Director: Jose Padhilla
This article features minor spoilers for Robocop (2014)
More often that not lately, I’ve heard people compare this era in time to the 1980’s. I can see where they get that. Things like commercials, blockbuster films, and art are blatantly excessive, hipsters are again listening to awkward synth pop, and the top 1% has it pretty good. Just a passing glance at my generation, and you can tell we’re trying to relive the glory days of the 60’s 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. There’s another concept I heard of recently though that separates these 2010’s from any other time in history. It’s called Millenial Dread. You can bear witness to this idea in most popular films. There’s this foreboding feeling that seems to weave itself through almost every recent film’s thematic core.
Most of it centers on things like the chaos in the Middle East, or America’s increasingly worrisome Corporate Surveillance state. These things sometimes mix into a strange brew of throwbacks to a bygone era with a dash of apprehension. Jose Padihla’s remake of Robocop is one such example.
Military technology giant, Omnicorp, has successfully developed unmanned drones that have been deployed as “peacekeepers” across the globe. The technology is so successful that every country on the planet has them in operation, except one. Americans, as fond of “freedom” as we are, have enacted the Dreyfuss Act, which has made the use of unmanned drones totally illegal on U.S. soil.
Seeking to sway public opinion, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO of Omnicorp, begins a fierce PR campaign using a television show, The Novak Element (an obvious jab at Right wing pundit, Bill O’Reilly) to try and show Americans that his machines are safe and necessary. The poll results come in however, and it shows that Americans prefer a certain human element in law enforcement. Motivated by the results, Sellars gets his top man, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), to begin working on a prototype machine that carries a human inside it.
They find the perfect candidate in Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit lawman who was horribly disfigured in an assassination attempt by a local crime lord. Emotionally and literally torn apart by the attempt on his life, Murphy shows significant trouble in adapting to his new, robotic body. In an attempt to curb his depression, Norton plants a chip in his head that provides Murphy with the illusion of freewill, but actually controls all of his actions when he’s on the streets. Meanwhile, Murphys wife Clara (Abbie Cornish), begins to sense something is amiss, as Alex barely resembles the man she loved.
For a remake, there are some things this film did quite well. The script by Joshua Zetumer amply updates this classic story to modern times. All the important bits are still present, but it still feels relevant to today’s audience. The overarching Omnicorp plot is absolutely the best part of this movie, as most audiences will feel right at home with the themes it presents. The action, while extremely watered down from the original to make a grab for that PG-13, is well shot and exciting. Every time Robocop jumps into action, you’re in for a treat.
The film is not without its fair share of flaws though. Joel Kinnaman, who is supposed to be the emotional core of this film, winds up just being a monotone automaton. He’s either pissed off, sad, or doped out of his eyeballs by Dr. Norton. I had a real problem connecting with the emotional side of the story because of him, and Abbie Cornish, who is simply there to look pretty and cry a lot. Isn’t it so sad that she won’t ever really get her husband back? Here, look at her crying to remind you of that. Repeat. The real emotional core of this film is Gary Oldman’s character. Through him we get to feel the real moral dilemma at hand. More than once throughout the movie, I felt I would have been more interested in a story about his character than a remake of Robocop.
*MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
There was one moment that really spoiled the whole trying to reconnect with your family subplot. There’s a scene where Robocop is confronted by his wife outside the Detroit PD, and she tells him how their son has become distant and depressed since Murphy has become Robocop. He begins to look up crime scene photos and videos in his database and finds several of his own attempted murder, from which he discovers that his son saw everything. He begins to emotionally override the software that controls him, and drives in the opposite direction of the crime scene to which he was headed. I thought he’d be heading for his son, to try and rebuild his relationship with him, but no. Instead he heads for crime lord Antoine Vallon’s (Patrick Gallow) lair where he murders at least thirty men in a huge gun battle. For all the socially concoius material this film throws at you, this one moment where they totally overlook his murderous revenge spree felt totally out of place. It was a cool looking fight, but when it was over, nothing was resolved or even addressed.
*OK YOU’RE GOOD*
This film is a really mixed bag. On one hand the great script, great action scenes, Gary Oldman’s performance, and attention to what made the original Robocop so relevant made this quite fun to watch, but the flaws added up and made what could have been a total surprise into just another remake. One question that you might be asking is, “Was this film necessary?” Personally, I felt it wasn’t and in no way would I recommend this over the original.