STARRING: Joel Kinnaman, Gary
Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson
2014, 118 Minutes, Directed by:
many viewers, this critic went in to the Robocop
remake wanting to dislike it. How dare they remake a classic science fiction
film? Then something odd happened. It became apparent that the filmmakers had
actually put some thought into why the story should be told again and how things
have changed since the original was made. The result won’t satisfy everyone but
unlike the remake of, say, The Day the
Earth Stood Still (2008), no one can argue they were merely ripping off the
reputation of the earlier film.
For one thing, the emphasis is
difference. We’re still in a future Detroit where OmniCorp wants to introduce
their robot crime fighters, but instead of the corporate infighting that was the
focus of the 1987 film, the satiric jabs are aimed at the government and
politicians. The corporate types, led by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), are
pretty much on the same page.
In a prologue TV news host Pat
Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) shows us how robots are already bringing “peace and
security” to nations elsewhere in the world. Only the United States forbids
their use domestically. In swift strokes, we see the problem with the robots and
how corporate media follows an agenda rather than simply reporting the facts.
The solution, according to Sellars, would be a robot with some human elements to
it, making it more acceptable to the public.
"The filmmakers actually put some thought into why the story should be
told again . . ."
At that point, the story
follows several beats of the original. Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman)
is near death after an attack planned by a particularly vicious criminal boss.
Scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a specialist in advanced robotic
prosthetics, creates a robot shell to contain what remains of Murphy. Here,
again, the film doesn’t merely ape the original. With the new Robocop, we still
get to see his face – except when a protective shield drops down – and he has
his full memories, not just vestigial images of his previous human life. Indeed
the question of whether he can resume a relationship with his wife (Abbie
Cornish) becomes ones of the film’s major plot lines.
It’s foolish to argue if this
Robocop is better or worse than the original. It’s different. It raises
the question as to whether Murphy has free will or is simply part of a machine
in much greater detail than the original. It replaces the satiric TV ads with
the darkly satiric newscast, although OmniCorp robot wrangler Rick Mattox (Jamie
Earl Haley) does get to quote one of the signature lines from the earlier film.
Where the executive suite in the first film seemed to be a nest of vipers, it’s
a much different environment here with Norton being the most complex character,
trying to follow corporate direction but also wanting to do the right thing. As
is often the case, Gary Oldman gives one of the film’s standout performances.
Where it seems to take the easy
route is turning several of the action sequences into the cinematic equivalent
of “first person shooter” video games. It makes up for it by daring to take its
conceptions all the way through, so that the question of whether Murphy can be
“programmed” and who is really in control becomes a central issue. Too often big
screen science fiction movies finesse such complicated matters with the recent
Her being a good example of a film that ultimately avoids facing the full
implications of its premise.
As a fan of the original, this
reviewer really didn’t want to like this one . . . but he did.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. He recently
released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood
and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Watch trailer / clip: