07th Feb2014

‘Robocop’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Douglas Urbanski, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Samuel L. Jackson, Aimee Garcia | Written by Joshua Zetumer | Directed by Jose Padilha

RoboCop-Murphy

Remakes eh? They’re not going away are they? I’m not going to proselytize in favour or against them; as long as punters keep lining up to see the same stories retold every decade or so with younger actors and fancier graphics then studios are going to keep making them. They’re safe bets. But there’s a difference between remaking and sanitising. Paul Verhoeven’s eighties original RoboCop is a scuzzy, violent piece of work and all the better for it. The moment the BBFC’s 12a certificate appears on screen for the 2014 version, it’s hard to not to feel just a little bit disappointed. Of course, you can get away with a lot more with a 12 rating than you could in 1987, but legally you could take an eight year old to see the new RoboCop and I suspect some of the social satire might be just a little bit lost on them.

For those not in the know, the story goes that in the not too distant future, multinational conglomerate OmniCorp decides it wants to make a load of money essentially by privatising law enforcement and filling the streets with its robot drones. The US government, apparently less keen on the use of drones than it is today (take THAT, US government!) has made their use illegal on American soil. In order to win hearts and minds and repeal the law, OmniCorp boss Michael Keaton decides to compromise and put the remains of recently blown-up cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) into a robot body, to prove how great robots are. Unfortunately, Alex’s pesky human emotions remain, which prevent him from being a half decent robot. So the seemingly nice but actually morally repugnant Dr Norton (Gary Oldman) tampers with Alex’s brain to sort that out. Is Alex’s humanity gone forever at the price of being the world’s best cop?

The main difference between this and the original is that there’s a greater focus on Alex’s family and how being turned into an unfeeling cyborg can affect your parenting. This leaves less room for black humour and whilst it’s clearly aiming for more emotional depth than the original, it’s arguable that the ’87 version of Alex walking through the long-abandoned home where his family once lived is a harder hitting scene than another shot of a tear-stained Abbie Cornish.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t abandon the ethos of the original entirely and its critique of big businesses ceaselessly chasing profit without regard to the human cost is good, as is Keaton’s politicking and spin-doctoring. Samuel L Jackson occurs frequently as fiercely pro-robot TV commentator Pat Novak, who vocalises some of the film’s themes and ideas but does little to move the plot along and though fun, feels rather superfluous.

There are strong moments in the film; when the extent of Alex’s injuries are revealed, it’s fairly moving and his über-efficient forensics and detective work is pleasingly neat. But whilst it’s not actually bad, there’s nothing in it special-effects or set-piece wise that hasn’t been done before in films like Minority Report or Source Code (or even, uh, RoboCop) for example. Crucially, if I’m watching an action film, there has to be at least one point that makes me giddy with excitement and there simply isn’t anything thrilling enough in the film. “If I had a pulse, it’d be racing,” says Alex at one point. Well, mine certainly wasn’t. There’s a very off the rack feel to the film, almost as if it was made on an assembly line, ironically enough. Director José Padilhahas apparently done good work in the past, but fails to imbue RoboCop with any real identity. It’s a shame we haven’t got to see what Darren Aronofsky would have done with the material, a director with a similarly skewed sensibility as Verhoeven.

RoboCop‘s biggest crime however, is being altogether too po-faced and taking itself far more seriously than the subject matter is able to support. This does, however, lend further credence to my assertion that a great opportunity to make the franchise more appealing to the youth of today has been missed by not rebranding it as RoboPo-Po.

RoboCop is released in cinemas across the UK from today.

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