Robocop wasn’t a great action movie. Going in, I expected that.
From watching all of the trailers, and promotional clips, I knew that it was going to disappoint me in that aspect. The action sequence in the warehouse looked uninspired, (empty warehouse gunfights are oh so very cliche.) A PG rating meant that the NSFW gore and blood (and dubstep), which made up around 55% of the awesomeness of the first Robocop film, was gone, and Samuel L. Jackson had a mop on his head.
So, entering the theater, I fully expected the movie to be a huge disappointment. The lights went down, as I silently pouted at my seat and the movie began to play. And what followed surprised the hell out of me. (Safe to say, that most of what I loved about Robocop is story-related, so SPOILER ALERT)
Robocop isn’t a good action film, but it is a great Sci-Fi origin story.
In a World…
What I loved about this movie was how the film so swiftly set up the world of Robocop, and the issues that the movie would face. The film opens up with News Anchor Pat Novak (Played by Samuel L. Jackson and Donald Trump’s Toupee), as he shows how the robotic armed forces of OmniCorp. are keeping the peace in Iran, and how for some reason, the United States Government won’t allow these very same robots to protect the streets of its homeland. On the streets of Tehran, a news crew captures footage of many Irani citizens willingly submitting themselves for inspection, and how the pacification efforts seem to be well in hand. The scene cuts to some resistance fighters who are ready to kill themselves on live TV to get their message across. Strapped with bombs, they attack the robots, and one by one are blown to bits. One of the suicide fighter’s young sons rushes out of the home carrying a knife, and the robot, assessing the young boy as a threat, swiftly guns the child down in ludicrous, Justin-Bieber-in-CSI fashion. (Sadly, this clip is more violent than anything you would see in Robocop)
That being said, the Robocop opening scene was brilliantly executed, in that, unlike the video above, we actually felt bad about the kid who fell under a hail of machine gun bullets. In a brief span of about eight minutes, the film presented the theme that would drive the plot inexorably forward. The Man vs. Machine element was played to perfection, and it went even deeper, exploring how this debate would be seen through the eyes of US socio-political climates, as well as those of capitalistic, corporate media. With that one child’s death caught on camera, and Novak hastily trying to hide it to protect its corporate backers (OmniCorp), the film quickly introduced us to the two sides of the robot debate.
This wasn’t something I expected from the movie, and in all fairness, it was a really refreshing way to tell the story.
Robocop: Year One
The film spent a lot of time trying to make the Robocop origin as acceptable as possible, which in simple terms meant that it tried really really hard to make the audience believe that making Robocop was a reasonable and logical choice. In the original film, a lot of stuff was just taken for granted, and the filmmakers just expected the 80’s audiences to suspend their beliefs and let a few things slide. They also put more focus back then on the religious element. A guy dies, is resurrected as a mightier being, and begins saving the good and punishing the wicked.
With this reboot though, they set up the film to truly answer the burning questions of: Why would they bother putting a man in a machine, why go through such a complicated and expensive process? How would that even be theoretically possible? Why is there a need for a human brain to be in charge of a completely programmable robot, when they otherwise could be remotely controlled?
The Robocop reboot spent a lot of time fleshing out the answers to these questions. After the Iran footage, the executives of OmniCorp discovered that Americans were distrustful of a robotic police force, so they had to, for PR purposes, show that they could have a human still in control. Robocop and his creation became a huge commentary on how America reacts to hot-button issues.
It spent some time actually setting up the characters of Ray Sellars (Michael Keaton) as the head of OmniCorp, and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) as the foremost authority in robotic arms and legs for amputees. In some ways these guys had more to do with the story than Alex Murphy did. The movie showed that Robocop is not just one man, but the work of many, a product to Sellars, a “son” of sorts to Norton, and a second chance for Murphy’s family. He symbolized a few things to different characters in the movie, and none of these symbols were ever overstated. It was a deeper layer of story-telling that is often lacking in action movies of this vein.
I can’t say I expected much out of the material, but what I was excited about was that the cast included Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson, three of my favorite actors. Not only do they have solid dramatic performances under their belts, but they are always up to play character who are BAT SH*T CRAZY.
In this film though, Keaton and Oldman played their roles remarkably straight. The story didn’t allow them to be crazy, so I’d say, with respect to their performances, they did a great job with the material they were given, but their talents felt under-utilized.
The stand out for me was Samuel L. Jackson. While he didn’t have so much screen time, his character was by far one of the most interesting. His character Pat Novak is the host of his own news show The Novak Element, a show that is so clearly a mockery of right-wing news media. He cuts people off in interviews when their answer may be damaging to the side he supports, and the best part, he loses it on live camera, just like say…. Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor.
As for Joel Kinnaman (A.K.A. Robocop himself), well, let’s just say it’s good that he’s playing a robot.
My Cent’s Worth: 3/10 as an Action Film, 6/10 as a Sci-Fi Film
Robocop was the right movie for the wrong crowd. Its lack of gore and weak, suspense-less gunfights turned this trumped up action flick into a huge disappointment for many. And I agree. If you’re watching Robocop patrolling the streets of Detroit, things should get hairy, people should be getting shot like crazy, he should be standing there, taking hits and laying down the law! Just like every R-rated movie marketed to children should be!
But if you were to take out all that context and get into the mindset of watching a film that’s trying to explore the man vs. machine argument on the national levels of politics and public perception, then this movie isn’t really too bad.