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RoboCop – Movie Review

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RoboCop – Movie Review

Rating: C+ (Above Average)

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RoboCop is one of the most iconic science-fiction films of the 1980s with Paul Verhoeven taking a basic B-movie plot and imbuing it with strong satire and a surprisingly genuine amount of heart. Those are massive metal boots to fill when tackling a remake and José Padilha, the director of the popular Brazilian crime dramas Elite Squad and its sequel, was certainly an appropriate choice to make a modern-day interpretation. This new take on the cyber policeman Alex Murphy falls closer to the political commentary of the original than the mean-spirited RoboCop 2 and the outright silly RoboCop 3, but it falls far short in character and emotion. The ingredients are in here to make a rousing movie worthy of the RoboCop name, but it ultimately results in a mixed bag of good and bad qualities.

The strengths in this new RoboCop are apparent when it focuses on commenting about the current state of warfare and mass marketing. One of the more clever elements here, replacing the satirical commercials from the original, is a headstrong political commentator who frequently pops up to discuss the controversy regarding OmniCorp’s robotic crime fighters. Samuel L. Jackson brings the expected ferocity to the role and provides a spot-on interpretation of television personalities frequently shoving their opinions down everyone’s throat. Padilha mimed similar territory in Elite Squad and he borrows quite a bit from today’s news headlines to make his point that we are only hearing one side of the story. The ED-209s, which were memorable death machines in the original, make an appearance here with the same features we know and love, but with the advent of drones used by the military, they have become closer to reality than when Verhoeven and Craig Davies initially envisioned them almost thirty years ago.

Michael Keaton’s villainous turn as the CEO of OmniCorp leads to a fun take on company leaders who might care more about promotion than helping the public. When paired with Jay Baruchel’s marketing wiz, this allows Padilha to explore how corporations use focus groups to appease people while nonetheless promoting their own agenda. The film even slightly pokes fun at the idea of “rebooting” something for a modern audience as CEO Sellars instructs for the classic suit to be modified in a slick way. However, in a nice touch, Padilha doesn’t mock the original design. That they were able to do this in a film produced by a big electronics mogul is quite impressive, unless the higher-ups were in on the joke. The messages and commentary found in RoboCop are hardly earth-shattering, but their placement here and the execution is nonetheless appreciated.

Another one of the more interesting ideas presented in this new RoboCop is that of the scientist assigned to revive Alex Murphy. As played by Gary Oldman, there’s a sense of the struggle he faces in trying to balance both the human and robotic parts of his creation, while also turning him into a great policeman. How far do you fall prey to the demands of the people on top, even if they conflict with your moral judgment? When does an experiment become a person and vice-versa? Those are a couple the issues faced by Dr. Norton through the course of the story and the screenplay’s depiction of this is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie. Oldman shows his usual acting chops, even putting his occasional over-the-top acting tics to the side and presenting a more subtle performance than one might expect from this sort of movie. While Jackson, Keaton and Baruchel are gleefully and wonderfully chewing the scenery, Gary Oldman presents a strong counter-balance.

Where this film falls short is surprisingly RoboCop himself. The emotion that could have been gained from his character arc is never earned or felt and it leaves a dark hole in the centre of the movie. Much like the lack of innards quite gruesomely displayed when Murphy’s electrical exterior is separated from his destroyed body, there is little on the inside. Joel Kinnaman puts his best foot forward in the role, but the character is boring and his story-arc is only interesting when he has to interact alongside Norton or Jackie Earle Haley’s skeptical robotics instructor. It’s strange how this film largely expands the role of Murphy’s mourning wife and son, yet there is barely a connection felt between the three of them. There is also a lack of camaraderie between Murphy and the gender-switched Officer Lewis. Patrick Garrow, playing one of the multiple villains in RoboCop, fades into the background as a drug dealer and that holds true for the entire case Murphy is so intent to solve. There is nothing in Murphy’s storyline that’s worth caring about and as the movie shifts into the third act, the screenplay becomes even more convoluted.

For a final act that descends into one loud, shoot-‘em-up action sequence after another, the plot surprisingly becomes too needlessly complicated for its own good. While the special effects work and stunt doubles are impressive, the action doesn’t become particularly exciting. Despite the true-to-life thrills José Padilha showcased with the shoot-outs in Elite Squad, RoboCop merely careens into a barrel of noise. When the story and emotional conflicts are boring, this tends to extend into the action and after a short while, it becomes tiring. The messy third act turns do not help matters as it becomes a confusing melee of scenes that barely connect in a satisfying manner. Sellars, who was very interesting and dynamic in the rest of the picture, ultimately turns into a clichéd villain whose motives do not make a lick of sense. Add in a subplot about corrupt policemen, an idea better handled in the entirety of Elite Squad, and you get a film that ultimately falls apart near the end as it tries to juggle all of its storylines into a cohesive whole.

Whenever a remake of a beloved classic is announced, the knives are already out even when a good amount of these have worked in the past. Certainly, with a filmmaker of José Padilha’s caliber on board, RoboCop had the ability to be a worthy modern interpretation of the Paul Verhoeven movie. Unfortunately, the jump from Rio to Hollywood wasn’t quite so smooth and one wonders how much of the final product was crafted by the studio rather than its director. Even looking at the film on its own merits, it is merely a subpar action picture. To quote a scene in which Jackie Earl Haley does a variation on one of the original film’s more famous lines, “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.”

Review By: Stefan Ellison


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