Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Joshua Zetumer
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Douglas Urbanski, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Joel Kinnaman, Michael K. Williams, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
(12A) Running time: 118 minutes
Director: Jose Padilha
Writers: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Douglas Urbanski, Michael Keaton, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear before heading into reviewing Jose Padilha’s Robocop ‘reboot’: I adore Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic original, I love it, and even now 27 years on, I STILL quote lines like “dead or alive you’re coming with me”, “I’d but that for a dollar”, “stay out of trouble”, “you’re move creep” and an endless amount of brilliant and often hilarious one-liners. In short, Verhoeven’s film is unbeatable, absolute class and a very dangerous film to get the remake treatment. Director Jose Padilha is a brave man indeed taking on such a beloved film, and having fans against you from the moment the film was announced left Padilha with one hell of a mountain to climb.
Then, oh man, then those images surfaced on-line last year of Robocop’s new BLACK suit, and this added fuel to the fire of the haters. Still Padilha continued on, keeping quiet and concentrating on directing a film he desperately wanted to make as homage to the original (of which Padilha was a huge fan). Talk of disputes on set with production, and Padilha himself saying working with a big Hollywood production company was the worst experience he ever had making a movie, plus the eventual confirmation of a pathetic 12A certificate let the doubters continue to doubt that Robocop 2014 would actually be any good. I was nervous, however, having seen Padilha’s stunning cop thrillers Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, I had confidence in the director and was willing to give it a chance. The impressive cast was also a good reason to believe that the film could not be as bad as expected.
Now, I put myself in the same group of movie fans who are fed up with remakes, reboots or whatever you call them, but constantly end up being proven wrong by a remake that is actually very good (Evil Dead, Let Me In, We Are What We Are), and being such a devoted fan of the original, I went into Padilha’s Robocop nervously, but with an open mind. My advice is that you should too, for Robocop is, surprisingly, very good.
The main bulk of Verhoeven’s story is still here: cop gets murdered, is rebuilt as a half man, half machine and all cop. Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is the man who becomes Robocop, and as with the original, after the attempt on his life he leaves behind a wife and kid who plague his dreams and emotions once he becomes a “tin man” (as weapons master Maddox (Jackie Earle Haley) refers to him). Add to this a company desperate for their law enforcement robots to control the crime ridden streets (Omnicorp), and a rather entertaining TV show hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), and you have an updated reboot of Robocop which keeps the basic elements of the original film, but brings it bang up to date for the modern audience.
Whereas Verhoeven’s brutal original was all about savage violence, a wild sense of anarchy, a gratuitous dismissal of all things PC, some of the best group of villains and corrupt powerful people EVER seen on screen and a robot cop struggling with the idea that he used to be a man, Padilha’s version differs massively. Here instead of the 80’s sense of excitement and fun of pushing your audience as far as you can with buckets of blood, swearing and villains you actually want to root for, Padilha’s version is all about the new seriousness of cinema, and the human emotions and realism. The new Robocop concentrates half of the film in building Robocop after some soft, family time with Murphy and his family before his attempted murder (nowhere near as brutal as the original “does it hurt” scene). Padilha and his writers have gone for the emotional approach, and his Robocop feels much more grounded and personal. Here we have a man totally aware of what Dr Norton (a wonderfully sensitive Gary Oldman) has done to him in creating a Robocop, and here Murphy instead struggles to deal with the fact he is no longer human. When stripped back of his robot outer self, all that is left is a head, lungs and one hand, and Padilha delivers this moment (which could have generated huge laughs) with care and precision, and the actual scene becomes quite chilling.
So the main bulk of Robocop is about a man learning to be a machine, while those in charge of his creation (lead by a brilliant return to form of Michael Keaton) are trying to destroy his human emotions. This is Robocop for today, it’s all about feeling grounded, feeling emotions and having a story the audience can relate to. It is also about adding in some complaints about the world today, with Pat Novak using his TV show to have a dig at the state of the world, crime and how the USA is “the most powerful country in the world”. Some of these observations on current affairs may not have been necessary, but since the original also had a dig at current affairs in a way only Verhoeven knew how, then I guess here it’s fitting. Whereas back in 1987 the idea of a real Robocop was just a fun fantasy, the scary thing about today’s movie audience is that something like this could happen in the near future, and makes the entire story more enjoyable and, dare I say it, more real.
Padilha is a masterful director, and when he shoots action he shoots it brilliantly well, and among all the emotion and strong script and story, there is plenty of room for some thrilling action. Be it Maddox training Robocop in some often hilarious sessions, Robocop zooming through the streets of Detroit on his supercool bike, or a shoot out with the beloved ED-209s, Robocop delivers. Don’t be put off by the 12A rating either, the film gives plenty of gun play and violent scenes, but keeps the blood at bay (not like Verhoevens claret stained original). Padilha creates some brilliant action scenes, and opens the film with a truly chilling scene of ED-209s and actual robots stalking the streets of Afghanistan to keep the peace. This opening scene is savagely brutal, and the expert special effects and documentary style filming give Padilha the chance to flaunt his usual skills, and prove to the doubters that his film is in no way a scene for scene copy of our beloved original.
Robocop really impressed me, and I was expecting the worst. The cast all deliver superb performances, the pacing is perfect, some great music is used to elevate the more thrilling scenes, and Robocops new black suit is actually really cool. There will be many fans out there who will not watch this out of principal, but I say give it a chance. I was worried that I would miss so much of Verhoeven’s classic: the violence, the anarchy, Clarence Boddicker, the one-liners, “that fucking gun”, Officer Anne Lewis, Dick Jones, ALL of Boddicker’s henchmen, the acid scene, the chaos, the list goes on. However, what proved to me watching this film was just how much different Padilha’s version was, and oddly I did not find myself missing hardly anything from the original, which shows that this reboot is strong enough to stand on its own. I did raise a smile though when the line “I’d buy that for a dollar” cropped up!