Dead or alive you’re coming with him… question is, which would you prefer after watching José Padilha’s remake?
Directed by: José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Samuel L. Jackson.
Running time: 118 min
2029, and as Omnicorp – a division of Omni Consumer Products – provides humanoid drones and great lumbering artillery machines called ED209 to the military to provide security and patrol foreign territories, at home in the U.S. despite police struggling with levels of crime, a bill in the senate prevents their use on American soil. In Detroit, at Omnicorp’s headquaters, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), comes up with an idea to sell the public on the idea, by using the technology of Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a doctor who works with amputees using cybernetic devices to replace their lost limbs.
Meanwhile, detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), hot on the trail of an organised criminal, finds himself targeted, and when returning home to his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son, is almost killed when a carbomb detonates, leaving him with fourth degree burns and amputated limbs, and very little change of survival. Suggesting that this may be the only change to save Alex’s life, Sellars and Norton offer to make Alex into a cyborg, part man, part machine. Robocop.
The movie starts with a promising opening scene, set in a recently pacified Tehran, robotic drones and gigantic ED209 robots patrol the streets, holding the population to scans to determine any potential threats they pose while media sensation Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson) promotes the machines as being suitable replacements for the U.S. military, saving soldiers from having to place themselves in harms way. This scene even ends with a small group of suicide bombers blowing up several drones before an ED209 blows away a kid who attacks it with a knife, not being able to determine that the threat, though deadly to a human, does not perhaps require a barrage of automatic gunfire to deter him.
This opening does share some similarities with the social commentary and satire of Paul Verhoven’s original, but unfortunately it doesn’t capitalise on the setup of the situation. At one point we get to see Alex Murphy after he has been made into Robocop, and we see his robotic parts stripped away to reveal only a disembodied head, a set of lungs in a breathing box, and his right hand. It’s a ghastly and disturbing sight, but a perfect analogy for this movie. Basically what I’m saying here is that it has no balls. There’s clear intent behind the writing of scenes like the opening and several other moments throughout, but the movie does nothing beyond setting up remotely the chance of commentary on subjects like American foreign policy, human fear of technology, the media manipulation of events, or medical ethics regarding prolonging life past a reasonable point.
It does come close with some of the scenes between Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman, where Oldman’s character finds himself tumbling further and further into the rabbit hole of Keaton’s Omnicorp CEO ‘Mad Hatter’ (who incidentally felt like he was just slipping into his old Beetlejuice persona), as he is forced to do more questionable things even though he’s against it. But again there’s no pay off to these subjects once they are raised. There’s no snippets of interviews with the public, or any real footage to show the political situation to show how society is responding to the melding of man and machine. In fact there’s little of any sign that the world is aware apart from a few passing shots of people cheering Robocop on as he races past them on his motorcycle, despite a bit plot point being that Omnicorp has done this to try and persuade the U.S. senate to vote to end a bill preventing drones from being deployed on American soil.
One of the big changes of the movie from the original is the inclusion of Alex Murphy’s wife and son, still being in the picture. In the original, his identity was kept secret, he was declared dead and his wife moved on unawares that he was now a police cyborg. Here, his wife is the one who gives consent for him to be turned into a cyborg after he is blown up and lies close to death with serious injuries, without fully knowing the ramifications. Once the transformation has taken place, Murphy returns home but no longer fits in there. This could have been a very good emotional point of the movie, but like everything else, it is not capitalised on, and is instead left by the road side in favour of action set-pieces.
And here’s where the movie really should be at least competent and entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, it’s just not. The action set-pieces are perfunctory at best. An early scene with human Alex Murphy and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) – a change to a male character – is fairly well handled, but once Murphy becomes Robocop, the action becomes very quickly edited, but without any clarity as to what is happening for much of the time. During a test run, when Robocop goes up against an army of drones, there’s a basic lack of spacial awareness for the camera, whereas Robocop dispatches drone after drone with precision, it becomes call of duty but without any of the ingenuity that you would expect.
The same occurs later in the movie, with a shootout in a warehouse where the bad guys have turned off the lights and are using heat vision, so of course we get a shootout in the dark with barrel flame bursts to light the scene. Then what should have been a great action set-piece, with Robo going toe to toe with not one but four ED209’s becomes almost as boring, with the hero jumping on top of the machines and dispatching them fairly quickly and with little effort, before accidentally finding himself in a slight bind that I won’t spoil here because it was the first actual moment that made me go “didn’t see that coming”. But that was at around the 105th minute of a 118 minute movie. By then it’s too late to save it.
2 out of 5 Nerds