Making a remake/reboot/reimagining – whatever you want to call it – must be hard. Fans of the original will be out for your blood regardless of what direction you take; if you create a faithful, near shot for shot remake, you’re accused of unoriginality and being completely unnecessary. Dare to do something new and you’re criticised for not including the things that the original had. It’s a Catch 22 situation, but thankfully this updated Robocop has enough of both to create a film that’s not quite the sum of its many parts but pretty decent nonetheless.
Reviewing a remake/reboot/reimagining – whatever you want to call it – is just as hard. You don’t want to be constantly comparing it to the previous film, yet a proper analysis can’t be done without at least referencing it. Paul Verhoeven’s 1989 film is a product of its time, an ultraviolent satire of 80’s excess with the thread of a man becoming a robot then becoming a man again. José Padilha’s reboot follows the familiar plot beats of the original (injured cop is given new life as a robot) but treads a very different path. Policeman Alex Murphy (Joel KInnaman) is targeted by a crime boss and all but killed in a car bomb explosion at his home. Revived as the part man, part machine Robocop by doctor Gary Oldman, as part of a publicity stunt by Omnicorp boss (Michael Keaton) as the first step to putting robot drones on the police force, only for Murphy to override his prime directive when he tries to solve his own ‘murder.’
The struggle between the man and the machine is present here as it was before, yet here we’re dealing with the ethics of the situation and asking more questions of the audience that it ever did in the 80’s, with Gary Oldman shouldering the dilemma of taking away the free will of a man he swore to save rather than turning him into a puppet to further the ends of the company that saved him, as Murphy simultaneously tries to come to terms with what he is and what it means for his life going forward with his wife and son. The film, like the original, also has a few interesting things to say, with a thought provoking opening that shows the meaning of robotic drones ‘keeping the peace’ abroad as well as Samuel L. Jackson’s hilariously right wing talk show host, the like of which is not outside the realms of believability. Again, like the original, the quote unquote “satirical” moments are of their time, tapping in to the fears of the day and ripped from the headlines.
As the titular character, Joel Kinnaman gives a decent if not spectacular performance but he portrays the sadness of Murphy incredibly well (a scene where he sees what remains of his body [hint: not much] is played perfectly) and he’s good in the emotional scenes as well even if seeing a robot man interact with a precocious young boy is unintentionally chucklesome.
Surrounding him is an eclectic mix of well known actors, with Michael Keaton getting his teeth into his unscrupulous CEO role and Jackie Earle Healy as the love-to-hate drone operator who’s none too fond of this new Robocop.
The action is well staged and fun to watch, even if it’s a little prone to shaky cam, with the highlight being a gunfight in near darkness with only the red lights of Robocop’s visor and the gunshots lighting the room ,and though it tends to try and make Robocop ‘cool’ with a training montage set to rawk music the character is presented in a way that makes him seem far more dangerous than before.
While it doesn’t have a decent villain, has a script that tells rather than shows (“Somehow he’s breaking his programming”) and doesn’t have the violence of the original, this rebooted Robocop has more than enough to stand on its own two robotic feet.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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