Dir: Jose Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel
Run-Time: 118 minutes
In the near future, OmniCorp are a large military contractor, their soldier drones guaranteeing the safety of American soldiers and honest civilians all across the Middle East. However, they haven’t been able to crack the lucrative American market – U.S Citizens don’t want a mindless drone wielding power over life and death in their own backyard. They want a machine with a conscience. One that can think.
OmniCorp’s CEO (Keaton) comes up with the idea of putting a man inside an artificial body. Enter Alex Murphy (Kinnaman), an idealistic young Detroit cop left hideously wounded after an attempt on his life.
Not satisfied to produce a by-the-numbers reboot, Jose Padilha has created a film which differs greatly from the original. It’s almost not really a reboot at all, in the truest sense; more an entirely separate film, a re-imagining. While Michael Keaton’s villain is a close relative to Ronny Cox’s original bad-guy, Oldman and Jackson play characters not found in the Paul Verhoeven film. Oldman is the morally compromised doctor who turns Alex Murphy into the man in the suit while Jackson plays a bombastic TV presenter and staunch supporter of OmniCorp’s drones who spouts rhetoric across the airwaves in long, brash monologues – actually quite heavy handed attempts to inject some of the original’s commentary on mass media.
There are other, bigger changes too. The satire and the blood (this is as 12A) are gone but in their place this RoboCop has more of a human heart. He remembers his wife and family and all of what life as a normal person was like, making him a more sympathetic, relatable hero and making it a bigger tragedy, and dare I say, crime, when Omnicorp drug him up and turn him into the detached cyborg that closely resembles Peter Weller’s RoboCop.
If there is any satire to be found it is in how close and plausible the near-future scenario actually is, while Padilha plays more with the moral consequences of turning a man into a killing machine.
The action is smart, slick and CGI heavy; bright visuals and contrasting colours replacing the grime and grit and dark shades of the original – it certainly seems to be set in no version of Detroit anyone knows…
Kinnaman transitions easily between melodramatic scenes with his wife (Cornish, although the scenes between the newly made RoboCop and his wife are never quite as emotionally charged as Padilha seems to be aiming for) and ice-cold terminator. Gary Oldman rolls up his sleeves and gets on with doing some serious acting in a sci-fi action film god bless him; while Samuel L. Jackson’s charisma, screen-presence and expert delivery make what could have been quite a straight-up, limited role memorable.
Finally, while the gore and ultra-violence are gone, watch out for the particularly unsettling scene where Oldman’s doctor reveals just how little of Alex Murphy their actually is left.
The Verdict: The changes to a classic will not please many, but this should be a considered a different beast. A lively, fun and well performed if ultimately quite shallow, action flick.
If it does tip-toe around big questions rather than answering them and if its satire is thinly painted then it still has more teeth than most modern Hollywood blockbusters.