The 386th film I have seen in theaters…
Hesitantly we entered the theater this snowy New England afternoon for a visit with one of our all time favorite characters- Robocop. The remake of that quintessential 80’s flick was a hard sell. I dreaded every mention and set picture that leaked in the news. The, last year, the trailers started to drop. They shockingly looked good. I was still 100% certain that this would be a shit-fest of epic proportions. It is with this mindset that we entered the theater. We left the showing a couple hours later with smiles on our faces, anxiously talking of where they can take it in a sequel.
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It is the not too distant future, and the world is policed by OmniCorp robot soldiers who “pacify” local populations in places like Iran, providing them a “safe environment to raise children”/Police state. This is the standard in every nation but the United States, which has a Congressional ban on drone and robots that are armed. CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), needs to find a way to market the concept of robot cops to the American people. Wanting to display a robot cop with the “human touch”, he decides to use disabled cops, turned into Cyborgs, as the way to accomplish this.
In Detroit, Alex Murphy is a cop who is trying to take down the local criminal boss Antoine Vallen. In the course of the investigation, Vallen orders Murphy’s assassination, an attempt that fails. OmniCorp has found their Robocop. Matters are complicated as Murphy’s wife and son want to reconnect with him, while OmniCorp wipes him virtually of all humanity to make him a more perfect robot.
Joel Kinnaman plays Alex Murphy, the man who becomes Robocop. Peter Weller offered up an amazing performance back in 87, but this is a different film. Where the original saw Alex put his family behind him, this Alex wants to go home. he wants to recapture his humanity and his family.
Gary Oldman steals the film was Dr. Norton, the scientist who is brought in to create Robocop. A man of principle, Norton uses this project as a way to save a man’s life, prevent death or injury to police officers, and save lives. The carrot on the end of the stick is funding for his research into prosthetics. Oldman delivers the performance of the film. We see this good man get suckered into a terrible situation and try to find a way to save his soul.
Michael Keaton plays Sellars, the Steve Jobs-esque CEO of OmniCorp. Keaton does a good job of selling this guy’s agenda, which unravels as the film progresses and we see who he really is.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, a flag toting Bill O’Reilly figure who molds public opinion on Robocop, and robot cops in general. He is the propagandist of this film. I don’t know who thought to cast Jackson as a Fox News “reporter”, but it was inspired.
Abbie Cornish plays Clara, Alex’s wife. She is a vast improvement over the first incarnation as she actually appears in the film in something other than a flashback. She wants her husband back and is willing to take on OmniCorp to achieve this.
Jackie Earl Haley continues to prove his versatility as the hardened military man Mattox, who oversees the Robot Soldiers and is brought in to program Robocop. He is the closest this film comes to a true villain.
Michael K. Williams, who for my money has the best scowl in show business, plays Jack Lewis, the now male partner of Alex Murphy. This character is greatly lessened in this version, to the detriment of this fine actor.
This was a very good movie. It faced a tremendous battle to be even passable when following one of the most iconic films of the last 30 years. The original was very much an 80’s movie, where this is very much a movie of our times. The cocaine snorting, prostitute mongering, yes men of the corporate world are replaced with the visionary Apple Computers style company. The newscasters, the primary source of indoctrination in the 80s, are replaced by the cable news host- a la Fox News. The gore is replaced with high tech razzle dazzle, and the threat is not Detroit as a Crime haven, but America as the last nation where human labor is still alive. This is very much a commentary on our times, with the drones and insane battles against terrorism that rob us of who we are as free citizens. The tongue was planted firmly in cheek for these moments of commentary, but not as overt and obvious as the original.
The greatest weakness of this film is the lack of a Clarence Boddicker.
Kurtwood Smith was the single greatest element of the original. he was a viable threat amongst several viable threats like Dick Jones and the “wolf of wall street” Bob Morton. He, and his amazing gang of actors dominated the film with their criminal antics. The new crime guy- Vallen, is barely worth mentioning. No real character there for the actor to play. I appreciate them not using the name Boddicker in this film, either let that performance stand or do it real justice in a sequel.
At the end of the day, I am very happy this movie was made. It is not better than the original, but it is MILES ahead of Robocop 2 and 3.