Unlike some movies, there was no real reason not to remake Robocop. Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original is a great movie, but it leaves plenty of room for reinvention in the 21st Century. Indeed it’s probably why when MGM started digging around in their back catalogue for film to do-over, RoboCop was near the top of the list.
Although it took several years to actually get it done, the results are now here with Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) directing and Joel Kinnaman in the title role.
In this take some of the plot details remain the same and some have changed. Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is a Detroit cop in 2028, who is critically injured when a car bomb explodes outside his house. His accident comes just as Omnicorp – which is run by the slippery Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) – is looking for someone to test out its latest technology. They plan to create a mix of human and robot, which they hope will help get around the fact that while the US is more than happy to deploy bots in warzones, they are banned from taking on law enforcement roles on American streets.
With the consent of his wife, Murphy becomes the first test subject, using scientist Dr. Dennett Norton’s (Gary Oldman) technology to turn him into RoboCop. When woken up, Alex knows who he is and has control of his new body, although it is unsurprisingly a big transition for him and a lot to deal with. However as Omnicorp’s desire to get more RoboCops onto the street clashes with Alex’s humanity, they decide it may be beneficial to switch his human side off.
This new take on RoboCop is a bit all over the place. It’s a bit like someone wrote a giant mindmap of the things they wanted to do with the movie, but no one came along to turn that into something whole and cohesive. It’s a movie that wants to be all sorts of things – drama, thriller, philosophical meditation, action movie – but essentially just jumps between them rather than pulling it all together.
It means that when the film lets rip with the action and effects, it’s pretty good, with a few very effective setpieces that are extremely well put together. But when the action stops it feels like we’ve fallen into a completely different film. Similarly the movie has some extremely interesting ideas, such as the fact that when ‘in action’ Alex believes he has control over his robotics but actually he’s merely responding to programming he’s unaware of, but these ideas are slotted in whenever the films has a free moment and never feel properly pulled into the rest of the film. (That’s probably not such a bad thing, as if the movie invited the audience to think more, they might be more likely to notice the rather illogical plot developments that keep happening).
The result is a movie where the individual pieces are all perfectly fine, but as an overall movie it’s messy and lacks discipline. Even the satire that ran underneath the original feels clumsy here, largely because the way its presented in 2014 – mainly via Samuel L. Jackson’s loud-mouthed, right-wing TV host – is so noisy and confused that it ends up not saying very much of anything, even while giving the appearance that it’s shouting if very loud.
Overall Verdict: RoboCop isn’t unenjoyable, but it is rather annoying in that it constantly hints that it wants to be something a little different and interesting, but lacks the discipline and overall vision to be anything more than decent, if generic, action filmmaking.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac