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Film Review: RoboCop

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The original 1987 Robocop by Paul Verhoeven was an extremely violent, bitingly funny satire on capitalist greed. I have to admit, this remake is more intent on having fun than engaging the viewer in a challenging discourse. But, in its favour, it really does know how to have fun.

Though some will argue this is a watered-down RoboCop, and their argument isn’t without credence, as a work in its own right it still has a backbone thanks to a number of strong performances.

Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha helms the film with a remarkable, almost belligerent confidence that becomes rather addictive. The pace pumps along as we see cop Alex Murphy (an excellent Joel Kinnaman) pursuing a dangerous crime ring. He then gets blown up and the robot-development arm of a multi-billion dollar corporation builds him a new body. After all this, he returns to the streets to fight crime. But his body isn’t the only thing that has changed.

There are major differences between this and the original. This film removes the over-the-top gory violence and replaces it with more spectacular action (and trades in the 18 classification for a 12A). The drama is kept mostly within the science labs between Gary Oldman (science genius), Michael Keaton (Dangerous CEO) and Jennifer Ehle (cold-hearted corporate person). This trio, helped along with some enthusiastic input from Jay Baruchel as a marketing man, provide an endless watchable layer of menace to the whole thing. Oldman particularly deserves credit for demonstrating how a decent, kind man can merge into something rather terrifying. It is also to the film’s strength that it doesn’t push his character into an archetypal villain. I won’t ruin how the movie ends, but things aren’t as clear cut in this unnerving vision of the future.

As has been the case with a number of recent blockbusters, the film adopts a glossy, shiny aesthetic whilst shooting the majority of scenes with a cinéma vérité style. This helps the movie take on a gritty, documentary realism feel whilst still looking sleek and expensive. Padilha has a background in documentary film, and this is his first Hollywood picture, so it makes sense for him to combine different influences in order to give his film a distinctive look. The press screening I attended was held at the BFI IMAX and I can certainly say the film looks amazing.

In a wise move, the narrative pins everything on a personal and emotional core. Whereas the original had more of a black-comedy, political agenda, this aims to tell a family story first and foremost. For this reason, we get a lot of Abbie Cornish playing Murphy’s teary-eyed wife. Her role here is reminiscent of her part as Bradley Cooper’s love interest in the rather bad thriller Limitless a couple of years ago. To some extent it is a shame Cornish isn’t given a role that demands more of her, but she acts her part with an emotional range expected of an actor of her high standard and the film is all the better for it.

I realise the 1987 RoboCop has some hardcore fans out there, many of which will feel ill at the prospect of a fresh new “reboot” (I hate that phrase). Hopefully, however, there will be some cinemagoers who get  a lot of enjoyment from this version’s infectious brand of adrenalin. It does what it sets out to do well: a new model for a new age that isn’t dismissive or disrespectful about the greatness of its title-character’s legacy.

RoboCop (2014), directed by José Padilha, is released in UK cinemas by StudioCanal, Certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below: 



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