Movie #17: Robocop

Joel Kinnaman;Abbie CornishI was 16 when the original Robocop movie came out, but I can’t say that I remember it too well. One of the things I do recall about the Paul Verhoeven directed movie was that it was satirically tongue-in-cheek (which was kind of new for sci-fi). For a teenager in the audience, it wasn’t totally obvious when the movie was being serious and when it was making a joke/point. This new version of Robocop is more on the serious side, except that it opens with Samuel L. Jackson as an almost-comical tv pundit. He talks about how Omnicorp (the new branding for the Omni Consumer Products or “OCP” as it was called in the first movie) has established robot “peacekeeping” troops in every country except the US due to political opposition. The rhetoric is so blatant that it’s obvious that we’re not meant to agree with him. Despite the original movie being almost 30 years old, the plot was so simple that it wasn’t hard to recall: good cop goes after bad guy; bad guy tries to kill good cop; to “save” good cop’s life, they make him into Robocop; Robocop eventually takes down bad guy. Unfortunately that meant that there weren’t really any surprises. The theme of corporate corruption is heavy-handed in this movie. Michael Keaton plays Omnicorp CEO Raymond Sellars, whose main interest seems to be the overturning of anti-Robocop legislation and securing presumably lucrative contracts. He’ll do virtually anything (while twirling his moustache) to make this happen. That’s why he wants to put a human face on his machines by using a human cop, Alex Murphy (played by The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman), and adding the robotic body around him. The movie’s cast is pretty high-calibre (and in some cases, kind of wasted) and includes aforementioned Samuel Jackson, Gary Oldman (as Dr. Norton, the doctor/scientist behind the cybernetics), Jennifer Ehle (as an Omnicorp executive), Jay Baruchel (as a snivelling marketing guy), Jackie Earle Hailey (as an Omnicorp weapons designer), Abbie Cornish (as Murphy’s wife), and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (as chief of police). In this remake it’s the wife and kids who are Murphy’s anchor to humanity (in the original movie it was his partner), and there are a number of emotional interactions between Murphy and his son. Joel Kinnaman does a very good job as a not-very-emotional father struggling with some intense experiences — the scene where he sees himself for the first time as a robot is another such scene. In some ways it’s good that this new version takes itself so seriously. I wish they had focused more on the implications of this technology and how it could affect human lives, rather than moving on to the main plot about greedy corporate villains. That part of the story didn’t ring true to me (I had a hard time picturing real-world CEOs like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, even corrupt ones such as Bernie Madoff, being so callous and heartless), and it made the story seem more cartoonish. In the end, I don’t know that Robocop needed to be remade. We are living in times where the theme of corporate greed, especially related to the tech industry, is relevant, but this is hardly a well-reasoned, nuanced exploration of the topic. On the other hand, if we’re going for style over substance, the new black Robocop does look super-sweet. Compared to the old aluminum-looking one, the 2014 model is sleek and I love the Cylon-esque red light on his visor. There’s an action sequence where Murphy is practicing combat against an army of robots and even though I know it’s CGI, it’s a pretty fun scene. Without the lofty ambitions, I would had preferred if they’d taken out the talk-show and news segments and stuck to the future cop stuff instead. (3.5 out of 5)

17 down, 33 to go.

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