THERE is always a certain unavoidable stigma that comes attached when remaking ‘classic’ films and Robocop is certainly no exception. From fans balking at the initial reveal of the redesigned cyborg to the teen friendly rating that flies in the face of the ultraviolent original – it looked like it would all go horribly wrong.
To its credit, however, José Padilha’s robot reboot does try and attempt to approach the material from a new angle. Although the mock media scenes are still there, gone is the biting satire of 80s excess, vapid consumerism and corporate ladder climbing. Instead we have the (more currently topical) use of drones in the Middle East, police corruption and the ethical implications of replacing man with machine. Out with the cocaine, hookers, wacky gangsters and bloody gore, in with the holographic displays, swooshing swipe controls and scenes of people sitting around discussing how to sway public opinion.
Whilst Verhoeven’s 1987 original can be viewed as an ultraviolent comic book (Murphy following a familiar superhero-esque origin and revenge driven story arc), this one lends itself more to science fiction, spending much more time looking at the specifics of his transformation and his subsequent attempt to reconnect with his grieving family.
So much time is spent struggling with the political, ethical and even philosophical ramifications of crossing man with machine however, that any worthy villains seem severely sidelined. The ‘revenge’ aspect is resolved in an almost perfunctory manner – anyone hoping to see another Clarence J Boddicker antagonist will be sorely disappointed. Even Michael Keaton as the corporate big-wig behind the whole venture is verging on being likeable throughout (the modern breed of smart-casual garbed ‘people-person’ CEO), so much so in fact that it seems oddly forced when he starts threatening people with a gun towards the end.
The new Robocop design does at least look undeniably cool. He’s a sleeker, more mobile model, as if remixed via anime. His movements in a fight are slick, tactical and efficient – a far cry from the walking tank and bullet sponge of the original. It’s a shame then that the action set-pieces are so frantically edited and often shot in a way that’s reminiscent of a first person shooter videogame – as a result none of them stand out as being particularly memorable.
Although casting a relative unknown (Joel Kinnaman) for the lead works greatly in the film’s favour, he’s given far too much time with his visor up and acting decidedly human (only in a brief interlude when he gets drugged out of his mind does he resemble anything near Peter Weller’s iconic performance). Too often he just resembles a guy in a power suit.
The shift from overblown satire to a more realistic and contemporary political focus may have worked well if handled a bit better but here it revels too heavily in the emotional drama of Murphy coming to grips with the realisation that he is frankenstien’s monster; and the politics is often heavy handed and laboriously explained through much of Samuel L Jackson’s exposition scenes. Sometimes you just wish the film spent a bit more time having fun.
It’s commendable that they updated Robocop for a modern audience, but by wanting to be very different and yet still occasionally being shackled to paying service to the original at the same time (revenge on the gang, the final confrontation, the ED-209s) leads to an uneven tone. The end result is that despite an impressive cast (on paper at least) the whole thing ends up being not that memorable. It is by no means an abomination of a movie that some may have predicted, but is likely to pass harmlessly by and go the way of the 1987 version’s lesser regarded sequels and dire TV series.
(Score: 3 out of 5)