scriptwriters. I was intrigued where the robot troops on peacekeeping missions in the Middle East was going to go, but much like the freedom fighter/"terrorists", it just walks in and goes off without much of a thought in a pointless exercise. I suppose I should be thankful for the writers keeping Robo as a PR campaign for Omnicorp for revoking the Goverment sanction, instead of actually doing policework, because they at least follow it through as plain as it is.
Still the world of Robocop is quite pretty to look at. I do like the technology in this world with numerous super versions of tablets and Pat Novak's (Jackson) Tony Stark-esque hologram studio being the forefront of lush visuals. The detective mode where Murphy reconstructs his murder scene and watches it back is the highlight of it with no expense spared on the visuals and CG there. Not only that but the various other countries and American cities we go to are nice and shiny. In fact perhaps too shiny. At the start of the film, I'm not led to believe that Detroit NEEDS Robocop. It's nowhere near shitty enough, although there's a few clips later on in some not great alleys. Detroit itself though is not a crumbling cesspool with ridiculously high levels of crime. It's just another average city in the USA.
For an action film... well it's sorely lacking in that department. Barring a showdown which is all over too quick between Robo and a bunch of ED-209s, there's like one actual arrest (two if you're being very generous at his press conference), one shootout between Robo and the guys who actually made the hit but didn't order it, another shootout early on between human Alex & a bunch of goons and a training exam when he's Robo'ed up. All that over the course of a two hour film, it's hardly enough to satisfy. It wouldn't be too much to ask just to see abit more of Robocop walking the beat or tackling normal crime considering he is a half-machine, half-human policeman, but no, we almost step into a superhero film, concentrating on running through to avenging his murder etc. etc.
The worst thing about this remake is that it has to include everything here to make an industry standard PG-13 action movie. Quippy black partner who gets shot? Check. Emotional reoccuring wife and kid? Check. Angst over actual action? Check. I wasn't keen in the build up to the release of Robocop but I went into the theatre and wanted to give the film a chance to impress but it's so standard compared to the unique tone, commentary and charcter of the original. The soul of the first Robo film is in here somewhere but it's covered up by so much angst, you feel depressed yourself just trying to get into it. What was originally a surprisingly adult, grown-up film has now been reduced to a childlike level of intellect and tantrums.
The 411: The defining aspect for this Robocop reboot is that there's nothing fun here to latch onto or any real new message to make you think in detail, which if you consider this is a film about a half-man, half-robot policeman, is a crime. It's a "connect the dots" origin story, wrapped in emotional angst about humanity of one of your favourite 80's icons without the necessary excess from then and you'll be left wondering if you wanted to see it stripped back. There are some nice visuals now and again with a reasonable supporting cast but Kinnaman is no Weller and there's no real moment where the film sparks into life and stands up on it's own two legs. More of a Roboflop all things considered.