I need to get something off my chest. If you approach this film expecting it to basically do everything the 1987 version did, then I don’t know what to say to you. Surely the point of a remake is to try something new with the same basic idea? Take Batman for example; he has endured because there are so many variations on his story. So why can’t RoboCop enjoy the same process of reinvention?
Fortunately, José Padilha’s English language debut generally makes wise choices, with several homages to the original classic only adding to the new story.
The film begins with ‘The Novak Report’, which throughout the film takes some quite heavy handed swipes at both the media’s control of our opinion and the way in which first world countries impose themselves on those deemed unruly. OCP drones in Tehran are shown putting down an attack with no fear, no questions, just action.
Once again Alex Murphy (this time played by The Killings Joel Kinnaman), is a devoted Father, Husband, and Police Officer who comes a cropper in the line of duty. Once his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) gives her consent, Alex is used as part of a program to get a man inside a machine, which would allow Raymond Sellar’s (Micheal Keaton!) conglomerate OCP to circumvent a government act preventing robots and drones being used on American soil.
The first scenes of Alex awaking in his new body are heart-breaking. After his initial disbelief and anger, Alex asks the doctor who performed the procedure, Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to show him what is left of his former self. What follows is a technically impressive and gut wrenching scene, raising the question ‘What makes you….you?’. Depression and sadness quite rightly pervade this impressive scene.
Take note of where Alex is put together and tested too. Another not so subtle satirical swipe.
After various tinkering (to varying degrees of moral ambiguity) and some combat training RoboCop is unveiled and proceeds to stamp down on crime, lowering rates in an unprecedented fashion. But will his humanity be able to compete with the robotics? You won’t have needed to see the original to figure that one out.
Action may be sparse, but works in relation to the story. To shoehorn in ‘MOAR ACTION’ would have ruined the more thoughtful and slower paced story. This film is just as much about the world and characters that come together to create a new face of law enforcement as it is the man himself.
The cast is impressive. Scenes between Oldman and Keaton were high points, though how much of that is do with them both being Batman alumni I couldn’t tell you. Sellars is a tricky character, with Keaton slowly peeling away the layers to reveal his malevolent nature. Norton on the other hand is extremely conflicted, with his morals questioned at every turn. You can see the torture on Oldman as he tries to do the right thing, but goes to increasingly dangerous lengths at the behest of Sellars.
Kinnaman deserves a lot of credit for taking on the role so strongly tied to Peter Weller. Alex’s transformation into RoboCop may push the boundaries of technology but also feels spot on emotionally. He owns this version of the character and I’d love to see more of him.
The original is remembered for its hyper violence, a staple of director Paul Verhoeven. The 12a certificate attached to this version should tell you everything you need to know, but I found several scenes were really pushing the boundaries of what that certificate should allow. Regardless, gore isn’t needed to tell this story and the action that is there was exciting and cool.
I’m not sure if it even needs a sequel, as much as I’d like one. The story concludes at a natural point and I really hope someone has a really good idea before starting work on a follow up.
It saddens me to think more people won’t open up and accept a new version. We don’t need to walk down the same path as before. Luckily the 2014 story has the balls to go its own way, and I really enjoyed it for that fact. I was very concerned when this film was announced, so I understand any reticence. But put that to one side, stow away your nostalgia for the original (which isn’t going anywhere by the way), and enjoy a fresh take.