Here’s a reboot I didn’t think anyone wanted, didn’t think was going to be any good, and generally considered problematic. I was curious about some of the actors here, including Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Joel Kinnaman. I wasn’t expecting this to be amazing, but I sure was hoping that it would be good, and didn’t try to replicate what the earlier incarnations had done. Sadly, my expectations weren’t too far off from the reality. Hit the jump to see what I thought of RoboCop.
Much like the far superior 1987 version, we have an origin story of how Alex Murphy encounters a near-death experience and is brought into a large corporation to be converted into a part human, part man police officer. We see troubling forces around Murphy vie for control of his emotions and his new found power as a killing machine.
In Verhoeven’s Robocop, the scene that takes Alex Murphy from able-bodied cop to cyborg-worthy is incredible. This is a man surrounded by wolves and picked apart with bullets just for fun, while Alex’s partner is left to watch the bullets fly. This is a visceral, scary moment that really sets the scene for what we see later. In Padilha’s RoboCop, we are simply left with a car explosion. Bang, and Murphy is toast (no pun intended). Since this is such an important point in the progression of Murphy’s story, I expected it to hit harder.
This is perhaps the biggest problem. “What was it, his soul?” joked the character Liz Kline as all the seemingly smart people there wondered how RoboCop could defy being heavily drugged, to go and and re-start investigating his own attempted murder. This is probably the most omniscient phrase of the entire movie. What we have in RoboCop is a re-make that is good parts, but has no soul to speak of.
It’s tempting to say this movie is uneven, but perhaps more than uneven, I might say unnatural. Characters appear to do things that don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that he’d be shut down before getting to the chief – after walking into a police station and shooting two cops; one of them apparently unarmed. In fact, there are many points in this movie that Murphy could have (and probably should have been) shut down, but was left to run wild.
I didn’t feel like Murphy really had control over his mechanical self. This is a theme that the 1987 version did so well. We knew, without a doubt that Murphy was struggling with being “Robo”. Allot of that credit probably goes to Peter Weller, whose face was all he had to emote, most of the time. Joel Kinnaman does a good job, but he doesn’t really sell me on this internal struggle. At least he wasn’t trying to duplicate what Weller did. Speaking of him, I was watching for a cameo by Weller and I didn’t see him.
That said, I just didn’t buy the motivation for building RoboCop in the first place. Just because OmniCorp could project an imaginary large amount of revenue? If a cyborg was let loose, what’s to say the government didn’t just expand the Dreyfuss Act? Again, this makes no sense. Late in the movie an idea of a protected group wearing “red” is introduced that seems to come out of nowhere. How did this get developed and added to RoboCop’s system so easily? Why was it so easily circumvented? This makes no sense. Heck, Raymond Sellars’ office painting seem to change halfway through the movie. This makes no sense.
Michael Keaton is definitely not as menacing as Ronny Cox was in 1987. Keaton seemed too many shades closer to leading by assholery a la Steve Jobs. In fact, being an asshole seemed to be a job requirement for Omnicorp. Oldman’s Dr. Dennett Norton has some of it. But, an unexpected inclusion of Jackie Earle Haley is the apex of asshole. At every turn, he’s calling RoboCop “tin man” and “it” and generally deserves much of the damage he gets. And, to great comedic effect – including a great scene where RoboCop tasers him. You’ll really enjoy that and some other comedic moments – including a joke about the black suit. But, to get to that point, RoboCop has to go through (and destroy) several million dollars of Omicorp machinery. Why would Omnicorp do that? It makes no sense.
There are points in this movie where RoboCop uses a taser to immobilize people, and other points where he’s clearly using bullets. How, or why this switch happens is not explained. Bookending the movie with Bill O’Reilly clone Samuel L. Jackson does make it feel like this movie wants to talk about a bigger message. A message about machinery capable of automatically and remotely controlling or even killing people, and a message that great Samuel L. Jackson moments of swearing have to be bleeped out. Bleeping out Jackson is just nonsense.
What does make sense, is that RoboCop is hurt by the sanitized PG-13 rating. This allows us to see incredible special effects that appear clever at times (if a little to CGI-y at others). I enjoyed many of the heads up displays, full-wall motion-activated screens and the great fights RoboCop has with other robotic foes. The scene where Murphy is shed of his mechanical parts to expose lungs, brain matter, and his throat really looked amazing. What makes sense is that RoboCop would have been a better movie if Padilha could had made a movie that wasn’t just tasered.
Smartly, we aren’t left with a broken plot line leading to sequel continuation, but more of a sequel option. Given what I see, they’re going to have to pick this up and start again if they are going to make a RoboCop that people get behind.
Sony Pictures releases RoboCop on February 7. Directed by José Padilha, RoboCop stars Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, and Samuel L. Jackson.