Crime has a new enemy.
It’s always a terrifying moment when a childhood classic is unnecessarily rehashed or artistically butchered as a cash-grab simply because Hollywood heavyweights are just too frightened to try out original concepts or fresh ideas; these were the grief-stricken thoughts and feelings many around the world would have experienced when it was confirmed that the 1987 Paul Verhoeven ultra-violent Science-Fiction classic RoboCop remake was green-lit. No black humor, no satire and certainly no over-the-top violence were my initial thoughts on the project; and I was correct in assuming as much, as these elements are literally no where to be seen in this new RoboCop film. But the good, even great news is, that while this revision of RoboCop is by no means superior to the original, it’s a wonderful counterpart, offering a new and exciting exploration into the character and placing him squarely into today’s society in a very real, relatable, believable and highly conceivable way.
RoboCop is set in the not-to-distant future, in the year 2028, where multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. Abroad, their drones have been used by the military for several years, which has brought billions for the corporation. The film opens with a political show, called the Novak Element, led by fervent robot-enthusiast Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), during which audiences witness news footage of OmniCorp droids, including a redesign of the famous fully-automated ED-209 and the freshly introduced humanoid drones known as ED-208, patrolling and inspecting the streets of Tehran, the Capital of Iran. While there is clearly something ‘sour’ about the droids and their menacing heartless presence, Novak compliments them on their extraordinary work and begins to attack The Dreyfuss Act, a law that forbids the deployment of such drones in the USA.
Back in the States, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO of OmniCorp, and his highly motivated marketing/ public relations team, are desperately trying to find ways of working around this bothersome Act to start deploying their controversial technology on US soil. Unable to place a machine in the line of duty and defense, Sellars gets the idea of incorporating both man and machine into an ultimate law enforcement product. OmniCorp see a golden opportunity to do this when Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit, is critically injured in the line of duty. OmniCorp sees this as their chance to build a part-man, part-robot police officer, envisioning a ‘RoboCop’ in every city in the foreseeable future. If successful, this initiative would mean billions for the company and their shareholders, so naturally those who run OmniCorp do everything in their power to get the initiative right, giving the citizens of Detroit what they believe they desire. But what OmniCorp fail to understand is that there will always be a man, with a conscious, living inside the machine, unwilling to be controlled and adamant on pursuing justice at all cost.
Being the first Hollywood feature by Brazilian film maker José Padilha, Elite Squad (2007), this was always going to be a difficult and arduous task, attempting to recreate an already much loved iconic character and reassembling him in a way that makes him accessible to a wider audience in a contemporary PG-13 serving. Padilha though, rises to the occasion, as he completely understands what made the original film so great and attempts to build upon it, exploring similar concepts in a more modern, realistic, emotional, technical and in depth way. How did RoboCop work back in the 1987 Verhoeven film? Who really knows? Murphy donned the suit and off he went on his bloody revenge vendetta. In this new vision, Alex Murphy undergoes many physical and mental alterations, and the Robo outfit is tested, reimaged and explored in much more detail, as we see Murphy’s transformation in its entirety, from a man in a robotic suit, to RoboCop. How much of Murphy is left and who is really in control, the man or the machine? Moreover, the notion of what makes a criminal is explored, as in this day and age corruption is everywhere and one does not need to be wheedling a gun or a knife to be a criminal. These are questions that Padilha attempts to answer in the picture, while doing a credible job in making audiences believe that this RoboCop could actually work and be operational in our modern advanced technological world.
The campy satirical infomercials from the original 80’s film have been replaced by the more serious media product, the Novak Element, which works as a way of brainwashing the American people, while the excessive blood-thirsty violence is no where to be seen, but has been substituted with several eerie, uncomfortable and disturbing images of what’s left of Alex Murphy’s human self after his mechanical transformation. Not everything audiences loved from the original picture is gone though. Unlike the disappointing absence of John William’s Superman theme in the latest superhero offering, Man of Steel (2013), the grand RoboCop theme has been kept in all its glory, giving the film a real epic nostalgic feel to those who witnessed the original while growing up. When the RoboCop theme starts up, one can’t help but feel like they’re watching an event film. The design of RoboCop himself, while somewhat clean and progressive, is still very similar to the original. This time around the half-man-half-cyborg spends most of the film in black with a red eyepiece, which gives him a grand unique, slick and contemporary look, but undergoes several other exterior changes throughout the film, the most exciting being the Detroit Police unit he receives at the conclusion of the picture. The famous ED-209 is still present in this remake and is designed to look more menacing and threatening. There are several other new and exciting nifty robotic creations spread throughout the picture, mixing the old with the new and creating something reminiscent of the original, while never trying to be the exact same film.
While the effects and action sequences are gleefully impressive, RoboCop predominantly is not an action film. Sure there are several action scenes scattered throughout, but in this retelling, action comes second to story. The stellar cast are all quite strong in their performances, as is the enthralling script, making it evident that everyone on board was out to make the best RoboCop film possible. Stepping into the shoes of Peter Weller, the actor who breathed life into the original RoboCop, a role that brought him to the forefront of Hollywood back in the 80’s, Joel Kinnaman, The Killing (2011), does a solid job bringing humanity and compassion to the character of Alex Murphy in both his human and robotic form. Gary Oldman, Léon: The Professional (1994), is excellent as Dr. Dennett Norton, the man responsible for creating RoboCop and the only person willing to stand up against OmniCorp for Murphy’s freedom and rights as a human being. The villains in this RoboCop remake aren’t as clear or iconic as those in the original, but the actors playing these crooks all manage to do the best with the limited screen time given. The most memorable antagonist is the cruel Rick Mattox, played by Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen (2009), who believes that cyborg military is far superior than anything human controlled, doing his best to ridicule and cut down Murphy’s humanity at any given opportunity. Samuel L. Jackson’s, The Avengers (2012), fiery portrayal of television presenter Pat Novak adds a nice touch to the film, giving it that extra element of novelty and gusto.
The original RoboCop film has a cold, industrial, unsettling feeling in line with Verhoeven’s criticism of corporate greed and exploitation, whereas this modern version is a slicker shiner affair, looking at ramifications of putting a man in a mechanical suit, while touching on ideas of corruption, media influence and enhancing technology. Despite the fact that both RoboCop films tell similar stories, they present it from very different angles. Overall though, this modern RoboCop is a lot better than it should have been. Even those skeptical to see the picture will find something to enjoy, and it’s great hearing the famous line, ‘Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!’ again on the big screen. Let’s hope a sequel is green-lit, as I’m sure a follow up outing to this new RoboCop franchise will be a lot better than the debacle that was RoboCop II and III.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner
RoboCop is released through Sony Pictures Australia