ROBOCOP is a stylish shoot’em-up that will no doubt please its target audience. Director Jose Padilla presents us with a far superior rendition of the 1987 version. That being said, the tone of the film is somewhat depressing. Isn’t anybody “good” anymore? Set in 2028 Detroit, corruption is rampant, and it’s difficult to tell who the good guys are. The one that assuredly is good, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), becomes the blended man/robot, RoboCop.
Alex and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) have discovered some dirty cops on the take from the biggest drug and weapons dealer in Detroit, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). When Lewis is critically wounded, Alex goes to the Chief of Police, Karen Dean (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), with his suspicions. But before he can act, he himself is mortally injured by the bad guys and is left so impaired that his wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), must make a very difficult decision.
In this near-future world, the use of drones and robots to “enforce” peace has become the government policy of choice. Flamboyant – and inflammatory - television journalist Pat Novak, beautifully played by Samuel L. Jackson, fully supports the idea of bringing robotic “protection” to the U.S. Ready and willing to provide such products is Omnicorp, headed by ruthless CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton). When folks complain that robots have no conscience, he gives his top researcher, Dr. Denton Norton (Gary Oldman), the task of finding just the right “damaged” human to be turned into a human/robot hybrid. They convince Clara Murphy to allow her husband to be the prototype.
Not everyone is on board with the idea – specifically Sellars’s robot perfector Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley). His opposition to the “Robocop” concept becomes an intriguing sub-plot for a story that pays much more attention to Murphy’s struggle to come to terms with what he has become.
Michael Keaton does a fine job playing the seemingly benign, but monstrous, Raymond Sellars. Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel are also fine as Sellars’s corporate flunkies who are much more concerned about the bottom line than the welfare of anybody involved in this project. The film, however, belongs to Joel Kinnaman whose ability to project Murphy’s extreme inner conflict is masterful. Another huge plus is Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dr. Norton, a role that pays homage to his character Jim Gordon from Christopher Nolan’s ‘DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY” rather nicely.
The strengths of the film are its excellent cast and its believable “future” world. 2028 looks pretty much like the present except for slightly enhanced equipment. The major advances are in computer technology and robotics, which echo present-day efforts. On the flip-side, just because we don’t see much blood in the plentiful deaths, the violence seems extreme for a PG-13 rating. Another unsettling sub-plot is the ease with which the general population is manipulated by flashy media personalities.
The preview screening was in IMAX, but I think I would prefer to see this film on a regular screen. It was just a bit too loud and bombastic, which detracted from the storyline. All in all, the film is a little bit TRANSFORMERS, a little bit STAR WARS, and a whole lot traditional good cop/bad cop. If you like these types of action/scifi films, you’ll like this one. - J.A. Hyde