The latest in a long line of remakes comes in the form of José Padilha’s update on Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi classic, RoboCop. A film full of violence, black comedy and social satire, the original movie holds up to this day. So much so, that many simply couldn’t see the point of a reboot at all.
The good news is that, while there are certainly many similarities between the two, Padilha’s take on the favourite isn’t a clone by any means. Instead of commentary on the 80s obsession with consumerism, it explores much more modern concerns about media influence, the information age and America’s involvement in the Middle East.
The dark humour, meanwhile, is replaced with a rather earnest sensibility and gruesome graphic violence with 12A-appropriate action.
The revamped film sees Joel Kinnaman take on the role of street-smart, tough-talking cop and loving family man Alex Murphy, whose vendetta against villain Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) results in his car going boom and a difficult choice for his missus (Cornish).
Unable to cope with the idea of losing her fatally injured husband altogether, she’s convinced by Machiavellian corporate boss Raymond Sellars (Keaton, on wonderfully oily form) and genius scientist Dennett Norton (Oldman) to allow what’s left of him to undergo an experimental procedure.
The result, of course, is a half-robot, half-human hybrid – a prototype law enforcement droid that OmniCorp are hoping a largely robophobic public might be willing to accept due to its capacity for empathy. But ultimately corporate pressure forces Norton to remove the man bit by bit… until all that’s left is a disturbingly cold machine.
Though the movie is ostensibly about that the titular RoboCop – the more human aspect of Murphy’s tale takes precedence. Where Verhoeven purposefully stayed away from sentimentality, Padilha embraces it, presenting Murphy’s humanity as both his weakness and strength. But without the humour that came from the forerunner’s unflinching, unsympathetic lack of personality, efforts to make us feel something unfortunately fall flat.
By the time Murphy awakes to discover the monster that’s been made of him, we’re so desperate to see him shoot someone out of a window, stab a guy in the neck or send one flying into a toxic waste dump, we can barely bring ourselves to share his heartbreak.
That’s not to say there’s no upside to this movie. This is a RoboCop for a new generation, and there’s tons of fun in seeing the cyborg, upgraded with a sleek, modern black suit and new-fangled CGI, wipe the floor with the other bots during the obligatory training sequence – not to mention the more explosive action that comes later when an angry Murphy finally realises how he’s been manipulated and seeks vengeance upon OmniCorp.
And then there’s the cast – putting Jackson, Oldman and Keaton on the same screen is simply greatness on top of greatness on top of greatness. For his part, Kinnaman doesn’t do a bad job either, though at first a little wooden, the actor meets the challenge of acting within the confines of his robosuit with success.
Ultimately, despite Padilha’s admirable efforts to put a human face to this story, the film misses both opportunity and the point. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but nothing special.