In a modern world increasingly dependent on technology, you’d think a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop (2014) wouldn’t necessitate the same near-future landscape of its predecessor. Surely in an age where drone warfare is legally waged, ubiquitous advertising is the norm and 24-hour news coverage plentiful, there couldn’t be a better time for a revival of Verhoeven’s cybernetic cop. The inaugural RoboCop was a cheap but endearing mash-up of violence and stop-motion effects. It felt trashy, but the film’s sardonic tone and razor-sharp wit prevailed. In José Padilha’s glossy revision, the aesthetic flaws have been ironed out but so too have the complex layers of socioeconomic criticism.
Starring The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman as the eponymous electromechanical law enforcer, RoboCop unravels in the year 2028. American conglomerate OmniCorp maintain peace across the globe through the use of robotic soldiers. However, there’s one cash rich, crime heavy territory where OmniCorp has struggled to overcome public opinion and sell its mechanised peacekeepers – The United States of America. A government act prevents the use of robotic law enforcement, leading industry mogul Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to invent a way to convince the American public that they can trust his robotic soldiers of fortune. Enter Alex Murphy, a model policeman who, after a near death accident, becomes the perfect candidate for Sellars’ proposal of a biomechanical knight in shining armour.
In Verhoeven’s original, binary copies of good and evil were interchangeable, removing individual ethics from the equation and allowing the satirical attacks on corporate influence over legislative law to come to the fore. Sadly, Padilha’s RoboCop rigidly obeys the tried and tested formula of contemporary frenetic blockbusters, its flimsy script littered with pantomime villains, ostentatious gadgets and ultimately lacking in any semblance of narrative tension. Tragically starved of its own ideas, Padilha’s reboot makes an indolent attempt at replicating the satire of its predecessor via Samuel L. Jackson’s confrontational news anchor, yet a lack of subversive acumen means this flagrantly theatrical showmanship fails to articulate the message with any sense of authority. Attempting to represent the disconnect between body and mind in a society enslaved by an addiction to material wealth, Murphy’s mechanised self should make for the perfect embodiment of technological dependence.
However, thanks to a complete absence of empathy derived from Kinnaman’s rigid performance, and the film’s pandering to the market’s perceived appetite for high octane, 12A-approved action, the body’s significance is diminished. The physical and emotional torture associated with Murphy’s transformation is never truly examined, and his role as a metaphor for the changing shape of society into one contorted and controlled by corporate influence is entirely absent. Lacking both the satirical punch and the genuine fun Verhoeven’s film had in abundance, RoboCop is ultimately a pedestrian, functional action movie that leaves the sour aftertaste of an opportunity missed.
Win a Blu-ray copy of José Padilha’s 2014 RoboCop remake with our latest competition. Follow this link to enter.