In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.
Robocop is back on the streets with the new film from director Jose Padilha whose modest filmography includes the Elite Squad series. It’s been over 15 years since Paul Verhoeven’s original film was released and the contrast between the two is as interesting from a film industry stand point as it is from the films themselves (but more on that later).
Padilha’s Robocop starts out strong, and it’s obvious where he’s taken efforts to capture the spirit and tone of Verhoeven’s film. Without wasting any screen time events progress quickly in the opening act so that it’s not long before the cyborg cop is on screen. Despite a number of developing subplots the opening act is managed quite effectively with the focus keeping mainly on Alex Murphy. As the film progresses, plot threads become increasingly disjointed and cluttered within the film, and by the final act events messily race towards the finishing line with Robocop becoming almost a supporting character in his own film.
What’s great about this new Robocop is that it’s not simply trying to be an action cyborg cop film, Padilha and screenplay writer Joshua Zetumer include some more interesting elements such as social commentary on US foreign policy, US media coverage, capitalist extremism, US politics as well as the exploration of man’s relationship with machines and what it is that distinguishes us.
Additionally the film attempts to build up a sound backstory for Murphy, while providing suitable antagonists for Robocop, unfortunately the issue that all of this creates is that the film is simply trying to do far too much within two hours, and this ultimately compromises its own effectiveness.
Putting those gripes aside however this is a slick looking film with nice production values, and solid direction from Padilha. There are also some entertaining action sequences that while not particularly memorable after you’ve left the cinema, are still entertaining and fun during the film.
Almost a double edged sword to the film is it’s fantastic cast, here we have Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L Jackson, all delivering highly entertaining, at times humorous, and always very effective performances. These guys own the film pretty much and every second any of them are on screen the film comes to life (it’s even better when they share the screen). Unfortunately this is to the detriment of Joel Kinnaman who is good in his role, but without the same kind of material to work with is just outshined by his fellow cast members in this case.
Overall the new Robocop is an enjoyable film that feels like it didn’t quite know what elements to leave in and which ones to set aside. The result unfortunately is messy but ultimately it still delivers a fun two hours that just needed to be more focused.
Reflecting on this new film and the original, it’s interesting to note the varied approaches where Verhoeven delivered a strong ‘R’ film which is arguably more successful in what it set out to achieve, but in todays’ cinematic world we find a slicker, shinier version of the film without quite the same substance and a film that is toned back a notch to a lower rating that can reach a wider audience.
In any case, Robocop 2014 remains a decent time at the movies, I’m giving it 6 out of 10 stars and it’s in cinemas around Australia from the 6th February 2014.