Has it come to this? We now live in a world in which everything has to be reinvented for new audiences today. Never mind the countless adaptations and reinterpretations of Shakespeare, we’re talking about Robocop. Taking over the reins of the character from the director of the original, Paul Verhoeven, newcomer to American cinema Jose Padhila has brought his own version of the famed hero. Padhila, unfortunately, due to his inexperience with English-language films, was not given much say on the outcome of the final product (studio interference is the appropriate term) and you have to wonder how the original vision for this reboot could have improved it. It might have been the script that suffered (which oddly featured one of the original screenwriters for the first Robocop), or the editing, or the budget. We will never know. What we do know is that this movie was unnecessary from the start. It didn’t need to be made as it ultimately does not feel fresh or exciting, just the same old shtick that we get with every revenge cop flick. But….this movie exists anyway and I shall talk about it.
Robocop is set in the near future where robot drones have basically replaced military units working overseas. These drones are more efficient than humans and encounters with enemies results in no human casualties for America. (‘Murica! F*** yeah!) However, back at home, the usage and application of drones for law enforcement are restricted due to moral ambiguities that arise when judgment is needed. You have the ED-209s (updated and sleeker) used as mobile tanks, yes, but they aren’t designed to actively go out and hunt criminals as they kind of stand out in a crowd. To get around this moral loophole, manufacturer Omnicorp selects Alex Murphy, a critically injured cop (from a car bomb, not a gang killing this time. Remember, PG-13!) to be the frontrunner for their new program. After some initial hesitation with his new body, Murphy eventually comes to accept the fact that he is now a hulk of metal and eventually goes on a path of revenge to the people who tried to kill him and bring all of them to justice, his way (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”)
Let’s talk about the titular character for a moment. Joel Kinnaman (best known for his role on AMC’s The Killing) takes over the reins from original actor Peter Weller. Murphy’s family life is portrayed more in this film, which kind of adds a unique turn to an otherwise familiar premise. Kinnaman actually makes a pretty decent Robocop as he gets the voice exactly right, his movements exactly right. I’m talking about, this machine actually moves like it’s grinding on gears, and the sound is crystal clear from whenever he moves a part. If he flexes his hand, you hear the whirring of servos, if he takes a step, you hear the “rrrrr-CLUNK!” of the boot. Those are all nice touches that help solidify the character in our minds. The suit, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Murphy wears the suits original incarnation for a little bit, until he goes through a re-design in order to make him appear more “tactical.” By this, they just paint him all black. For some reason, they decide to leave his right hand untouched as it’s supposed to give off the appearance that it’s only a man inside the suit and that you can shake the hand with no feeling of uneasiness (“What? I thought we agreed on full body prosthesis?”) It’s all well and good but the reasoning for the hand being on the suit is never explained in the film, I only learned about it while skimming through a couple of interviews. That’s not exactly the best area to find out nagging details about important characters, guys. Explain, movie. Explain!
The other characters are little more than one dimensional robots in this film. The always reliable Gary Oldman plays the scientist who creates Robocop and he does a decent job with the material that he’s given. Other than that there are no rather interesting qualities about his character. Same goes for most of the cast. Michael Keaton plays the head of Omnicorp and same thing: decent job but unmemorable. Samuel L. Jackson is given a rather bizarre role as an overly patriotic and sometimes anarchy-leaning show host. I guess they’re trying to reinterpret the satirical tone that the original film had but while it wasn’t as subtle in that film, here it slams you on the head with its social agenda repeatedly until you want to reach out to the screen, grab the metaphorical agenda, and knock Jackson’s terrible hairpiece off his head and demand more action scenes. Jackie Earle Haley has a role as a military tactician for Robocop and he is very good in all of the scenes he’s in, even if he’s in very few of them. In fact, Haley has been doing the best work out of his colleagues in many of the recent film’s he’s appeared in. Someone give that man a meatier role! Abbie Cornish is perhaps the most wasted character in the film, playing the part of Murphy’s wife. The movie makes a point to show that Alex is trying to continue his relationship with his wife, despite Omnicorp’s thoughts on the matter, but Cornish’s role is just a sack of tears. In each scene with her and Robocop, she’s always begging for him to come home and see their son. I can understand that she should naturally feel upset but I think that some emotional diversity would be good for the flick and lighten the mood.
In fact, the tone of the film is not even as light-hearted as the original. Sure the first Robocop was a dark movie, but it had several elements of black humor sprinkled throughout it, which made it all the more memorable. This film is as straight as an arrow, it takes its premise so seriously that there is no humor at all in the film. None. Not one time was there a line strategically placed to arouse a giggle from the audience. When one notable line got horrible mangled in the attempt to hearken back to the original, all it produced was a slew of eye-rolling.
The music for this film was handled by Padhila’s regular collaborator, Pedro Bromfman. This is Bromfman’s first American effort outside of his native Brazil, and it appears here that he attempted to copy the methodology of Remote Control Studios ghostwriters for this score. It’s terrible. The iconic Robocop theme is utilized here yes, but it’s only done twice and the two times that it does appear, it sounds very much out of character with the rest of the stuff composed. You have obnoxious synthesizers, endless string ostinatos, and an overall limp orchestration. Themes go nowhere, there are no overarching motifs for any character identification. Nothing. Everything’s crap!
But I’m sure you’re wondering, “How are the action scenes?” Glad you asked. Being that it IS a Robocop film, you’d have to assume that there would be a fair share of action. BZZZZ! WRONG! There are very few scenes of just straight action in this movie and the few extended scenes of firearm misuse are mangled with Robocop going into first-person mode and frequently switching between wavelengths to identify baddies (a la Predator). There are a few scenes here and there of good action but the fact that there’s more talking than you’d like in this film kinda makes the whole presentation just fizzle. That brings me to my next point. When Robocop is not explicitly shooting bad guys, he uses a taser while on the beat. No more shooting people for simple misdemeanors like armed robbery, or planting a bullet in a miscreant’s testicles for attempted rape. None of that here. They’re just tased. It’s so underwhelming that you would rather have Robocop pull his pistol and splatter someone’s brains across the wall to at least remind us that this was originally an R-rated creation. So disappointing.
After further reflection, this is a film that most certainly did not need to be made. There are a few changes to the character that might intrigue die-hard Robocop enthusiasts but there is little to identify it with compared to many of the films being released today. I will grant you that it is better than Robocop 3, but that isn’t saying much. The point is, is that I was unimpressed the whole time I was in the theater. I felt that I had seen everything before, was not surprised at any twists or turns in the plot, and didn’t enjoy the references to the original. I did find the film’s modern take on the setting and robots, though, as it felt that it could very well be a plausible scenario sometime in the future where we have drones replacing humans in the military. But that is yet to come, anyway. Long story short: didn’t enjoy it, didn’t hate it, ate up two hours and I was fine with it. If you want a sci-fi shooter to satiate yourself until something new comes along, be my guest. Otherwise, you’ll just have to settle for The Lego Movie.
Final Score: 55/100