Is nothing sacred? For a movie that seeks to lambast a big corporation for pursuing money ahead of ethics, this remake of 1987 classic RoboCop has fallen into the same trap. The shocking body horror, cutting satire and emotional impact of the original have been ruthlessly stripped away, leaving a soulless metallic carcass designed by committee to amplify external gloss and maximise commercial profit.
"What's more important than the safety of the American people?" booms Samuel L Jackson's TV host at the start of the movie, before unveiling news footage of robotic troops trying to 'keep the peace' through fear on foreign soil. Set in 2028, RoboCop initially offers a fascinating glimpse into a highly plausible future, efficiently establishing a myriad of intriguing themes that revolve around ethics, science and imperialism.
These resonant issues are sadly left unexplored as the movie lurches into generic cliché, full of wafer-thin characterisation, no audience identification figure to frame events (like Nancy Allen's loyal cop in the original), little sense of drama or jeopardy and inconsistently directed sequences that awkwardly veer between overly-shaky handheld camera movements and highly stylised tracking and crane shots. Patience is then pushed to near-breaking point by an overfamiliar climax that involves a rooftop and a helicopter. Yawn.
The general structure of RoboCop remains intact, with honorable cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) being almost killed by a bad guy in front of his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) - but this time by a car bomb. That's hardly a spoiler, given that the movie's nauseatingly intrusive score signposts the upcoming development by taking on a sudden foreboding tone as he approaches his vehicle.
With the help of Gary Oldman's scientist Norton, working for Michael Keaton's dull OmniCorp boss, the remains of Murphy are rebuilt as a largely metallic killing machine - and viewed as a lucrative commodity by the company. But can he have a future with his family and avenge his near death?
An attachment to Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop is not helpful while viewing the latest movie, to put it mildly. If you're accustomed to travelling by limousine, a journey in a rickshaw is likely to provoke negative comparisons. Contrary to expectations, the sight of the familiar silver RoboCop outfit - before a sleeker black design is adopted - works against the movie. Presumably intended as a knowing nod to its previous incarnation, it only serves to remind us of a superior viewing experience.
So many memorable dramatic moments and emotional beats from the original are simply bypassed or inadequately realised, like the POV shots taking us inside the partially destroyed mind of Murphy as he wakes up for the first time after his horrific accident, or the memories flooding back as he revisits his family home. Then there's that gritty showdown with his nemesis Clarence Boddicker. All are gone, with homogenised blandness in their place. In line with the movie's plot, it feels like almost all of the story's organic components have been excised and refitted with synthetic components.
As the central figure, Joel Kinnaman delivers a portrayal that makes little impression. Not that he stood a chance given the misguided nature of the script. On a creative level, it's hugely detrimental to the movie's fortunes that Murphy's face survives the accident without a mark and remains very expressive, while his voice is unchanged and his memories all survive. Perhaps the results from whatever focus group the film studio held suggested that this would make the character a more relatable proposition? Wrong.
The decision to instil more explicit emotion into the character and make his behaviour infinitely more human than that of Peter Weller's RoboCop has, paradoxically, made the film a vastly less emotive and empathetic experience. There's no sense of journey shared with this hugely damaged figure and no feeling of poignancy when he struggles with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles upon his reintroduction to the world. So what's the point?
There are a few moments of joy sporadically scattered across the movie, with Samuel L Jackson's TV personality bookending the story in fine style with his rants. Kinnaman's movements in the suit are convincingly robotic - and you accept him as a near-invincible machine capable of mass destruction in an impressive climactic action sequence.
There's also an engaging subplot revolving around Alex's father-son relationship with his creator Norton, with Gary Oldman unravelling the scientist's morally conflicted disposition. Fans of Red Dwarf may also have a chuckle during an inadvertently funny sequence involving Murphy trying to rebel against his programming, which bears an uncanny resemblance to bogbot Kryten's attempt to lie about the identity of a banana.
Nobody should have an issue with attempts to alter the classic storyline, but you can change the lyrics without losing the music or the structure. What made the 1987 movie incarnation of RoboCop so effective has been replaced by a cold wave of metallic mediocrity that showcases the advancement of effects while exposing its storytelling shortcomings.
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