Robocop — Half-Good-Half-Bad

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Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) said that, one day, fellow Brazilian director Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”) called him to admit that he was having “the worst experience of his life.” The worst experience Padilha had was making the film titled “RoboCop” (2014), the remake of Paul Verhoeven’s satirical shoot-out classic. Although, Padilha, later recanted from his statement, because of studio’s pressure, it can be easily seen, what he went through to deliver this PG-13 rated movie. The ballooned budget of $120 million made the studios to firmly secure this rating. Nonetheless, “Robocop” does what a good reboot should to: it rearranges the narrative, adds back stories to the characters, while retaining the main theme and ideas.

Set in 2028, the movie starts by taking up the American right-wing security concerns, through a Fox-News type TV host (Samuel L. Jackson). He appears on screen to make the case for the powerful Omnicorp Company’s robotic fighters. While, the robots are invading Tehran, the TV host praises U.S. army’s ability to clean the crime-ridden cities. Senator Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) and most of the politicians are fiercely against the robots and debate on their ethics of human-policing. However, the CEO of Omnicorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) enlists a scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) to create a part-human, part-robot law enforcer. While they are searching for an ideal candidate, in comes Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a morally upright policeman, who gets himself injured by a drug lord. He has lost limbs, fully burned and might not live on, unless he wears a new metallic body. Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) consents and after initial tests, Norton restructures his brain functions to follow software rather than human impulses. The rest of the story is filled with low-key, ineffective action scenes that are only heavy on our ears.

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“Robocop” is mostly successful, if seen as a standalone movie. It has good sci-fi elements and has well developed some of the sub-plots. The initial combat sequences and Murphy’s reawakening scene are all done effectively, although violence is muted. Jose Padiha’s version is also more character based. Here, Murphy tries to re-connect with his son and wife, whereas in the 1987 movie, he spent much of his time with the partner to remember his past. Joshua Zetumer’s script provides fitting social commentary by using Jackson’s Novak, and ultra-conservative. The lambasts of the TV host tries to evoke the debate of how much freedom people are willing to surrender in the name of greater security. However, these satirical touches are nothing new and pale in comparison to Verhoeven’s jabbing sarcasm.

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Special effects have obviously improved to a high level than the 80’s, but the action scenes only gives us the feeling of watching first-person shooter game. The bloodcurdling payback scenes are replaced by overcooked CG set pieces. The cast is full of excellent performers, who are well above the minimum demands of this material. Michael Keaton, with his devilish eyebrows is not as maniacal for a villain. He leaves that job to Jackie Earle Haley – cursed with another off-putting villain character. As Murphy, Joel Kinnaman displays a cool authority, but most of the times, he remain overwrought and bland. Best of performances comes from the ever-reliable Gary Oldman. His Norton might be the only three-dimensional character, worrying both about free will and robotic combats.

 “Robocop” (2014) is clunky, but it is far better than the franchise’s strange evolution – there was even a cartoon series. Yeah, it is heavily compromises and has diluted the intensity, but it at least aspires to be something. It also makes us wonder how a Darron Aronofsky’s “RoboCop” (it was initially given to him) remake might have played out.

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