José Padilha’s reboot of 1987’s RoboCop fails to re-energise the character, its moral re-tuning bogging the film down in melodramatics and boardroom bickering…
The sense of familiarity when looking at your local cinema listings isn’t just palpable, it’s overpowering. If it isn’t a sequel or a reboot then it’s a reboot of a sequel; the title, the name, the plotlines, as familiar as your face in the mirror. Our collective acknowledgement of Hollywood’s penchant to retune its products of the past has resulted, thanks to generally impressive box office figures, in our endorsement of their efforts (or lack of). Is it a curiosity to see how a film we’ve already seen might be different under a new director’s creative leadership or the implantation of new actors in key roles? Or is it that today’s cinema-going public isn’t the same cinema-going public of ten years ago and thus Hollywood has a new audience to perform to?
Ultimately, the American film industry is playing it as safe as possible in an economic climate of uncertainty and under the strain of a market coming to terms with quickly developing technology. Unlike the era of Jaws and Star Wars where the public had to get in a car and travel to a theatre to see a movie, today we are as likely to watch the latest release digitally streamed onto the three-inch screen of a mobile phone, watching our selected feature in bite-size chunks while riding on the train. This highlights why our entertainment intake has to have far more immediacy in order for it to shoulder barge its way to the front. And, with Hollywood’s re-imagination of its past, it not only has precedent to guide its marketing gurus but audience familiarity to guide them to the product.
One of the latest movies off the production line is José Padilha’s update on Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop from 1987. The original successfully threw genre out the window to produce the rarely successful feat of amalgamating revenge thriller, science-fiction horror and off-kilter black comedy, often at the same time, with a keen eye for satirising American pop-culture. The similarities between the two films, sans RoboCop 2014’s lukewarm revenge plot, are few and far-between. Here, Padilha prefers to draw from James Cameron’s fearful forward-projection regarding the human race’s growing reliance on artificial technology seen in The Terminator, to hang dull melodrama and frenetically unexciting videogame-like set pieces to a narrative desperately clamouring for a sequel.
Padilha’s RoboCop gains merit for trying something different with the character, principally giving him (It) far more control of his former self and personality, which results in him trying to rebuild the relationship he has with his wife and child. It also throws up questions of ownership – of product versus person, of powerlessness over self-control. But all this plays out in the conversations held in corporate boardrooms or the soap opera that becomes RoboCop’s diminished domestic responsibility (there’s a joke about electrical “appliances” here). It lacks a harsh bite, similar to the performance of Joel Kinnerman in the title role. While Michael Keaton deserves credit as megalomaniacal Raymond Sellars, the rest of the cast fade into the background. Even the dependable Gary Oldman seems restrained in a role that transplants his good-cop in The Dark Knight to good-doctor here.
The same lukewarm response can also be attributed to the action sequences that mimic first-person shoot ‘em up videogames, their frenetic pacing creating unwarranted disorientation while emitting a discernible stench of artificiality. If the first half of the film generated interest in the morals of technology and human guinea pigs, the second half dilutes it with convoluted crime-solving and uninspired action.
In playing for a broader audience, the revamped RoboCop is nothing more than a knock-off, lacking the staying power of the real thing. Compared to the original, this is a watered down version that adds baggage where it is not needed, swapping Verhoeven’s rabid science-fiction for flaccid melodramatics. One film had teeth that could sever limbs, the other just a gum line in search of its dentures.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson
Released: 2014 / Genre: Science-fiction / Country: USA / IMDB
RoboCop is released on blu-ray, DVD and VOD June 9th. It can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk HERE