Robocop (dir. José Padilha, 2014) – Critically injured in the line of duty, officer Alex Murphy is offered a second chance to live as a man in a machine.
The revamped Robocop marches down a grittier route and loses its shine.
Gritty remakes often lose the essence and spark of its source. Total Recall and Dredd wind up bland downers sans the dark comedy that their respective originals are well remembered for. The relaunch of beloved 80s icon Robocop goes a step further by losing both satirical humour and memorable hyperviolence of Paul Verhoeven’s fun classic.
What is left untouched in the purge is of course, the titular character. Officer Alex Murphy, when critically injured on field, finds his only chance of survival in a life-sustaining exo-suit offered by robotech conglomerate Omnicorp.
Intrinsic to the nature of the plot is excellent science fiction fodder, and director José Padilha exploits it well. Recurring motifs of the genre like transhumanism and freewill surface with weight, as Omnicorp reveals liberal manipulation over their part-machine subject.
These ideas make for truly gripping moments in an interesting and thoughtful start. But overall, the script lets down in its straightforward presentation and heavy lack of subtlety.
The opening is indicative. Murphy’s reductive near-death scene happens all too fast with diminished emotional impact. Having to act through the visor for the rest of the movie leaves little for leading man Joel Kinnaman to show, while the rigid and stilted throwbacks to the original do little to help.
Other characters, too, fall victim to the thin script. Omnicorp employees (played by the wonderful Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley) are mostly there to explain about everything. A lot.
Responsible for more exposition at the bookends is Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak. The media mogul’s over-the-top rants prove mildly distracting from potentially provocative broadcasts of sociopolitical repercussions. His puns? More heavily so. Awfully forced humour makes his limited screen time more a boon than a bane.
Past the halfway mark, the movie entirely abandons the man-machine debate. All in favour of a straight-up vengeful hunt after some crudely constructed corporate villains. What follows is an action-fuelled pursuit. Tight, impressive visuals provide slight entertainment, though the stakes are far too low to sustain any bit of suspense.
Like most sci-fi action franchises and their unnecessary reboots, uninspired sequences of shoot-outs and car chases quickly wear thin. A tedious wait ensues for the metal-plated vigilante cyborg’s eventual emergence from the mayhem. These all add up to time that probably would have been better spent rewatching Verhoeven’s work instead.