Man vs. machine: audience wins
RoboCop remake worth the price of admission
Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am
Remakes, as a rule of thumb, are not a good idea unless you are a movie producer. Then they are a great idea. You don’t have to be original, which usually takes a lot of time and talent – both rare commodities in Hollywood. You also get to play with the same characters that audiences already know and love without having to make a sequel. And you can otherwise do whatever you want.
A remake of an original that spawned a franchise is called a reboot. They are tougher to accomplish with success, especially if the original’s sequels were not so successful. Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop made a sure mark in cinematic history with its social commentary, brutal violence and unique sense of humour. Its sequels and TV spinoffs … not so much.
But the character struck a nerve and so, more than 25 years after the marvelous deadpan actor Peter Weller first put on the metal mansuit, we now have a Robo-reboot. With much hesitation, we all wondered how the noble character would fare under the modest direction of relative newcomer José Padilha and personified by relative unknown Joel Kinnaman.
The answer, surprisingly, is that the new RoboCop is not bad. In fact, it could even be considered remarkably good for what it is. It doesn’t have the R rating nor does it have the moments of levity that we all hoped for and expected. What it does have is a very strong cast and screenwriter, Joshua Zetumer, a scribe to watch in the coming years.
As expected, the story has many elements in common with the original but takes them in new directions. The year is 2028. Detroit: a crime-ridden city. Here, Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is a good cop who catches wind of a link to crime boss Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), a bad guy who has otherwise evaded Murphy’s colleagues. After Murphy fails to make headway towards an apprehension and arrest, Vallon gets the better of him. Murphy suffers serious wounds due to a car bomb.
Enter OmniCorp, a multinational arms manufacturer (led by Raymond Sellars as portrayed by Michael Keaton) that has a specialty in robotics. It’s had some trouble getting the American Congress to approve its line of robot police officers. The company uses Murphy as a test subject to be the first half-man/half-machine officer to prove not only the military efficiency of a computer in stopping crime but also the humanity that the masses can still rally behind. They have the technology. They can rebuild him to become the first $6 billion iron man.
And thus, RoboCop is born, thanks to the brilliant scientific mind of Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). There are glitches, as one might expect when attaching computer chips and electrodes to neural pathways inside the human brain. Murphy as machine becomes emotionally unavailable to his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan). He is ultimately dedicated to his job, even to the point of ignoring his superiors.
RoboCop is a movie with a story about the advent of technology in a world consumed by fears about criminals and terrorists. It plays out like a video game with a conscience as the scientists led by Norton dabble in building a cyborg with the illusion of conscious control over his actions. It’s an interesting story about how law enforcement can easily turn into a business enterprise. As we all know, not all business enterprises have the highest legal interests in mind.
I was impressed by Kinnaman’s acting in this role that demanded humanity and inhumanity in the same breath. He was helped along with such strong players as Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Samuel L. Jackson.
Because of the futuristic violence, RoboCop does tend to get a bit too loud during the fight sequences. Frankly, so much gunfire is stupefying. When it’s quiet, however, it does a fine job of reminding us all about what matters most: our partners who carry us through the tough times and the children who we try to nurture so that they can inherit a better world.