As with any remake of a much-loved film, there is a lot of trepidation about the re-imagining/remake of Robocop. Unlike the original, it’s rated PG-13 in the US (basically a 12A) which caused the most apprehension from the online community. However, the new version of Robocop is a lot better than it has any right to be. I was initially dubious, refusing to see it until I heard Mark Kermode’s surprisingly positive review, which gave me some hope in the film.
It’s the year 2028, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is a cop who gets injured in the line of duty. Omnicorp is looking for a human cop who is beyond repair to experiment on to make a part-man, part-robot cop and Murphy is their specimen. Omnicorp also specialize in drones to fight in different countries, which gives it some nice current political context. They didn’t, however, think about the risks of still having a man underneath the machinery and Murphy will find out who ruined his and his family’s life.
The film is directed by José Padilha who is a fascinating choice in this particular instance. Padilha directed my all-time favourite documentary Bus 174 that is about the socio-political reasons why a street kid would hijack a bus in Rio de Janeiro. He also directed the critically and commercially successful Elite Squad films. Darren Aronofsky at one point was attached which would have been a fascinating take as well.
Padilha begged and pleaded for an R-Rated Robocop, however the finished film is pretty risky for a PG-13, so much so it’s a 15 over here, so the original spirit remains intact despite compromise. The film was originally going to be an R rating but due to the budget escalating from $60,000,000 to something around the $130,000,000 range, MGM and Columbia demanded a PG-13. I would not be surprised if there is a director’s cut down the line but who knows Padilha said it was the experience of his life to friend Fernando Meirelles.
The casting of the film is similarly fascinating. The choice to have the same actors in supporting roles and have Alex Murphy/Robocop played by a lesser-known actor is interesting but may be the film’s biggest problem. Joel Kinnaman is perfectly fine in the role but lacks the soul and warmth of Peter Weller. The supporting cast, however, is top notch with Samuel L. Jackson playing a right-wing talk show host, Michael Keaton as the CEO of Omnicorp and Gary Oldman as the scientist who builds Robocop. All 3 give great performances and it’s nice to see Michael Keaton in anything that he can sink his teeth into as he is obviously having a blast playing the villain. Jackie Earle Haley and The Wire and Boardwalk Empire’s Michael K. Williams appear as well.
Overall, the updated Robocop combines modern day technology to give it an updated feel but still clings on to the political satire of the original film. This makes it one of the few recent remakes that honours the legacy of the original but also does its own thing in a good way, and there are some references to the original which fans will be happy to see. One particular scene- when Murphy sees what is actually left of him, is one of the most grotesque and surreal scenes I’ve seen in a film, it’s almost like a surrealist painting, and that’s high praise coming from me.
***1/2 Stars (out of 5)
Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller
BD/DVD Release Date:
9th June 2014 (UK)
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L.Jackson
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