Releasing RoboCop (2014) in February is hard to understand. There wasn’t word that production was taking too long like The Monuments Men (2014) or that it turned out to be junk like Winter’s Tale (2014). No news surfaced high enough for it to cross my radar (read: Twitter). So I was left with an action-packed trailer, the poor recommendation of a reboot of a film, RoboCop (1987) quick on the heels of another Paul Verhoeven reboot, Total Recall (2012), which promised a soulless reproduction of a film with infinitely more soul (i.e. RoboCop (1987) than Total Recall (1990)). So, in that regard, it was only my bloodlust that drew me to even contemplate seeing this new, repainted RoboCop. That is, until I saw one headline (that I cannot find) saying that this wasn’t a mindless heap. Then I got excited and can now tell you to see RoboCop without any fear of reprisal. Why February? No idea, but take advantage of the light offerings. My only in-movie note: “This movie is badass.”
Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner Sgt. Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are two virtuous cops looking to take down all-round criminal Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). But somehow the case never gets any traction until Murphy and Lewis try to make a buy and the seller lets slip that he works for Vallon. So they get a meeting with him where at Vallon gets tipped off as to their true identity. Lewis ends up in the hospital and six others are in the morgue. That’s the Detroit way. Then a car bomb hits Murphy and that’s that. Meanwhile, Omnicorp, run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), has developed drone soldiers that can enforce law and order without any threat to human soldiers or police. But Sen. Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) has a bill in place that prohibits the use of robot law enforcement in the US. To get around that Sellars, with the help of legal counsel (Jennifer Ehle), marketing (Jay Baruchel), a right-wing TV personality (Samuel L. Jackson), and a tech genius (Gary Oldman), put a man in the machine.
There are a number of small moments in RoboCop that secured my loyalty. The first, the beginning, was the completely plausible right-wing personality of Samuel L. Jackson in the high-tech situation room with dramatic lighting and dizzying gesture-based technology. The second, the introduction of Oldman’s character where he puts the guitar in the new mechanical hands of a man who, with some trepidation, begins to play beautifully. The third, which plays out in a series of scenes, where Oldman’s loyalty to Alex Murphy is slowly worn away by sympathy, crisis, and selfishness. Like that guitar, RoboCop treats most every scene with care. Even the action scenes are put together with either a kickin’ soundtrack or some subtly interesting technical approach. While some characters like Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) get some short shrift with respect to development or arc, nobody looks like a cardboard cut-out.
This isn’t a satire like the original RoboCop, though it maintains its themes. What Verhoeven did with over-the-top characters and situations–one man is riddled with gunfire in a boardroom while everyone looks on with vague disgust–José Padilha (from a debut script by Joshua Zetumer) does by believable depiction. Something that interests me a great deal is how corporations and money-types can be rich and successful while producing things that are cynical or simply bad. How did Jar Jar Binks happen? How did the Harry Potter movies or The Hobbit movies happen? People begin with a pure thought and end up with something wildly impure. RoboCop deals with that phenomenon while planting the seed of how impurity can be overcome: our humanity.
If I had to list all the recent action movies that were worse than RoboCop, we’d be here too long. And I like action movies.
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