Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
The general consensus when the RoboCop reboot was announced was resoundingly negative. The early images of the titular man-machine’s “new look” didn’t inspire confidence, then came along the news that they were to deliver the film wrapped in a PG-13 package – a complete no-no for the fans of Paul Verhoeven’s delightfully violent 1987 film. Well, the new film is here and while it isn’t a masterpiece, it’s actually a decent sci-fi film.
Joel Kinnaman, best known for his role as Stephen Holder in TV’s The Killing, stars as police officer Alex Murphy. He’s a good man, a hard working cop with a loving wife and son. When corrupt police officers, working alongside ruthless criminals, ensure that Murphy is critically injured, military drone manufacturer OmniCorp jumps at the chance to create the first part-man, part-robot police officer. As Murphy struggles to come to terms with his new body, OmniCorp tests the boundaries of how far they are willing to go to keep control of their new subject.
Verhoeven’s first film was giddily satirical and quite humorous in its portrayal of the near-future. The reboot, from Brazilian director José Padilha (Bus 174, Elite Squad), is much more serious, but nevertheless keeps the commentary strong, maybe even moreso than the original. We open with The Novak Element, a Fox-style “news” show hosted by Pat Novak, played by a scenery-chomping Samuel L. Jackson. Novak appears throughout the film, cementing his support for OmniCorp straight to camera, trying his best to convince us how much the “robophobic” United States needs to have state-of-the-art robots on home soil.
The fact that the world depicted in the film very closely resembles our own furthers the film’s messages of corporate greed, government control and the dangers of technological advancements. This RoboCop film is surprisingly smart, as the film’s satirical moments hit home and the moral implications of OmniCorps decisions are weighed.
Murphy isn’t developed too well before his accident, but his struggle and internal conflict with his robot-self is surprisingly well-handled. Witnessing his “true-form” after his accident is a great scene, and Kinnaman delivers a touching moment as Murphy sees a mirror-reflection of what has become of his physical body. Gary Oldman plays Dr. Dennett Norton, the man behind the science of Murphy’s new additions. Oldman gives a great performance, giving a surprisingly layered portrayal of a man trying his best to juggle the wants of his employer and the needs of his patient. As the aforementioned employer, Michael Keaton is delightful, bringing a sort-of charm to his character’s corporate ignorance.
RoboCop is very well cast, with everyone doing their best with roles of various importance. Unfortunately, Abbie Cornish doesn’t have enough to do with her key character. Cornish plays Murphy’s wife, a person of importance, but who doesn’t have much to do other than cry and plead. RoboCop struggles to juggle its four main plot-lines: RoboCop tries to solve his own attempted murder, RoboCop struggles with his man-made additions, his family attempts to reconnect with him, and OmniCorp personifies corporate malice. These plots don’t quite develop as they should, with certain strands losing momentum much too quickly, while others develop much more than needed. It’s almost as though there are too many ideas trying to be explored at once, which is quite a good problem to have when you consider how brainless these types of films can be.
The action is decent, managing to deliver enough while not going over-the-top. In fact, there’s a grounded feel to the overall proceedings that ensures it all feels relatively familiar and plausible. Those looking for larger-than-life action and special-effects may be slightly disappointed, but the film benefits from not going all-out with the usual booms and bangs.
For the most part, RoboCop does quite well, and almost matches the elements that make up the titular creation. Some brains, heart, and impressive technology in a body that gets the job done.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10