Directed by Jose Padilha
Written by Joshua Zetumer and Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner
Am I in a no win situation if I tell you I’ve never seen the original? I know it is beloved by many, and just as about every other film series these days, a reboot seems sacrilege. But perhaps a fresh perspective might shed an unbiased light on the material? Maybe? At this point maybe then I should also ask whether the fact that I enjoyed this reboot also puts me in a no win situation? Have I lost you yet? Are you still reading? Am I just writing into the vast vacuum of the blogosphere at this point? No? Yes? Are you tired of rhetorical questions yet? If not, then sit tight and hear me out as I review the new Robocop. I won’t call it a defense, yet, since I have no clue how fans of the original will react to this new film, but I liked it!
The head of the biggest weapons/defense company in the world, OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) struggles to find the domestic revenue he so badly wants. With the help of pundit Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) and by coercing a brilliant doctor, Norton (Gary Oldman), Sellars develops a human controlled robot to patrol the streets of the most dangerous city in America, Detroit. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a police detective, is the prime candidate having lost much of himself in an attempted murder. But what the power/money hungry Sellars didn’t account for was the human element, and his plan of control begins to unravel as Murphy uses his new technological powers to bring down corruption in the city.
This is not a perfect film by any means, far from it actually. I can even imagine the original being quite better, but what this film succeeds in doing is exploring themes in a mature manner, and not leaving the audience feeling like idiots herded into the theater simply to see stuff get blown up. Stuff gets blown up, for sure, and it’s awesome. But very rarely these days does an action film of this sort treat mature themes such as humanity with such maturity and reflection. Director Jose Padilha manages to strike a fair balance, too, in not being preachy. The themes are hardly subtle, but we also don’t get bashed over the head with them. Padilha shows restraint where so many before have overdone it.
Murphy finds himself struggling with the question as to what makes him human. Kinnaman offers a fairly uneventful turn in the lead role, but how much could he have done with a sedated robot anyhow? The real stars are those who surround our central character, making his human elements stand out that much more. Abbie Cornish’s turn as Murphy’s wife ought to finally announce to the world that she deserves more parts in widely seen films. And of course Gary Olman it should go without saying is great as the doctor with a conscious, caught in between the power of Sellars, OmniCorp and his friendship with the Murphy family.
Robocop has its flaws, and there are plenty. The narrative gets messy in parts, leading off into parts unknown and barely managing to make its way back, resulting in asides that distract, and side stories with minute details that try but never quite make the film flow smoothly. But at the core of the film is an interesting concept that is handled with just enough care to make the film both an enjoyable action ride and a semi-thoughtful exposition on technology and the twisted shadow games of media attention and coverage. The great cast may help elevate the material, which doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but RoboCop is a fun time out at the movies. Period.