Review: RoboCop



The latest Hollywood reboot see's Joel Kinnaman become RoboCop.

The latest Hollywood reboot see’s Joel Kinnaman become RoboCop.

It is undeniable that Hollywood has gone reboot crazy in the last few years or so, finding numerous properties from an earlier period and “updating” them for the 21st century. For some, this is one of the prime evils of Hollywood, the clearest example of its inability to think fresh. For them, the head honchos see nothing but dollar signs, and that may well be true. For others, like myself, reboots are just another part of the film landscape – an amazingly profitable one it so happens – that deserve fair consideration. Pre-judging things is never a good idea, especially in this business.

Take RoboCop, the latest franchise to be jolted back from the dead. From some of the media/commenter/fanboy hysteria you’d think a treasured family pet was being exhumed and shown off with puppet strings making it dance. Seeing through such bluster and hyperbole, we need to examine RoboCop on its own merits and come to a judgement, not mindlessly dismiss it. Is the RoboCop of 1987 really so good as to be beyond improvement? Could the premise not be taken to a new place in the modern age? Or are the critics right, and is this new RoboCop just a meaningless cash grab?

In 2028, crime has become rampant in parts of America, a nation that is one of the last holdouts against automated drone law enforcement. Robotics mogul Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides that public opinion on such matters will only change with the introduction of a human element to his product, turning to scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to get the job done. When committed Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel  Kinnaman) is critically injured in a carbombing, Norton turns him into the titular “RoboCop”: a mostly mechanical law enforcement supremo, albeit one that is easily controlled by his creators. Torn between his new role, the sinister agenda of Sellars, his desire to track down those who nearly killed him and the trauma undergone by his family, Murphy must find out whether he is truly man or machine.

More in-depth analysis, with spoilers, from this point on. For my shorter, spoiler-free, review, click here to go The Write Club.

While RoboCop is unlikely to stay in the popular consciousness as much as its source material inexplicably has, it was still a film that I really enjoyed, an action flick that actually manages to have a brain at times. There is little compromise between the need for the thrills and a higher discussion on robotic morality – if anything RoboCop tilts towards the latter with a huge amount of the running time dedicated to the questions of free will within robotics, the ethics associated with drone operations and just what exactly makes a man a man when his flesh is stripped away. It’s oddly refreshing I suppose, to see a film that is nominally about thrills and action, yet manages to find that acceptable balance. Something like RoboCop is perfect for such a treatment, but it would be easy for the entire thing to devolve into something akin to Die Hard, with the title character gunning down criminals left and right, with any higher discussion of his state of being cast to the wayside. The eighties version had its deep moments too, but I genuinely think that the 2014 edition does a better job on that score. There’ s a greater conflict within the corporation that builds RoboCop, a more interesting internal debate within the Norton character as to what he is doing, some fascinating questions about Murphy and how much free will he is truly capable of exerting in his circumstances.

I don’t mean to push all of this too far. RoboCop is still full of action sequences and I would not describe it as a philosophically dense film by any means. I could have done with a bit more of that half of proceedings certainly, but I can appreciate the need to make an action movie exciting in the traditional way. This film wouldn’t have been made without that commitment. But still, it has that brain at its core, not unlike the titular tin man.

And that’s all wrapped up in a palatable police drama, which doesn’t stray too far outside of the box but provides a suitable base for the central premise to spring out from. Murphy is set up quickly and simply, in a manner you’ve likely seen a hundred times before – usually it’s the adorable family who gets it in order to facilitate a vengeance quest – but I found him compelling enough, and was suitably engaged with his need to eliminate the numerous agents who made him what he is. The fact that he’s a robotic man is only an extension of a formula that has been used in film since it was created. He’s the good cop forced to an extreme, surrounded by darker elements that need to be eliminated, with extreme prejudice. Any kind of film with as extreme a premise as RoboCop has always works better, in my opinion, when it doesn’t just dive in at the deep end, but instead forms itself around a solid, rational base. This film could eliminate the cyborg angle and just be a cop drama set in the not too distant future, and it wouldn’t have to change its basic structure too much, at least in terms of Murphy’s personal vendetta and goal of seeing off the underworld hoodlums who have targeted him.

Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton have a great back and forth throughout.

Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton have a great back and forth throughout.

We see Murphy track down those who nearly killed him, using old fashioned detective work, just with a direct hardline into what resources he needs. The dirty cops get taken down in style and there are just desserts for all involved. It’s simple and it isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, but I can still appreciate when it is done right. That, and I felt that most of the plots other elements, the “man vs machine” angle especially, were merged in with the baser narrative as seamlessly as could be expected. The investigations are mostly wrapped up by the end of the second act, a “little bad” that Murphy must get past before he faces the true villain. It has some problems as set-up (see below), but it helps to define the Murphy character post-bombing, as a character who is still a detective, even if he has a robotic body now. He isn’t just a machine, he’s very much the same man that he always was, with that insatiable appetite for justice, and making this clear with the cop drama plot is important for key elements of the last act.

That character journey is great to see, and is a definite improvement on the eighties version. That Murphy was treated haphazardly as a character, an effective journey for him lost amid the biting satire and rivers of blood. This time around things are a little better. The Murphy character gets more fleshing out ahead of his transformation, has more meaningful (well, relatively) relationships with the people around him and goes through a more significant process of characterisation. He undergoes a horrific change in circumstances but stays true to himself, and brings down those responsible, but not without serious hurdles that have to be traversed. But everything ties back into the pre-disaster Murphy and the goals that he had then. His story is a story of adaptation, and while it won’t be winning many awards, it’s still enough to make the audience relate to this Murphy on a basic level, more than they did with Peter Weller. That’s an improvement.

The action moments break up the plot well enough, never really being anything too over the top until the finale, and never turning into a grisly gore fest like the original version did. The higher plot, by which I mean the discussion on the ethics and morality of a robotic/human merger, largely follows the work of Dennett Norton and his running verbal battle with Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellars, two good actors who are able to keep such a plot going with words alone. It was interesting to see how Sellars was able to gradually twist Norton’s vision around without the scientist noticing, and how Norton’s own conscience went through ebbs and flows, drugging Murphy to keep him docile before moving to free him (but only to save his own life). That kind of characterisation is something that I can get behind, showing a flawed creator, not unlike Doctor Frankenstein of course, an obvious (and intended) parallel. Sellars gets similar treatment, as a devious man whom we can’t quite be sure of for much of the production, who skilfully plays on the emotions of Norton for his gain without coming right out as amoral until near the finale.

Much of the usual criticism of reboots is an accusation of “dumbing down” on the original. I do not feel that such an accusation can be made here. If the RoboCop of 2014 is “dumb”, then the eighties version is just as moronic. There is little between the two in terms of intelligent cinema, effective plot or decent characterisation.

The narrative was structured, coherent and enjoyable, which is more than I can say for some other, supposedly superior, movies I have seen lately. It seems like such a simple thing to note, but having gone through so many films this year that lacked a coherent structure, either through negligence or intention, seeing something that actually takes you through a character journey, A to B to C, the traditional way, without warped time allocation or meandering plot, is almost refreshing. RoboCop is simple in that sense, but that isn’t always a negative. This genre of action flick needs that simplicity to function. RoboCop does takes its time in presenting its universe and its plot, the first act being the most extended, the film content to forge ahead with a slow-burn narrative that spends a great deal of time in origins, but that was good enough.

This is akin to a superhero film after all, and I’m one of those freakshows that actually likes a good origin story. That needs time if it’s going to be done well (the other extreme, The Incredible Hulk model, is good too, but not always required) and RoboCop allows itself that time. Long before Murphy becomes RoboCop, we know what we need to know about him, his family, the people who work on him and the time that they live in. A second act builds RoboCop up as a new character embedded with an established one, and it’s there that the primary story gets going. Like I said, this is simple, basic stuff, but I can appreciate it when it’s done right, and when it is made entertaining.

The film is not a flawless masterpiece of course. The numerous sections featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s Glenn Beck impersonation are mildly entertaining but largely pointless to the larger plot, appearing to be mostly a sop to the way the original approached media attention of the crime problem. The y feature some laughs and make for an interesting opening and final shot, but are largely irrelevant to everything else. Seeing Jackson say the word “motherfucker” in the way that he did was as dumb as RoboCop got, an internet meme that made it past the editing process somehow. Those sections have a unique look and a nice feel, but could have fallen at the wayside or been changed for very little actual effect on the film.

RoboCop also lacks a really good villain for the titular cyborg to face-off against, a sacrifice that was probably made to give time to the ethical quandaries and the family drama. Sellars is all well and good as a character, but his antagonist leanings only really come front and centre very late on, and he could hardly be considered a physical threat to Murphy. Patrick Garrow’s gangster might have been that threat, but barely exists as a character. And certainly isn’t as memorable as Kurtwood Smith in the original, even though they are basically the same character in most respects. The Mattox character was a bit better really, but like Sellars only became openly antagonistic near the conclusion and his interactions with Murphy up to that point seemed more sort of pin-prickish and unimportant than vitally foreboding. If this is a bit of a super hero movie, than the superhero needs someone to face off against who can match him and the lack of such a thing is a true flaw for RoboCop.

The family drama element starts to wear a little bit thin past the halfway point, mostly due to some uninspired performances (see below). It mostly just works as a tool to show Murphy as the vulnerable human being we have to see him as even post-change, so we don’t come to see him as a hulking robot and nothing more. There is an obvious inspiration in this plot with wounded or traumatised veterans coming back from war, to families who struggle to now relate to them, something that is explicitly mentioned on a few occasions. Murphy’s ordeal matches key stages of such things, from a reluctance to head home, a sense of shame and a desire to stay away matched with a refusal to relate to an old life. The relationship set up between Murphy and his wife is still created very simply though, and I suppose I could have done with more of an interaction between them, pre-change, to really make it a fulfilling partnership in the context of the plot. With the little that is done, a lot is left on the shoulders of Abbie Cornish to carry it. There are some decent scenes there though, not least when Murphy first see’s his son for the first time post accident.

The central journey for the main character is coherent and enjoyable.

The central journey for the main character is coherent and enjoyable.

That all sort of ties into the ending, which is a mixed bag. RoboCop taking on a load of larger robots is fine as an action sequence, and they didn’t go too mad with such combat, it’s only to be expected in an action movie. Then there is the showdown with Sellers on the roof. Some might be disappointed with how low key all of it was, just RoboCop shooting him down after nearly being unable to. There is very little peril in the scene, with Murphy’s family present but not directly in danger for some reason. But it tied back in to everything that we have been told about the universe and the RoboCop machine thus far – that emotion introduces dangerous volatility to the whole experiment. But it’s also just an affirmation for the triumph of the human spirit, with Murphy’s innate humanity – and his love for his family – overriding whatever controls his creators have been able to place on him before, which RoboCop had been building too ever since those controls were first introduced. So, in that way, I can say that I was satisfied with the conclusion, even if, in action terms, it was somewhat low-key. It’s not an unimportant complaint I suppose, but it’s certainly something that I can live with.

Worse in regards the ending, some of the political commentary gets moronically unsubtle towards the conclusion, which will easily annoy some. It’s subtle enough for the majority of the running time of the actual film – there are numerous pointers to the likes of American’s Middle Eastern wars for example and how COIN alters significantly with the involvement of bi-pedal drones – and satirically overblown in the “Novak Element” segments. But the closing scene, which involved shots at “whistleblowers”, defences of drone programs and calls for dissenters to “stop whining” went that few steps too far, not even trying to hide the allusions to the news stories that dominate headlines today. It’s the kind of thing that would both amuse extreme liberals and provide a call to arms for extreme conservatives, but it’s just sort of eye-rolley for everybody else, the sort of faux-edgy stuff that seems rather childish in retrospect. Seeing a robotic US military patrol at work in Tehran is an interesting skew on present day events, the Novak character’s rants are not.

Before I move on, my usual word on female characters. RoboCop has only really got one, beyond a bland scientist assistant for Norton. Clara Murphy isn’t a great character and the person playing her isn’t the best actress. She exists as something for Murphy to grieve over when the possibility of being with her is gone and while RoboCop takes the time to let her try and develop, it doesn’t really to build to much. Cornish mopes around after Murphy and struggles to get through to him, and it works up to a point. But she’s mostly just a bystander to everything happening, epitomised in the bizarre way she and her son became involved in the films climax, present but not really required to be. Just another action film that isn’t doing anything for women, regrettably.

Kinnaman is decent in the title role, having to spend most of his time onscreen acting with just his face, with some of the most moving scenes focusing entirely on that singularly human part of him. He has a decent back and forth with Norton and the Michael K. Williams’ character, though he struggles to really sell the relationship with Murphy’s wife. Large parts of the film go by without any real acting required at all, what with the hidden face and the robotic voice, but I was satisfied overall with what Kinnaman offered, which was nothing fancy but all that the role of Murphy needed. He was certainly no worse than Peter Weller at any rate, and might have been just a bit better in the sequences with his son.

Gary Oldman rarely does anything resembling a bad job, and it’s the same here. He’s required to be the primary outlet for acting ability in RoboCop, and he brings a very real three dimensional quality to Norton, who hums and haws about the ethics of his experiments, goes to a very dark place frequently, but eventually comes good. His scenes with the Sellars character are some of the film’s best and he carries some of the emotional weight of scenes with Kinnaman, when the lead isn’t able to.

Michael Keaton hasn’t been up to much lately, but does good work in what is otherwise largely a stock character. Sellars is the sneaky CEO, who talks progress and better lives for everyone, while aiming for the largest profits possible. Keaton plays a good manipulator, in an antagonist role that he isn’t used to, but clearly enjoys playing. But, he can’t carry the villain role that RoboCop requires, with his outright turn towards the dark side coming too late to really establish itself, storywise, even if Keaton does a good job at portraying it with what time he had left.

Jackie Earle Haley is effective as Rick Mattox, a minor antagonist, who has a running verbal battle with Murphy and Norton, which turns violent towards the conclusion. Haley’s decent as a “little bad”, and with a bit more time and development, had the potential to become a really good villain for RoboCop, but his best moment comes very early on.

Samuel L. Jackson is having a ball as the right-wing commentator Pat Novak, in several set-piece sequences where he channels the likes of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, a raging bull of right-wing fury. But that doesn’t mean it’s acted really well, and I’m not sure why someone with such a high profile as Jackson was cast in this role, looking bizarrely uncomfortable and out of place in the stuffy suit and an odd hair cut. Seemed like a piece of comedic casting to me, like the very act of having Jackson in that role would have people smirking.

Weaker links are present. Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife is a bit dull throughout, thinking a few tears and selectively applied make-up will suffice to make that emotional connection. It really doesn’t, and her overall role as a bystander harms any attempt she might try to make Clara Murphy a proper character. The same largely goes for Patrick Garrow as the gangland honcho who tries to kill Murphy initially, screwed over for the proper screen time to make him a worthwhile villain.

RoboCop does make the best of its minor roles though, with Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel and Aimee Garcia doing well as various OmniCorp employees. They’re small parts but they all get to exhibit a little personality and add something to a few scenes, even if it’s just the right way to portray something as tedious as market research. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is also enjoyable as the chief of police who comes face to face with both pre and post-change Murphy. Michael K. Williams as the aforementioned partner is also enjoyable is several scenes. It’s almost rare to see a movie nowadays that manages to imbue its minor players with a bit of genuine characterisation and interest, especially in an action reboot, but RoboCop pulls it off. They’re existence isn’t absolutely critical to the plot, but it would a worse film without them and the cast playing them.

Unfortunately, Abbie Cornish isn't the best actress for Clara Murphy, who isn't that good a character anyway.

Unfortunately, Abbie Cornish isn’t the best actress for Clara Murphy, who isn’t that good a character anyway.

Visually, the CGI is crisp and largely faultless, a vast improvement on the mostly physical special effects of the original. Thanks to evolving technology, RoboCop can now move better and engage in thrilling firefights at a higher level of quality (which is a sort of meta commentary on the subject of the film). I suppose this isn’t really that fair a comparison, but if one of the reasons for making this film was to make use of modern effects to make it all look a bit better, then the effort succeeds admirably. Murphy’s post-change form looks as imposing and cool as it did in the eighties, only without any of the awkwardness and suspension of disbelief-destroying plodding that Weller had to endure.

And all of the other robotics come out of the film looking good too. The larger ones and the more human models look as real as they can be and are merged in to the environment without any faults really.  I’m not sure if it was really necessary to have some of them screaming when RoboCop is shooting them, but to each his own.

Detroit is not quite as grim and run-down as it was in the 80’s, but still shot and presented with competence by director Jose Padilha. Perhaps it would have been good to showcase more of the violent crime element that is supposedly infesting this place, but enough is done to show a world that is not in the best shape. Detroit comes off more as a city where the problems are being covered up by authorities desperate to kowtow to politicians, only for OmniCorp and their allies to bring it front and centre. The peacefulness of Murphy’s suburban home is torn apart by a bomb, murderers walk the streets without fear of capture and the police seem largely impotent. There isn’t a great amount of gore to really make the point hit home, but I was satisfied enough with the depiction of Detroit.

The dreaded shaky-cam does turn up in the first gunfight, but thankfully is dropped for the remainder of the film. The rest is a decent example of science-fiction camerawork with some notable scenes, not least a sweet panning dream sequence as Murphy wakes up in his new condition for the first time, dancing with his wife at a party in an environment of pure surrealism.

The action sequences are surprisingly down to earth for the premise. The opening gunfight is a waste really, considering how nauseous the way it was shot might make you feel, but things improve from there. A warehouse battle between RoboCop and Mattox is great fun, as is a pitch black shoot out with some gangster later on. RoboCop goes more all out in its finale, as Murphy takes on machines far larger than himself and gets battered, but RoboCop does sort of lack that kind of grandstand ending that you might expect. In the end, I can say that there is enough variety to keep you interested in the action side of RoboCop, without it being something really special.

The final point that I would like to make on the visual side of things is the vibe I got, and have gotten with other productions, of The Dark Knight being aped a little bit. The overhead city shots, the way action is framed, the sort of visual tone all seems to match what Christopher Nolan accomplished in his greatest production. RoboCop tries to capture that feel to a very far extent, but it might have been better if it actually went more its own way.

The script is straightforward, the better lines and diatribes being held back for Keaton and Oldman to deliver, with Kinnaman reduced to the standard cop movie type lines you’ve been hearing since Die Hard. Still, it’s not terrible, just unexceptional for the character who are supposedly the focus. It would have been better if Kinnaman was given less clichés, but Joshua Zetumer was more interested in letting the more powerful characters have their say. The result is something that is not unintelligent, the opposite really, but at times makes RoboCop seem like a secondary character in his own movie. The few attempts at humour do succeed when they occur, usually with Michael K. Williams’ character, at one point claiming that an emblackened Murphy is now “the right colour”. Jackson gets some good lines to deliver but the execution isn’t great, with the whole effect of his Novak character cursing and going crazy at the conclusion a little diluted because of it, though his wordplay was far more effective earlier on. And I suppose it is going to be cool to hear the almost iconic “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”, but I felt that rather than just throwing in such moments from the original the 2014 version should have gone its own way.

Musically, a nice simple score from Pedro Bromfman keeps things ticking along, with some excellent song choices (especially for the credits), rounding off the experience. The use of the original theme was a bit surprising, both in the exact way it was used, at some odd moments, and in its very existence: again, it was just something that the new version should have been trying to alter and improve rather than copy. A decent job overall, it just needed a bit more ambition.

And so onto themes. The most recurring one in RoboCop is a discussion on man in relation to machine. Nearly the entirety of Murphy’s body is stripped away by an explosion and subsequent surgeries. All he has left is a head, a heart and his lungs for breathing. The rest is a mechanical extension. He has controls hardwired into those extensions and into his brain that determine how he acts in combat, and at times his very emotions are drained out of him.

The Novak segments are entertaining enough, but fairly superfluous to the larger plot.

The Novak segments are entertaining enough, but fairly superfluous to the larger plot.

So, is he still a man? Is he still human? Which is part of a larger question of what exactly makes us human? How much has to get stripped away before we are just a mindless machine that happens to have a face? I guess the point of RoboCop, made well enough, is that the human side of such an amalgamation will always win through. Man’s emotions, his irrationality and his innate nature will trump the machine, even if it might take a while. Murphy retains his humanity in his concern for his wife and his desire for vengeance. His body, the bits that are left anyway, make his emotions come back after they are stripped from him. His own thought process begins to override the combat controls. Emotion trumps mechanical logic by the conclusion, where Murphy makes the most definitive statement that he can on his status by shooting his creator, even if so many walls had been thrown up to stop him from doing so. Norton talks early on about how the technology he tries to merge with flesh has a tendency to malfunction when an emotional element is introduced, and the finale is the final example of that, a ghost in the machine that can never be eradicated without completely removing the human element. Sellar’s flaw is his belief that he can have the man, the machine and the control, but that’s not how things work out, and it costs him his life, taken by one of his products. Murphy remains himself, showing that humanity is encapsulated in the mind far more than the body.

The product rebels, thus encapsulating so much of the fears surrounding robotics and it’s ever increasing sophistication, leading into another of RoboCop’s main themes, a running discussion on the usefulness and necessity of drones and robotics in everyday life. OmniCorp is an example of a company that is utilising advances to its own ends without any recourse to moral or ethical standards, beyond mere lip-service. Sellars sees his robots as a means to greater power and control, financially and politically, and is willing to ride roughshod over the most basic guidelines to get to that position. He’s some kind of warped Bill Gates, an introverted nerd whose position of high status allows him the opportunity to play God and get away with it, and he revels in that position. He drags Norton with him, he goes from simply trying to help amputees get some of their old life back to becoming a puppet master, a role that eventually comes to disgust him. Their actions are portrayed as unmistakably bad – Murphy himself wants to die when he comes to realise what his life now entails – and only Norton actually finds some kind of redemption, belatedly.

The question of robotics then, gets its due time and attention, with a continuing focus on the volatile mixture of machine and emotion, and how such things can mesh successfully. RoboCop challenges the viewer by making them wonder about whether free will is still that if the action of it is beyond our comprehending, or how human we can possibly remain when emotions are removed from the equation. Murphy undergoes all of these trials, mostly a salve to his creators, but the inner message of RoboCop, skilfully crafted through this higher part of the narrative, is that such things cannot last. Murphy, the human component, cannot be anything other than the primary component.

In this world, robots have taken over much of the functions of the US military. Advanced computers create holograms for seamless interfaces. And yet, America remains afraid of the possibility of drone law enforcement, despite an apparently high success rate. Concerns of privacy are key, but outweighed by a fear of the unknown: how can one trust a robot to know the difference between right and wrong? OmniCorp is at pains to point out its own advantages when faced with this question in the field, in a patrol sweep of Tehran, but things rapidly get out of control, with men and women dying under a hail of automated bullets before too long.

This all ties in to present day questions about the morality of drones and the potential for self-controlled robotics. RoboCop’s antagonists present the view that they should be given free reign over our law enforcement, with the expected results. The tradeoff is that loss of control, or at least potential loss, and the ever present possibility that something could go wrong. I suppose the fact that it is the antagonists who are proposing greater use of drones means that RoboCop is portraying this in a bad light, though in truth the film does very little tangibly to show this up as a truly bad idea. Instead, it simply shows the greater success of a merger of man and machine, a preferable middle outcome, albeit one fraught with its own risks. A bit of a cop-out perhaps, in terms of the larger debate, but if RoboCop’s final scenes point to anything, it’s to a distrust of the military-industrial complex that is spearheading drone programs, and the “slippery slope” of where this might lead.

There are other, baser themes to discuss as well. Family is one of them, with nearly all of Murphy’s post-change activities directed by and inspired by the love he has for his family, even if he cannot bring himself to be in their presence directly. He fights back a suicidal tendency and undergoes Norton’s trials, all for the chance of being back with them, even if the possibility of any kind of normality is slim, something shown vividly when he finally does visit his home, his mechanical body a bizarre contrast to the homely surroundings. If humanity comes to the fore within the machinery, so does a sense of family though: it is that love for family that gets Murphy out of his emotionless-stupor, and that helps him to break free of the programming controls imbedded in him. The film ends with Murphy ready to try and make a new life for himself, with his wife and son in tow, a marked contrast to an earlier conversation between him and his wife, where he seemed close to shutting them out of his life forever.

Greed is another theme worth noting. It’s at the heart of the Sellars character, the kind of corporate kingpin who has more money than he shall ever be realistically able to spend, but still wants more, more, more. Sellars talks a good game, but there is the unmistakable air of a man who long ago gave up on any kind of morality or ethical guidelines. He just wants to be able to sell his product to more of the world, to have a power over democracy itself, and is willing to create a hybrid of man and machine to get it. This hubris eventually comes to destroy him, and many others, a typical end for a fairly typical tale. Greed, for cash and power, is one of the most basic and understandable motivations that there is, but in the realm of fiction, it’s for the antagonists only.

Lastly, it’s worth noting the instances in RoboCop when it becomes self-referential, to the point where it is almost a theme of its own. Sellars and his compatriots in OmniCorp spend much of their time talking about marketing strategy for their new law enforcer, how to make him appeal to the right people as well as possible, how he should look visually, how he should act, even going so far as to discuss the promotional merit in the man solving his own murder.

It’s not that hard to read between the lines here. There are plenty of moments in RoboCop that seem to be addressing the films own existence, in relation to how OmniCorp is treating its star product. RoboCop the film is a sleek and marketed product, whose lack of gore and shinier main focus has been chosen in order to maximise its appeal to as wide an audience as possible, just as Sellars does with RoboCop the man within the film. Was this just a sly nod to the production itself, a self-deprecating one, or a direct form of satire aimed at the studios who have gone reboot crazy in recent years? We’ll probably never know, but I thought that it was cleverly done either way.

So, considering the various parts of RoboCop and judging the overall production on its own merits, I have to say I think it’s really good, more than good enough to justify its very existence. It’s an action movie with heart and intelligence, that tells a decent story without getting bogged down in copious amounts of bloodshed (like, say, the original). Such things are not a requirement to telling a good story, or even to creating good action. RoboCop 2014 has that decent story, great visuals and a compelling enough central character who is matched, and exceeded at times,  by a few of the supporting cast, who help to make a deeper production than you might expect, that will make the audience think about certain issues that are effecting us even today. But it does have a fairly basic script, some poor female characters and a sense, in sections, of being designed by committee. Those flaws are well worth noting, but they do not make RoboCop a bad film, or worthy of dismissal.

No precious memories have been desecrated here. If I may dare to say so, I think they might actually have been improved upon.

An excellent reboot and a fine film.

An excellent reboot and a fine film.

(All images are copyright of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures).

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4 Responses to Review: RoboCop

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