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How Arresting is the New “RoboCop”?

February 11, 2014

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I wasn’t particularly riveted by 1987’s original RoboCop. It came out when I was in college and in a pacifist phase, so the film’s ultra-violence turned me off, even as I appreciated its attempts at sociopolitical satire. So my expectations for the new RoboCop reboot were low, until I saw the trailer, which looked sharp and funny. There were so many actors I love in the cast—The Killing‘s Joel Kinnaman, Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael K. Williams, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson—that I figured it couldn’t malfunction. And you know what? It doesn’t.

It might seem counterintuitive to call this a kinder, gentler RoboCop, because there are still scenes of videogame-style mayhem, but no Paul Verhoeven-esque gore, which is how it earned a PG-13, as opposed to the original’s hard R. But Brazilian director Jose Padilha makes sure that no matter how much damage Kinnaman’s less-than-half-man/more-than-half-robot cop dishes out—or endures—the character, and the film, still have a beating heart. (One combat-testing sequence is even wittily scored to “If I Only Had a Heart,” from The Wizard of Oz).

All the actors deliver maximum impact, from Kinnaman’s scuzzily charismatic Alex Murphy to Keaton’s speed-talking billionaire (who could be Night Shift‘s Bill Blazejowski if he’d ever hit it big) to Baruchel’s weaselly marketing guy to Jackson’s hilariously Bill O’Reilly-like blowhard. But the emotional anchors of the film are Cornish as Murphy’s loyally feisty wife and especially Gary Oldman as the scientist torn between making historic advances—not to mention obscene amounts of money—and maintaining Murphy’s humanity inside that high-tech black suit. It’s probably not a coincidence that both Oldman and Keaton are veterans of the Batman franchise, albeit from different eras. They know how to bring realism to a superhero (or super-anti-hero) story. Keaton also displays explosive chemistry with fellow Jackie Brown vet Jackson in one of the film’s best scenes.

The satire remains pointed—and it’s been updated as well. The parallels between RoboCops and drones are drawn, and the depiction of a surveillance-state Detroit in 2028 probably doesn’t look all that different from what today’s NSA sees on their screens. There are a few, but not too many, nods to the original, particularly when Baruchel repeats the sitcom-within-the-movie’s catchphrase, “I’ll buy that for a dollar!” The new RoboCop, it turns out, is worth much more.

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One Comment
  1. Certain parts of this remake improve upon the original, but other parts are a bit too dull and don’t amount to much. However, it’s a better remake than I expected, which does mean something. Good review.

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