Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gray Oldman, Michael Keaton
Genre: Action/ Sci-Fi
It is the year 2028 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp have developed and introduced to countries around the world robot drones to keep the peace, meaning not a single human fatality. They are popular, but yet illegal in America, due to the fact these are just machines and the public cannot trust machines. Being unable to exploit their own domestic market, OmniCorp are haemorrhaging millions of dollars on a daily basis. Ruthless CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton) comes up with a new strategy to get the American people to love and trust his robots; put a man inside the machine. The perfect opportunity arises when Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman), a devoted father and husband as well as excellent honourable cop is killed. Now, with a man inside one of his machines that he can still ultimately control, Sellars expects America to finally embrace his technology, but is the power of the human mind still too powerful for any machine?
Reboot? Remake? Reimagining? Whatever you want to call it, Here is yet another one. However, as much as I love the original I will try my best to review José Padilha’s 2014 Robocop based on its own merits (and downfalls) and not compare it to Paul Verhoeven’s hugely enjoyable violent satire from 1987. I will basically attempt to review it as if there are no other Robocop films as that seems fair.
Like so many directors before him, José Padilha is a director from a world cinema background and impressive CV having a go at a big budget blockbuster. Unfortunately where as the likes of Alfonso Cuarón in my view made a successful transition and left his trademark on his films despite big studio budgets (even Harry Potter), Padilha has produced a hollow and empty film that is watchable but very forgettable, seemingly forgetting his filmmaking routes.
With the handheld shaky Michael Mann/ Paul Greengrass style camera work and editing that was so effective in his excellent Elite Squad films, Podilha is maybe trying to create a similarly tense film where we feel like we are part of the action. However, in my view it just does not work as this is the wrong kind of film for such camerawork, and it gets very irritating, very quickly, especially on the big screen. This makes some scenes feel very amateurish and very difficult to watch when they should have been slick big budget action sequences. For the scenes in laboratories and offices the camera is static, as it should be, and I appreciate what Padilha is trying to do with the action sequences, but they just do not work in my view. Unfortunately down partly to Padilha, as well as a rather flat script, Robocop is a mess of a film that flirts with being a dumb action film, biting satire and thoughtful examination of man vs. machine all at the same time and does none of them particularly well.
Much of the supposed satire or social commentary is provided by Samuel L. Jackson’s TV presenter Pat Novak, a man very much in favour of the introduction of Robots. No one does angry scenery chewing like Jackson, and he is reasonably entertaining to watch, there is a feeling that this a film with a script that thinks it is far more intelligent than it is and these scenes in the end actually add very little to the narrative apart from being quite fun to watch.
Unfortunately fun the rest of the film is not, with a very stoic tone and predominantly dialogue heavy scenes, it at times feel quite slow and takes itself very seriously. Again the flat script thinking it is perhaps dealing with the more prominent than ever subject of can machines ever replace humans with certain duties and tasks? This is a very rich and interesting subject, and certainly topical, but when it feels like Robocop may explore this subject with some intelligence, it swiftly moves on to something different and another pointless subplot. Character’s inner conflicts are dealt with way too casually, only depleting any potential engagement. All this would be fine if we had some good action, but apart from perhaps the finale there is very little of interest. The camerawork does not help, but there is never any genuine tension during these few action sequences. At just shy of 120 minutes, Robocop does certainly at times feel frustratingly slow and without any substance to justify it.
Ok, so in my view Robocop is not horrifically bad, it is watchable enough, but just a frustrating case of wasted potential. This is particularly the case as the performances are strong. Murphy is a protagonist we certainly route for as he is very much the victim in the whole situation, and Joel Kinnaman enhances this with an excellent performance. Predominantly only being able to convey repressed emotions through facial expressions, he gives real heart to the protagonist of Murphy/Robocop. In my view the performances save Robocop and elevate it to perhaps being a better film than it deserves to be. Michael Keaton is on excellent form as the greedy self serving CEO and Gary Oldman as always brings effortless screen presence in his role as the conflicted and overall good hearted scientist who develops Murphy into Robocop. In a minor role Jennifer Ehle is excellent as another slippery OmniCorp character and Jackie Earle Haley is good as a Robocop hating soldier. However, Abbie Cornish is not given good material, making the important role of Clara Murphy that should provide the emotional backbone of the story very underwritten, and the less said about Jay Burachel’s irritating marketing bod the better.
Watchable enough and most definitely elevated by some great performances, Robocop is yet another film that is a case of wasted potential with a constantly misfiring script being the main culprit.