The future of law enforcement is here, or back, or however you want to say it. Look I’m just going to get this out of the way now: “RoboCop” 2014 or Robo2.0 is NOT a straight retelling of the classic 80’s Paul Verhoeven flick. It’s just not, and it never tries to be. I am a child of the 80’s. I grew up with big hair, loud music, questionable fashion trends, and bigger than life action movie heroes. When the original “RoboCop” hit it was like a surge of lightning to the industry. Youngins like myself loved the over the top violence and tongue in cheek satire, while completely missing the subtext and biting social commentary about inequality, corporate greed, consumerism, and drug use. Okay, maybe not that last one. Verhoeven’s film was about America at that time.
Okay let’s get the basics out the way for the uninitiated: Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, “The Killing”) is a good cop and family man. After a case he’s working on involving a notorious gunrunner goes bad, he is critically injured in a car bombing as retribution. This gives OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton, do I need to say who he is?) the opportunity to solve the problem he’s been having with selling his robo soldiers and drones in the States. By putting a “man in a machine,” he seeks to circumvent the issue of soulless protectors policing the streets with the ability to take a life. And thus RoboCop is born. Sounds fairly simple, and very much like the original. But the similarities pretty much end there.
I’m going to get my one major issue with this film out in the open right now. It didn’t have a true villain. Sure, Keaton plays a smarmy CEO, and RoboCop needs that in the story, but it doesn’t have a Clarence Boddicker (played by a deliciously evil Kurtwood Smith in the original). The man’s character stuck with me so much that when “That 70’s Show” first started, all I could see was Red throwing Eric out the house saying, “Can you fly, Bobby?!?” This film needed that. They had potential with drugrunner Antoine Vallon, but they didn’t do enough with him. Jackie Earle Haley was sort of an antagonist (and was partly wasted for what they were trying to do with him) as OmniCorp’s military expert and drone handler. But nothing on the level of Boddicker or Miguel Ferrer’s OCP opportunist Bob Morton.
When this film was first announced there was a lot of trepidation about it. Fans of the franchise who have dealt with the subpar sequels, lackluster TV shows, and other outings of their favorite cyborg were excited but apprehensive, and the new glossy black look didn’t help quell their fears. Well as a fan I’m here to tell you that this reboot (I’m using reboot instead of remake as it is a decidedly different film) is worth the price of admission. In some ways the story is actually better than the original. Now before you get your torches and pitchforks, let me explain. Both films are very much a product of their times, with the reboot a more politically and philosophically minded film.
Where the original “RoboCop” glossed over Murphy’s family, the reboot focuses on it. Where “RoboCop” was more machine than man, and had to recover his memories and find a personality, Robo2.0 has his memories intact, and it’s the recovery of his humanity that is the journey. There is still the revenge story, and in the end it still becomes Robo vs OmniCorp, but the journey is more nuanced and thought provoking. Just because you can merge a human and a machine, should you? How far before there is more man than machine? And how much of the man, makes up the man? That last question is especially important during a scene where what’s left of Murphy’s body is shown to him. It’s this moral dilemma that permeates the film, with the debate over OmniCorp’s drones another.
But it’s the action you care about, right? There definitely could’ve been more, and it’s not the bright, blood splattering type of the original, but it is still pretty damned good. Jose Padilha cut his teeth on some intense action flicks with the “Elite Squad” series, and that same kind of frenetic action makes its way to Robo2.0 and then some. The fight with the multiple Ed-209s is just insane, and there’s a night vision shootout that’s pretty good. That said, one more action scene wouldn’t have hurt. The film also benefits from a good cast. Gary Oldman plays Dr. Norton, an OmniCorp scientist who is convinced to help with the project with the promise of more funding for his prosthetic research. A good man who ends up sacrificing his morals in order to further his research, Oldman could’ve been wasted, but instead shines. Keaton works his magic, too, and Jackie Earle Haley shows why height doesn’t matter when you’re a badass. Abbie Cornish had very little to work with as Clara Murphy, but she does have a few moments.
Michael K. Williams takes over the role of Lewis, Murphy’s partner, who was a tough lady cop (as shown by her gum chewing and general badassery) played famously by Nancy Allen in the original. Williams gets less to do than Cornish, but they establish the importance of his friendship with Murphy in one scene where Lewis is with the family and Robo is about to meet the public. And finally, everyone’s favorite boisterous personality played a part made for him. Samuel L. Jackson is Pat Novak, a conservative, Bill O’Reily type with a Fox News style show “The Novak Element,” where we get to see his version of current events. A staunch OmniCorp ally, he pushes for the repeal of the law banning drones in the States. He’s almost the equivalent of a Greek chorus in an ancient play, and is a great replacement for the silly commercials and such of the original.
“I’d buy that for a dollar!”
This is definitely one of the better reboots out of Hollywood, and carves its own path away from the original. I give it props for not being afraid to do something different. Instead, Padilha gave us an updated story, using today’s issues and fears. If you’re on the fence about this one, don’t be, and hop on down and hit the theaters.
José Padilha (director) / Joshua Zetumer (screenplay)
CAST: Joel Kinnaman … Alex Murphy / RoboCop
Gary Oldman … Dr. Dennett Norton
Michael Keaton … Raymond Sellars
Abbie Cornish … Clara Murphy
Jackie Earle Haley … Rick Mattox
Michael K. Williams … Jack Lewis
Samuel L. Jackson … Pat Novak