If you’re looking for a movie completely devoid of that thing that makes your heart feel things (I believe they call it “emoticons” or something like that), then RoboCop is for you. This remake of the 1987 sci-fi/action film is all about weapons, good cops vs. bad cops, explosions, and Iron Man costume concept stealing. In other words, it’s the perfect, non-sappy Valentine’s Day movie you can enjoy with your boyfriend, girlfriend, bone buddy, domestic partner, swinger couple, group of dude bros, mother, or purse full of cats!
Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is a regular cop with the Detroit Police Department, as well as a loving husband and dad—that is, until he’s nearly murdered by criminal arms dealer, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). With the help of Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) of technology company OmniCorp, which produces robotic “peacekeeping” soldiers, Murphy gets a second chance at life through the very technology that the American public is determined to keep off of their streets and out of their law enforcement.
I shit on action movies a lot for lacking well-crafted stories, emotional appeal, or character development (This is especially true of remakes). But you know what? I’ve come to understand that not every action movie can be as well-rounded as Iron Man 3 or Skyfall because they’re targeted at a demographic that really doesn’t know (or care about) the difference between special effects and plot devices.
There’s something to be said about the action movies that embrace these flaws, like the Fast & Furious franchise. They know they’re critically panned for their ridiculous stunts, cheesy acting, and thoughtless storylines. But instead of trying to improve in an area where they have little to no experience or talent, they swing to the opposite end of the spectrum. Basically, it’s like saying, “We are campy and ridiculous, so let’s just be campy and ridiculous.”
And therein lies the problem with RoboCop. Where it should’ve gone the campy and ridiculous route because it could fit so well in that subsection of the action genre, it tried too hard to be something more. It wanted to discuss politics and ethics, specifically whether robots and drones should be making decisions where emotion is necessary; it tried to be philosophical about what separates human and machine (a theme that’s surprisingly common this year); and it attempted to make us sympathize with a man who lost his free will and the scientist who begrudgingly took it from him.
But it floundered on every single one of those potential discussions. I don’t know if it’s because the filmmakers attempted too many big topics in one movie ($100 says this will be their justification for a sequel), or if it’s because they started asking questions and suddenly realized they didn’t have the answers (or opinions, for that matter). Either way, they just gave up halfway through the movie and decided they’d just go for the “Well, it was kind of fun” reaction.
Worse, in my opinion, was that RoboCop made such a big deal about Alex Murphy’s emotions and how they were the only thing that kept him human, yet when it came down to it, the movie never really showed the emotional revelation it should have. Perhaps this is because Joel Kinnaman’s acting was rather bland. Even before he became RoboCop, I didn’t really notice a difference between his “human” Murphy and his “machine” Murphy. Had Kinnaman put a little more heart into his performance, maybe RoboCop wouldn’t have felt as robotic as the technology concepts it presented.
Arguably, where the movie gets it right is in its casting of Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson. Keaton, who plays Raymond Sellars, the corporate villain with OmniCorp, is just wicked (Also, lay off the plastic surgery, Keaton). He embraces that whole unethical “whatever makes money” type that, funnily enough, led to Detroit’s economical demise in the last decade. Oldman, as usual, shows emotional conflict with scientist Dr. Norton, who ends up going against his own morals to do Sellars’ bidding. And let’s not forget Samuel L. Jackson’s minor role as the hot-headed Pat Novak, who characterizes all of those TV political commentators we hate (and he even drops his signature “motherf***er” in the movie).
Overall, RoboCop had the technology its predecessor didn’t to make this movie a visually interesting retelling of Alex Murphy’s story. But beyond the special effects and performances put in by Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson, there’s little else giving this movie depth. For a film based on the idea of taking away the human elements of a man and turning him into a machine, as well as tackling the current debate about using drones for law enforcement and military operations, you’d expect some type of commentary on humanity and morals. But you won’t get that. Because RoboCop is as empty of emotion and thoughts as its main character. Thank god for robots and explosions, otherwise this movie would’ve been boring.
For my radio review of RoboCop on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 25:50 mark).