Film Review | RoboCop
It’s no surprise that Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop has stood the test of time. A perfect mix of biting satire, black humour and thrilling action, fans of the beloved cult hit were less than happy when a remake was announced. Thankfully, rather than go the direct remake route, José Padilha’s 2014 reimagining is an intelligent piece of sci-fi entertainment in its own right.
Padilha’s RoboCop takes place in the year 2028, with Multinational Corporation OmniCorp vying to put its robot drones on US streets to help police its citizens as they have done in Iran. However, the initiative is continually derailed by public and governmental anxiety, due in no small part to the drones’ empathy-void nature. Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an honest cop who is critically injured after an attempt on his life. Calling on bionic engineer Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) quickly grabs the chance to build a new breed of law enforcement officer that’s part-man, part-machine: RoboCop.
So far, so 1987, but that’s more or less where the similarities end and Padilha’s vision begins to snap into focus. Though the conflict between man and machine is still the fulcrum upon which the film’s narrative spins, unlike Verhoeven’s classic Kinnaman’s Murphy is very much aware of what he’s become. By changing the focus ever so slightly, Padilha has allowed room for some thought-provoking ethical discussion, from the choices made by Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to the actions of Keaton’s money-hungry CEO.
One of the more compelling sub-plots is the relationship between RoboCop and his creator, Doctor Norton. It’s a Father-Son dynamic that is richly mined, and Oldman pulls out all the requisite acting chops in getting to the heart of the Frankenstein-like scientist. Additionally, Padilha’s nods to his film’s precursor are generally well judged, from the mention of classic lines to teasing vignettes of Basil Poledouris’ exhilarating theme.
When it comes time for the ‘tin-man’ to enforce justice, Padilha’s hand-held style – though at times overly frenetic – is utilised well. However, while this version of RoboCop is a sleek and agile combat machine the various set-pieces only deliver moderate thrills, and a sequence in which our eponymous hero is forced to utilise different types of vision the closest Padilha comes to a standout moment. For all its well-executed skirmishes, the sheer lack of edginess – likely a result of the constraining 12A rating – means RoboCop lacks the visceral punch it needs to truly stick in the memory.
Pre-robotic enhancements, Kinnaman’s Murphy makes for a bland protagonist. It’s once he’s in the suit that he starts to display some impressive range, and the dramatic scenes post-procedure as he comes to terms with his new life are impressively emoted. Aside from Oldman’s doctor, the other noteworthy performance of the piece belongs to Samuel L. Jackson, who is on scenery-chewing form as charismatic and biased talk-show host Patrick Novak. Elsewhere, Michael K. Williams fails to leave much of an impression as Murphy’s loyal partner.
Offering an enjoyable, contemporary take on Verhoeven’s pioneering concept, Padilha’s RoboCop is a well thought-out remake that can stand on its own two feet. Though it lacks wow factor, it’s certainly worth of a dollar or two.
This review was originally published at HeyUGuys.