Director    José Padilha
Starring    Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley
Release    12 FEB (US) 7 FEB (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars

Matt Looker

6th February 2014

As with any remake of a beloved 80s classic, a lot of people will just want to know how similar it is to the original - and none of them are going to be happy, whatever the answer. But then the alternative is to do the sensible thing and judge the film on its own merits, and how do you account for all the elements that have been liberally poached from its predecessor? No, the one and only fair way to critique this remake is to judge it by RoboCop's own Prime Directives.

1. Serve the public trust

How much does this film shit all over the RoboCop we already know and love?

Well plenty, actually. But not because it is trying to be a better version of the original - this is an altogether different beast entirely. A cop gets blown to pieces and is rebuilt as a law-enforcing cyborg by the money-grabbing corporation Omnicorp. That - and a few fan service moments - are all that resemble the '87 version. The film takes these bare bones and then rebuilds around it, adding flash, glossy technology and updating it with new modifications. The result is a hybrid creation that isn't quite sure which it really is - an original entity or a manufactured automaton. Very much like... well, you get the analogy.

But it mostly comes as a relief, because, for once, the producers have recognised that the original is a product of its time and shouldn't be directly replicated. Instead we get a film that is much more suited to modern audiences: a film that explores the ethical dilemma of replacing men with machines, the politics involved in making such a transition and the subsequent existential crisis for the man at the heart of it all.

The result is a film that goes far beyond its 'manborg' B-movie persona, but is perhaps trying to address too many topical issues all at once. With the focus on so many social and internal dilemmas, this unfortunately comes at the expense of losing the humour of the original. A somewhat half-hearted attempt has been made to keep a satirical line throughout thanks to several cutaway scenes of TV presenter and apparent staunch Republican Samuel L. Jackson reporting on the current state of affairs, but they all feel tacked on and are played too straight-faced to ever really hit the funny bone.
2. Protect the innocent

Does the film have the same level of violence as before or is it a kiddie-lite version?

Given the outrage at this film receiving a 12A certificate instead of the bloodthirsty, toxic-waste-approved 18 that everyone was hoping for, it should come as no surprise that this film has none of the impact of the original. Practical blood-bags, exploding prosthetics and blown-apart limbs have all been replaced with the same kind of polished CGI sheen as that other Verhoeven remake, Colin Farrell's Total Recall.

But the film isn't entirely toothless. Extended shots of Murphy sans suit - with all his talking, breathing, organ-exposed remains on show - come as a cold, hard shock for all its clinical horror, and Michael Keaton's villainous Omincorp head, backed by marketing execs, is biting in his casual disregard for Murphy as a person.
3. Uphold the law

How much does it work as a film? You know, like how well does it abide by the laws of good filmmaking? Or something. This conceit is getting less and less relevant to the review, isn't it?

Overall, this upgraded RoboCop functions very well, even if it does get its wires crossed in a few places. The deeper exploration of Murphy's post-deathbed humanity marks the film as a cut above its blockbuster status and makes for a genuinely intelligent, thought-provoking film.

And yet, surprisingly, its action sequences let it down. A reliance on shaky-cam chaos and blurry pixel-smashing during the fight scenes will have you pining for the good old days of stop-motion.

The film also suffers from a failure to do the story's most tender moments justice thanks to the automatic whir-buzz of RoboCop's suit deflating every emotional scene. No matter how incomprehensively upset Murphy is, the fact that there's a Zzzzztt with every hang of his head just makes you think SAD ROBOTCOP IS SAD.
4. Classified

I dunno, shall we just talk about the actors or something?

Joel Kinnaman makes for a likeable down-to-earth hero, trading on his streetwise cop from The Killing but portraying someone altogether more wholesome. In a film where the protagonist is in varying stages of self-control, Kinnaman portrays the differing blends of man and machine well, with only his face to sell the idea.

Although, no matter how factually accurate his up-to-date portrayal of robotics is, you'll end up missing Peter Weller's perfectly-synced mime-movements because, for the most part, Kinnaman just looks like a man walking around in an awkward suit.

Thankfully, while Jackson is mostly a dud caricature and Keaton is largely forgettable as the corporate villain, the movie is elevated by Gary Oldman's morally sketchy doctor and Jackie Earle Haley's trigger-happy trainer with a grudge against our 'Tinman'.

There. Wasn't that a better read than a rant about remakes and a shoe-horned reference to how many 'dollars' you should 'buy' this film for?

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