Robocop Review – A Remake Worthy Of Your Attention
The 2014 remake of Robocop faces a situation very similar to that of its title character. Some see it as nothing more than a soulless, corporate automaton created from the remains of something loved. They believe nothing could ever recapture the same subversive, over the top, allegorically campy perfection of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original. To them, nothing could ever live up to the classic.
Wisely, this new Robocop doesn’t try to.
Instead, director Jose Padilha focuses on an enjoyable retelling of the original’s core story while allowing room for intriguing and necessary variances from the source material. In doing so, he and an impressive cast are able to deliver a fun film worthy of attention and more than capable of standing on its own.
Leading the film in an able and understatedly emotional performance is Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) whose Detective Alex Murphy is made into a cyborg law enforcement officer after suffering grievous injuries at the hands of a crime lord. Kinnaman’s version of the character never feels like Robocop, and this is a great thing. In keeping Murphy aware of his situation, the film roots itself in his humanity and allows you to come along for the ride with him.
This makes his humanity all the more meaningful and valuable, nowhere more than in a hauntingly powerful scene in which his memories are accessed in a dream sequence. When those memories are heartbreakingly pulled away from him, it creates a jarring juxtaposition between the warm, caring reality of his past and the harsh, cold reality Murphy must now face. It’s an effective way of gaining your investment in him, and other touches like this one insure the humanity of his character is never lost.
In a similar fashion, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dr. Dennett Norton never allows the humanity of the overall film to be lost. He’s truly its heart and soul as a scientist so passionate about helping others that he allows himself to become an agent of powers far more interested in public opinion and profit margins than actually keeping people safe. You’ve never seen an actor chew scenery in such a delicately tender way. From his touching introductory scene to his desperation to put things right when they go horribly wrong, Gary Oldman is this film’s MVP.
But Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson (not Laurence Fishburne) come in at very close ties for second place.
As OmniCorp chief executive Raymond Sellars, Keaton does a fine job of channeling a sinister Steve Jobs. He plays him with a detached but nonetheless razor sharp focus that makes him riveting to watch, and it’s a pleasure to see him navigate this world while pulling most of the strings behind the scenes. Unfortunately, much of this is ultimately wasted as the film nears its conclusion and inexplicably turns him into an outright villain far less interesting than the character you’ve been watching for most of the picture.
Luckily, Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Pat Novak stays consistently great throughout the entire movie. He’s a Bill O’Reilly-like, talking head gasbag with very cool technology, acting as a sort of right-wing Greek chorus to pull you into this future society facing the next iterations of some of our current debates. The film makes excellent use of him to move things along or provide a broader perspective in the context of the unfolding plot. While Robocop never slows down to the point of staleness, Jackson’s scenes always provide a breath of fresh air, and you’ll find yourself unconsciously perking up whenever he appears on screen.
The rest of the supporting cast isn’t as astounding, but they’re certainly no less impressive.
Abbie Cornish is of great assistance to Joel Kinnaman as Murphy’s wife Clara. Their chemistry is never quite smoldering, but the tenderness on display in their scenes together is very touching. Faring a little better is the relationship between Murphy and his partner Lewis (Michael K. Williams). The two share an easy camaraderie and play off of each other excellently. I really wish there had been more scenes of these two post Murphy’s transformation, and hope any sequel would take advantage of their friendship.
I also hope any sequel will fix the biggest issue with Robocop, its conclusion. To its credit, the film’s finale is an exciting and very cool (if a little too derivative of the original’s) battle at OmniCorp headquarters. However the logic in getting there is a bit messy. It’s as if the film suddenly realizes the real villain has already been taken care of and replaces him with an illogical substitute.
Despite this (minor) setback, I still left the theater smiling because of the fun I had watching this movie. It’s not the original, but it’s very good and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.