The new RoboCop is more cartoon than satire

And that’s mostly Samuel L. Jackson’s fault. Read our review here.


The stock complaint for nearly any remake is that it will “ruin the original.” While this is a fairly alarmist sentiment (no remake has come with the caveat that all existing copies must be tossed into a volcano, as far as I can tell), I have to admit that I had a certain reticence over the remake of RoboCop. Paul Verhoeven’s original film is one of the great action satires of all time and still holds up remarkably well more than 25 years later — but even that comes with a certain selective memory. You see, the original RoboCop spawned two godawful sequels and at least three short-lived television shows. As long as this new version featured a cop who somehow became some version of a robot somewhere down the line, it stood a very good chance of being at least better than RoboCop 3 and almost no chance of ruining the original.

roboposterDetroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner Jack (Michael K. Williams) are on the verge of busting open a weapons trafficking case when the kingpin behind it (Patrick Garrow) figures it out and blows up Murphy’s car, leaving him severely mangled and on the brink of death. His wife (Abbie Cornish) agrees to have Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) outfit him with a prosthetic robotic body care of Omnicorp, a nefarious corporation run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), which is best known for filling warzones with automated patrol robots that “preserve the peace.” Murphy becomes Robocop, a half-man/half-machine media sensation that Omnicorp hopes to use to sell the American public on legalizing the use of automated killing machines to patrol the streets. Despite Omnicorp’s best efforts to rid Murphy of his humanity, however, the spectre of vengeance looms large.

In a nearly impossible feat, José Padilha’s take on the material is even less subtle than Verhoeven’s. That’s largely thanks to Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of Pat Novak, a filibustering right-wing talk show host who acts as the film’s highly sarcastic Greek chorus. Padilha brings a sledgehammer sensibility to the film’s take-down of drones and the war on terror that would feel laid on a little thick if it was, y’know, in a movie that didn’t open with handheld footage of suicide bombers blowing up robots in the name of freedom. The result is less hard-hitting political commentary and more of a political cartoon brought to life and stretched out over two hours. It can get a little tedious, but I do appreciate the commitment.

robo2Padilha does have a pretty good handle on the action, with sweeping camera moves and first-person perspective shots a-plenty, and he does have an impressive cast to help him sell the more ridiculous aspects of the story. Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman (probably best known for his role in AMC’s The Killing) fares pretty well with a fairly thankless role. The new retooled RoboCop suit allows for more of the face to be revealed and gives Kinnaman more to work with, even though he spends much of the movie as a (chiseled, extremely Scandinavian) machine. The supporting cast is filled with ringers (even local-boy-done-good Jay Baruchel pops up as a Baruchelian marketing exec) and Michael Keaton is a curiously chill choice for a supervillain that keeps this robot cop movie out of scenery-chewing Lex Luthor territory.

As with any movie these days whose budget hits the nine digits, RoboCop has been retooled into a superhero-esque origin story, laying the foundation for innumerable sequels down the line. This means less of the original’s expeditive ultra-violence (this one is rated PG-13, so no melting henchmen) and more Iron Man-esque suit-testing shenanigans. It’s par for the course for 2014 blockbuster: canon-defining, overwritten, highly excitable, efficiently electric and not nearly as bad as you’d expect, but not as idiosyncratic as I’d secretly hoped. As a guy who apparently mostly sees movies that he hopes will somehow subvert his expectations, it’s a little disappointing, but as yet another expensive remake of a thing that you’d be quick to deem untouchable, it ain’t half bad. ■

RoboCop opens Wednesday, Feb. 12

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter

Leave a Reply