Title: RoboCop (2014 film)
Director: José Padilha
Writer: Joshua Zetumer (based on story by Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner)
Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & Columbia Pictures
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Patrick Garrow, Aimee Garcia, John Paul Ruttan
Release Date: February 12, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Introduced in 1987, RoboCop was a ground-breaking science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. According to Neumeier, his first bit of inspiration came from Blade Runner, when he heard that it was about “a cop who hunted robots” (and decided to make a movie about a robot cop that hunted humans). Thematically and visually, RoboCop was inspired by British comic Judge Dredd, a dark satirical and violent piece about a merciless cop with a face obscured by his helmet, and Marvel Comics’ ROM, a human who is remade into a silver armor-clad cyborg crime-fighter who must later redeem himself in order to regain his humanity. With such ingredients in its design it’s easy to see how this movie could be a success.
The first film was followed by two horrible sequels, two horrible live-action TV series, two animated series, video games, and a comic book series. The comics were one of the only good things to follow the original film, apart from the first cartoon and a few of the video games. The comic book series began in 1990 and is still continuing with new stories being published even now.
The new film, retaining the key elements of the original, features police officer Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) fighting criminals alongside his partner Lewis (Williams) (now Jack Lewis instead of Anne), when an attack on Alex leaves him all but dead with his body left in pieces. A greedy company called OmniCorp steps in to rebuild Alex as a cyborg. Now, Alex must fight to regain his humanity, avenge his own murder, and uncover the corruption in his city. Let’s take a look and see how RoboCop holds up as a remake and as a movie on its own merits.
One would be hard-pressed to review this movie as a stand-alone endeavor, especially considering the number of times this film harkens back to its source, some favorably and some not so much. For instance, two or three times during the film (including credits), composer Pedro Bromfman drops in the original film’s theme music (composed by legendary Basil Poledouris) for about fifteen seconds at a time, which only serves to remind viewers of the superior score, as this score is unfortunately a forgettable, generic, boring effort. There are also a couple scenes where characters would say catchphrases from the old movie, which surprisingly worked in their new context.
The main scene for this sort of self-referential awareness comes during a pow-wow between OmniCorp CEO Sellars (Keaton) and his Senior Marketing Exec (Baruchel) as they discuss designs for the Cyborg. First they show the original design, stating that it tested really well and scared all the inmates when prisons were used as focus groups. Sellars says he likes it, but wants something more “tactical,” so they streamline the suit and make it black, as Sellars states “people don’t really know what they want until you show it to them.” Really?!
The film presents RoboCop in two suits, one silver and very much a cool update from the original, then the second suit and the one featured for three-fourths of the film. This is the scale-plated matte-black suit, and speaking from a place not clouded by nostalgia, the silver suit still looks better. Its two-tone design presents a more dynamic and intimidating look for the character, whereas the black suit is just boring. And the black suit isn’t very “tactical” if its biggest weak spot, the head, is surrounded by glowing red lights. During one scene where RoboCop makes an assault on one of the film’s main villains, the bad guys cut the lights and switch to night-vision to defend themselves. But the night-vision is unnecessary as Robo’s face has a giant red light streaking across the front, and red lights on the back of the helmet at its base. It’s practically a bulls-eye screaming “shoot here.”
Complaints aside, for the moment, one should mention that the acting in this outing was rather terrific. Michael Keaton is superb in his portrayal of the greedy CEO, equal parts accommodatingly manipulative and self-involved. His character starts out as seemingly well-intentioned and slowly reveals his more malevolent nature as the film progresses. Jackie Earl Hayley is given a two-dimensional cardboard jerk to play, but he plays him with such enthusiasm that it’s entertaining.
Joel Kinnaman really makes you feel for Murphy, as he wonderfully portrays the emotional arc of Murphy, showing affection for his son, his confusion and rage over his robotic transformation, and his charismatic return to a more human state of being. One of the best scenes of the film is when his brain is being uploaded with case files on all the pending arrests in the city, including his own attempted murder, and Murphy goes into shock because of the emotional overload. “Correcting” the “problem,” OmniCorp scientist Dr. Norton (Oldman) deactivates Murphy’s dopamine, effectively turning him into an automaton. Watching Kinnaman switch from overemotional to practically a zombie is spectacular and unnerving.
Two of the stand out performances, though given very little screen time, are Murphy’s wife and son (Abbie Cornish and John Paul Ruttan, respectively), Cornish providing a strong female role and Ruttan providing a more tragic anchor for Murphy that sparks his reconnection with his humanity. The best performance belongs to Gary Oldman, no surprise there, who acts as the film’s seemingly misguided and somewhat helpless moral compass.
The rest of the supporting cast is made up by one-note characters that don’t really hinder the story, and do the best with what they’re given. One should commend Jay Baruchel and Jennifer Ehle’s performances as the Marketing and Legal Executives, Jay for his amusing and quirky behavior and Jennifer for her cold malice. I could really see her being a recurring villainess if this film ever got a sequel. The worst offender is Samuel L. Jackson, however. Another actor in a long list of actors who seems to have grown fond of playing his persona, Jackson plays against type for most of the film, playing Pat Novak, a Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck stereotype, an ultra-conservative agenda-driven political commentator and host of a TV show akin to something like the FOX News Network. Until the very end, where Novak finally looses his temper and drops his patented “Mother F—er” on his own show, which is amusing only insofar as the viewer is expecting it, and because it was on a TV show, it gets censored. While worthy of a chuckle, it’s ultimately disappointing.
The visual effects in this movie are top-notch, from the designs of the robotic armors, to the CGI used in creating the drone soldiers and the towering walking tank called ED-209. The updated ED-209 keeps a lot of its design grounded in the original film’s creation, but provides a sleek modernized look seemingly inspired by video games such as Metal Gear Solid. Not quite as menacing as the original insofar as looks, but makes up for menace in action; this version of ED-209 packs a punch and, just like the updated RoboCop, is a lot faster when the fighting starts.
The film presents the same sort of thematic elements as the original, albeit in a different light. Still present is the struggle of the main character to overcome his programming and reclaim his humanity from within the machine he has become. Also still present is the socio-political commentary, though now less focused on American consumerism and corporate greed, and more focused on American militaristic jingoism with a smattering of corporate greed on the side, all while dropping the satire in favor of a more straightforward approach. The focus on corruption also expands to include the police department in this iteration, an element not featured in the original.
Finally, the end of the film needs to be addressed. The original film, while triumphant in regard to Murphy’s renewed humanity, still doesn’t allow him to overcome his programming, needing special circumstances in order to nail the villain in the end. This new film features a Murphy that through sheer strength of will overrides his program to win the day, granted seemingly destroying himself in the process, so he too still needs help from the good doctor at the end of the day. One could go into more detail about the nature of the ending, but that would require too many spoilers, so go watch it for yourself. Though the two characters need help, this new Murphy gets to outshine the original in this one, and ONLY one, way. Unfortunately, this strong ending is weakened by the scene directly following it, the aforementioned scene where Novak loses his temper during his show.
Overall, the movie isn’t bad, but it’s not ground-breaking or amazing either. Far better than average, with a cast of immensely enjoyable main characters, and interesting thematic elements at its core, this new version of RoboCop scores 7.5 out of 10.