D: José Padilha. W:Joshua Zetumer (based on 1987 film by Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner). DP: Lula Carvalho. Starring: Joel Kinnaman/Gary Oldman/Michael Keaton/Abbie Cornish/Jackie Earle Haley/Michael K. Williams/Jennifer Ehle/Jau Baruchel/Samuel L. Jackson/Aimee Garcia/Marianne Jean-Baptiste/John Paul Ruttan.
Amidst the superhero conversation, but part of the transformer chit-chat, there must be a small discussion of the military and police forces within cinema. In the past few decades the man vs. machine debate has evolved to new levels. In films like 2009’s Terminator: Salvation and 2009’s Avatar whole plots rest on this very old concept. With the influence of video games on cinema it’s easy to not be surprised about anything the new Robocop brings to the table.
Robocop finds Detective Alex Murphy, played by AMC’s The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman, in a disastrous situation. His body ravaged by an explosion meant to kill him, his wife makes the difficult decision to save him by allowing what’s left of him to be put into a machine cop suit. And I literally mean, all that’s left of him. Rather gruesome, and incredibly sad, Kinnaman’s Alex must psychologically accept his new body and emotionally abandon his former life. This new robocop as he is called is set to the streets, but of course complications arise. Unfortunately for Kinnaman who brings a much needed tenderness to Alex’s plight, he cannot fix what failed about this film.
Right off the bat the tone is disastrously set in an obnoxious way with plot markers. Samuel L. Jackson appears as an interceding hot headed political show host. This is clearly an attempt to seem topical and reflective of biases in the media, but the segments are jarring and smear the story with regurgitated boredom. Also, it’s been claimed that director José Padilha and even Kinnaman desperately wanted an R rating, with studio Columbia bawking and forcing them into PG-13. Even for the this lower rating there is an immense amount of violence. Most of it is structured like a video game, which these days feels overdone and disconnects the audience.
Ultimately, the saving grace of Robocop is Gary Oldman. Serious and subtle, the heart and redemption of the story lies in the eyes of Oldman’s bespectacled Dr. Norton. Grappling with balancing the man and the machine elements of his creation, in usual chameleon-esque form, Oldman gives the audience the conflict and spirit at the core of the film. His doctor harkens back to the grappling of Dr. Frankenstein who loved his creation, but abhors what he has done. The rest of the cast were forgettable, with poor Abbie Cornish adding another tear stained archetypal gal to her roster, much beneath her talent long established in 2006’s Candy.
On a final note, predominately I am stringent when it comes to reading novels before they are adapted for the screen or seeing original films before they are reincarnated. For Robocop I decided, with time being a factor as well, to work backwards and see how I fared. Now having seen this new slick, updated version I am more curious about the original. Maybe with an R rating set against an 1980s cinema context the concept will feel fresher.
Please comment on this conversation about the original. Will post again when I have seen it.