Paul Verhoeven’s movie will always have a special place in my heart. As a naughty child I would watch his movies late at night, drawn into the cartoon like blood and violence that he would create- then as I grew older and a little wiser I began to appreciate them as the works of art they were. His combination of low art aesthetics and deep political satire is something I was fascinated by and have admired to this day. Following on from the cinematic abortion that was the 2011 Total Recall remake I was cautious about approaching the remake to Verhoeven’s most iconic movie, Robocop.
The film was certainly in more capable hands- Jose Padilha has achieved huge success in South America where his movies Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within have won various awards and smashed box office records along the way.
The premise of Robocop is well established but for those who are unaware- Alex Murphy is a no nonsense Detroit cop who following an attempt on his life is left severely injured, his only hope of survival being to be placed in a robotic suit.
Padilha’s Robocop has had somewhat of a troubled production. The film was originally passed around between numerous directors before finding itself in his hands and then last year, when the first images of the new Robocop were released fans hit the roof. Gone was the heavy silver armour that had created a legend and it’s in place was a slicker, black suit and perhaps there is no better metaphor for summing up this remake.
Whilst Verhoeven’s Detroit and his approach was all about the grit and slimy underbelly of society Padilha’s version, which has been toned down from an 18 to a more accessible 12A (more on that later) is a slicker, more stylistic movie that in comparison to the original feels incredibly passive.
One thing that has been done very well however is the politics of the movie. Unlike Total Recall Robocop was clearly made by a man who understands the mechanics of the first film and has paid significant homage to them. Whilst the satire may not be as sharp as it was in the original, it is still present here, if it is dumbed down a little.
The ethical debate as to whether or not a man should be put in a machine drives the movie along and some of the movies finest moments come when these issues are being discussed on ‘Novak TV’ a TV show hosted by the extremely patriotic Pat Novak, played by Samuel L Jackson on fine form.
Now back to the rating issue. The original Robocop is infamous for its graphic violence and its dark, comical tone- these two provided us with some of the most iconic moments of 80’s cinema and replicating these things was always going to be an issue when the films rating had been cut from an 18 to a 12. The first film almost depends on the murder of Murphy. His death is so sickening that it really creates a sense of hatred towards the films villain, Clarence Boddicker and this is one of the key elements missing from this version.
The villain, Antoine Vallon played by Patrick Garrow is barely present for the majority of the movie and his presence feels utterly pointless. Michael Keaton does an ok job as Raymod Sellars, the corporate villain of the piece but ultimately he feels like an after thought. The movies narrative loses total focus as it heads into its third and final act and that craving for revenge that really drove the first movie is totally absent here.
The villains aren’t the only characters who suffer because of the script though. Abbie Cornish, who plays Murphy’s wife, and Joel Kinnaman who plays the title character lack in any real chemistry and their relationship feels incredibly forced at the best of times.
Verdict: Whilst Padilha is clearly respectful of the original work this remake feels far to neat and tidy to come close to scratching the surface of the original. Samuel L Jackson and Gary Oldman stand out in their respective roles but ultimately this reboot just ends up feeling far too passive in its approach to make any real impact.