Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) found success in its day and continues to be held in high regard thanks in part to the incredibly smart way in which it extrapolated a future America in crisis from the violence, corruption and greed rampant in the era in which it was made. It helped tremendously that the film didn’t try to be smarter than its intended audience. It never talked down to us, it never pushed an agenda and most importantly it never once took itself too seriously. It served up an amazing slice of sci-fi exploitation film heaping with readily-understood meta-commentary and it did so in a way that was thoroughly entertaining. It’s clear that José Padilha, director of the 2014 reboot, reveres the original. From direct homage to more subtle respect paid to Verhoeven’s classic throughout, the reboot is a film that wants you to know that it knows where this all started. And it also wants you to know that it understands the world has changed a lot since 1987. Padilha’s reboot is wildly ambitious, widening the scope of villainy from city-level crime and corporate corruption to global threats, safety concerns on a national level, and even touching upon the dark relationship between corporate America and the US government. While there are flesh and blood villains here, we are repeatedly shown and told that the REAL villains are less tangible: the systems that feed on and prosper from corruption, the greed that lessens the value of human life, the climate of fear generated via media used to manipulate the people. If that all sounds a bit heavy and dark and serious, it is. To a fault. The film’s opening scene is a perfect example of that fault. We begin with a frame story, a news program hosted by a political blowhard (played Samuel L. Jackson) that cuts away to live footage of a reporter embedded in the Middle East. In this future, the US military has outsourced policing of the occupied territory to OmniCorp, who manage this via groups of high-tech drones. The drones range from humanoid to tank-like and we see the natives being corralled for inspection/analysis to determine threat level in a comically cold and inhuman fashion. As cameras are rolling, a group of men strapped with suicide bombs attack the drones, all of them dying in the process. The young son of one of the suicide bombers approaches a drone, wielding a kitchen knife, and is put down as a threat. There’s a lot to process and question here. While it’s easy to be sympathetic to a population under watch by lethal robotic drones, it’s not as easy to be sympathetic to a suicide bombing that places human life at risk in favor of making a grandiose statement via live TV. We are also never given any explanation as to why a 12 foot-tall drone armed with gatling cannons feels threatened by a kitchen knife in the hands of a child. Or why there isn’t a non-lethal option for handling any of this. The film seems to want to bundle all of our post-9/11 fears into a convenient push-button package to get a rise out its audience, but seems confused as to how to go about it. Should we take the side of the suicide bombers, or of the military industrial complex being attacked? The Samuel L. Jackson character pops up periodically as though to act as the outraged voice of the people, but his attitude seems to change with the wind. The CEO of OmniCorp, played by Michael Keaton, is a super-nice and likeable guy who also happens to be an occasional ruthless corporate shitbag. The film becomes so concerned with painting everything as a gray area that it’s often difficult to sympathize, empathize or even care about what’s at stake. Nestled among the political commentary and dubious villains are a handful of “real” bad guys. Dirty cops and a Detroit drug kingpin provide our hero with a few skulls to crack and someone to shoot with those awesome guns. He crosses their path as he works to solve his own murder case and rather handily takes them down. Of course, they’re all just puppets for larger interests as the conspiracy inevitably deepens and deepens some more. The reboot’s take on Robocop himself is similarly convoluted. In a sort-of inversion from the original, this Robocop is brought back with his identity in place, as Alex Murphy. OmniCorp wants his humanity intact, it’s the selling point used to make drone technology palatable to the US public, who can then be leveraged to overturn a law on the books stating that drone tech cannot be used against the American people. Of course they’ve packed him full of software mods to make him the perfect soldier/cop, and when his human qualities begin to affect his reaction time he is more or less reprogrammed for optimal performance, sidelining his humanity. The scenes in which Murphy awakens to his new cyborg reality are harrowing and some of the most impressive in the film. The shock of the loss of almost his entire body is clearly felt. Joel Kinnaman shines in these moments, and fans of his work on The Killing already know that he can capably portray a streetwise cop. It’s a shame that the script struggles to support his strengths when it comes time to go more robo. We can all probably close our eyes and hear Peter Weller’s perfectly neutral robotic tone from the original film, but the reboot presents us with no such touchstone. The dialect and speech patterns of Kinnaman’s Murphy are kept intact, even when his personality is being overwritten by the drone programming. He acts a bit more detached and clinical, but it’s still his “human” voice. While this adds to the feeling of an ordinary cop being crammed into a high-tech drone, it doesn’t help us distinguish much in terms of how he is struggling with his humanity vs. his programming. And for a film hell-bent on bringing the existential dilemma of it’s main character to light, and given such an obvious and effective method to do so in the man vs. machine struggle, it sure falls flat on actually delivering much outside of the initial shock. He cares about his family, then he doesn’t for a little bit, then he does again. It feels like a bait-and-switch instead of a true coming to terms with existence. I can respect the intentions of this reboot, the desire to take something that may feel a bit dated and to make it new again. To take an exploitation film and remake it as serious sci-fi drama. It’s a noble cause, but stripped of all self-aware irony, humor and gratuity it’s kind of a bore. Had I never seen the original, I might be less hard on Padilha’s version. But I have, and since he makes it abundantly clear that he has as well, I’m forced to wonder why he neutered it. Special Features There are several brief featurettes included under the banner RoboCop: Engineered for the 21st Century. The Illusion of Free Will: A New Vision (7:46) – This discussion with the director clearly illustrates his intentions with the reboot. It’s possible this is one of the reasons I feel let down by it, as Padilha is extremely well-spoken and makes cogent points about his decisions to change and alter the film. Hearing him talk about it with obvious passion makes it sound like it should have been a better product than what we end up with. To Serve and Protect: RoboCop’s New Weapons (6:05) – The guns are pretty damn cool, and this lets you see them up close. It’s great to see how the designs work in homage to the original, and we also get some footage of Kinnaman training to look like a walking, stalking robo-badass. The RoboCop Suit: Form and Function (14:54) – Fans grumbled about changing up the iconic look of Robocop, but aside from that one fleshy hand, the all-black look works well on-screen. This featurette discusses the decision and we even get a snippet of Michael Keaton discussing the lack of mobility of the original Burton batsuit. Deleted Scenes – Various Lengths – There’s a little bit more here to sink your teeth in to, and some hints that maybe in a longer form this film would have had the room it needed to breathe. It’s been suggested by other reviewers that it would have been better served as a mature television series developed over several episodes. Given that the world-building was solid and that some of the scenes were obviously rushed (as evidenced by what was cut out) I wonder if that wouldn’t have done the trick. Omnicorp Product Announcement – Various Lengths – Up close looks at most of the tech featured in the film. The presentation style hearkens back to the integrated commercials of the first film, making me pine for Verhoeven’s post-modern media pastiche all the more. Theatrical Trailers – interesting to see how the film was pitched post-viewing, each of the two trailers hones in on different angles: one in the free will vs. programming respect, the other in terms of corporate exploitation. See larger image RoboCop [Blu-ray] New From: $1.00 USD In Stock Robocop (2014) Blu-ray Review3.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.