When I first saw that they were remaking Robocop, the kid inside me rebelled. I grew up on 80s and 90s movies, and the thought that they were rebooting what was an iconic show of my childhood made me fear for its sanctity. The black suit and human hand didn’t make me feel any better; the new suit seemed like a mish-mash of Tron and Batman, and why Robocop would be built for resilience and have a human hand left made absolutely no sense to me. So in all honesty I went in with incredibly low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was glad that they did not mangle my childhood, and in fact did a pretty decent job of updating the themes for today’s day and age.
The movies addresses the military US’ military presence overseas, the concept of drones and cameras policing our everyday lives and even the portrayal of extremely biased television programming dressed up as ‘news’, all of which hit very close to home. However, the central theme of Robocop is still that of augmentation and the concept of where our humanity or soul resides, which is all the more appropriate in our current generation given all the technological improvements in the past twenty-odd years.
To be honest, I’m glad that Robocop runs roughly 2 hours, or 20 minutes more than the original. While both movies has Alex Murphy as a cop with a family, the original was more of a blank slate. Alex appears to only be gunned down to become Robocop, and his family was only shown in flashbacks in his memory. In the current incarnation, we spend a lot more time with Joel Kinnaman’s family, both before and after his augmentation, and Robocop is a deeper character because of it. And while the original movie’s depiction of his mortal wounds might have been more graphic, the newer incarnation’s transition to his Robocop persona is frighteningly in your face (and comes with the added benefit of being able to explain why new Robocop can change his body like Tony Stark can change his armors, which I’m pretty sure was the plan all along). I’ve even started to buy in to the whole ‘human’ hand thing. Granted, it doesn’t make any sense realistically, but metaphorically it is one of the few vestiges of Robocop’s humanity, plus it’s probably a lot easier to hold a gun in a real hand, rather than through a prosthesis.
Kinnaman also does a pretty decent job running the gamut of emotions, from hot-headed firestarter cop to cold fish Robocop once the scientists start toying with his brain, and then back again. Abbie Cornish’s Clara Murphy is also a decent character, and the vulnerability she portrayed seemed believable (a far cry from her role in Suckerpunch, which just goes to show how much a coherent script actually helps with acting), with the two of them playing a particularly poignant scene together, with ‘Fly me to the moon’ playing in the background. However, the people that made the movie for me was the supporting cast of Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel L Jackson. Michael Keaton was my favourite, playing the slimy and mercenary fortune 500 CEO Raymond Sellars, the anti-Bruce Wayne to his earlier Batmans, but Gary Oldman was a close second. Sometimes I felt as if Oldman’s Dr Dennett Norton was confused, as he vacillated between the moral high ground and succumbing to Sellars’ temptations and machinations, but Oldman’s acting brought it through, bringing pathos to the role.
Samuel L Jackson was also surprisingly good in the movie. Normally, he just plays the same character with a costume change, be it Nick Fury (Snakes on a Plane with eyepatch) or Django Unchained’s Head Slave (Snakes on a Plane with cowboys), but this time the movie used his Samuel L Jackson-ness for good, as he plays vitriol and empty rhetoric spewing Pat Novak, a satire on… probably just about every opinion news show in America right now.
I felt that the weakest part of the movie was the action, and while I am actually okay with that (I like my thinky sci-fi), it might be problematic for the movie-goers who are there purely for the explosions and guns. Not to say that the action is bad. There’s more than enough explosions and guns to scratch your normal action junkie itch, and Robocop goes the Michael Bay Transformers route of having robots to be the grisly punching bags of the hero, because oil and circuitry is not guts and blood, allowing the movie to provide action and violence while keeping a nice friendly PG-rating. But that’s just it; it feels sanitized, a far cry from the original in your face gore and viscera (I still skip through some parts of the original movie, like truck into toxic waste scene). The shaky cam and HUD first person shooter action in some scenes doesn’t help it either. It is popcorn action, fun to munch on but ultimately empty and bland, which is a shame, considering the meat on the rest of the movie.
All in all, the movie is a lot better than I would’ve expected. While it is let down by the action in the middle, the beginning and end (except for how they resolved Michael Keaton’s Red Asset problem) of the movie is great. And the nostalgia hearing the Robocop theme again… what a rush!