RoboCop (2014)

RoboCopIt’s 2018, and robot soldiers are in use everywhere except the United States of America. Eager to tap into the domestic market, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is trying to find favour with the wary American public, ultimately deciding that the best way to overcome “robophobia” is to put a man inside the machine. When policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured while investigating corruption within Detroit’s police department, his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) consents to OmniCorp’s planned use of robotics to help save her husband’s life. Under the direction of scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), Alex is rebuilt as RoboCop, and tasked with eradicating crime across the city. Despite attempts by Norton to control his creation’s decision-making faculties through cybernetics, however, Alex becomes fixated on one crime above all others: the failed attempt on his life.

Like many Paul Verhoeven films, 1987’s RoboCop was ahead of its time. It foresaw the growth of multinational conglomerates, the rise and dominance of the right-wing media, and the development of drone warfare. Nowadays, what was once science fiction is now much more of a reality, as tech companies, news moguls and unmanned airstrikes proliferate the news. The landscape of law enforcement too has changed, with CCTV, the internet and tagging commonplace in the monitoring of criminal behaviour. José Padilha’s 2014 reboot might not seem quite as intuitive or precognisant, but it feels even more urgent and timely. Back in the ’80s it was technology that we feared — the apparently inevitable rise of the machines — but it has since become increasingly clear that it is not technological advancement of which we should be weary, but the humans driving it.

Cultural context is not the only thing to have moved on since the first film’s release, with CGI having come on leaps and bounds in the intervening years. This has allowed Padilha to push the franchise in a new direction, free from the stilted stop-motion and bulky prosthetics that defined the original RoboCop trilogy. Gone is the humour, both intentional and otherwise, as the film instead pushes for a more realistic and all together grittier aesthetic, which for once seems entirely justified. The events of the film are driven by money, ahead of scientific experimentation or even national security, and it is disturbing to think that ultimately the Murphy family are being exploited for financial gain — particularly as Samuel L. Jackson’s commentator wantonly misinterprets just about everything for his programme’s invisible audience. It creates an interesting dynamic within the narrative, as a man is programmed to stop crime by some of the guiltiest people of all.

Padilha’s film looks amazing too, both referencing the original with nods to the outdated design and also moving the look forward. The new RoboCop — first marketed as a Transformer, before being modelled instead on Nolan’s Batman (with shades of the Tron battlesuits) — is a formidable figure, and one that seems a fair extrapolation from the previous model. What’s most interesting about the character, however, is what’s behind the mask. The most striking scene in the film comes when Alex is awoken by Dr. Norton, pulled from a fantasy and forced to look at himself in the mirror. There isn’t a lot to look at, with only his head, internal organs and a single severed hand having survived the explosion that almost cost him his life, and it pushes the boundaries of the 12A rating to ensure that however awesome or aspirational his alter-ego is made to look you can never quite shake the image of Alex’s naked lungs breathing beneath the Kevlar. Even as he battles a group of hulking ED-209’s in the film’s explosive, exhilarating finale.

RoboCop is even surprisingly moving for an action movie, with Cornish and Norton each getting an opportunity to tug on the heartstrings (though this time mercifully off-camera): the former as she bargains for her husband’s life and the latter as he mentors a young amputee suddenly given the chance to play the guitar again. It is also intelligent, and not just as a satire, with seemingly solid science used to underpin the action. The ‘illusion’ of free will is not simply pseudo-psychology but a popular concept in philosophy and even neuroscience; just as Alex is for a time slave to the machine, or rather those controlling the machine, so many believe that consciousness itself is equally accountable to the human body. Are our actions our own? Or are they simply the inevitable result of various biological, environmental or sociopolitical triggers? If the body horror haunts audience’s nightmares, perhaps the film’s themes will give them something just as troubling to contemplate as they lie awake at night.

It would be unfair to dismiss RoboCop as just another pointless retread, at least in the usual sense. RoboCop may have some name recognition, but the character’s hardly as well-known or widely loved as Batman, Terminator or Judge Dredd (who famously served as inspiration for the character). This feels like a new movie, for a new audience, rather than a futile exercise in nostalgia. It helps that Padilha has updated the story, and though his film may be aimed at a younger audience it feels rather more mature than Verhoeven’s original. Dead or alive? This RoboCop very much has a life of its own.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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