Directed by Jose Padhila
Studio Canal, digital download out now; Blu-ray/DVD, June 9, 2014
Detroit cop Alex Murphy is seriously injured and becomes the guinea pig in an attempt to create the future of policing…
It’s perhaps not too surprising that the Writers Guild of America gave a writing credit to Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner for the script for this reboot of the Robo-franchise – the story follows many of the same beats as their original script, even if the emphasis is far removed from Paul Verhoeven’s eventual movie. In some ways, this could have been done as a different film altogether, but then of course people would have complained that it ripped Robocop off. Whether we needed another take on Robocop is a debate for another time: there have been plenty of continuations of the saga, of varying quality (I personally still find much to enjoy in the miniseries Prime Directives).
The twenty-first century Robocop is much more about the creator of the suit and his relationship with the man inside it, as well as with his employers, than the first film. Gary Oldman’s Dr Dennett Norton is the key figure, and the elasticity of his principles is central to the story. Oldman ends up being what holds this version of the story together.
That’s not to put down Joel Kinnaman as Murphy/Robocop: he gets some effective moments as the cop (particularly when he discovers just how little of him really remains physically) and you can believe that his feelings are what override the programming so that the focus switches from the “Robo” to the “cop”. His relationships with his wife and son remain important to the plot, and there’s a certain satisfaction in watching the way things develop between him and Jackie Earle Haley as Mattox, his “teacher” who finds it hard to hide his contempt. Michael Keaton is sometimes scarily effective as the OCP boss.
Blu-ray/DVD viewing allows you to pick up some of the hidden satire in the piece – look at the running news headlines for example – but Jose Padhila’s view of the near future isn’t as on the nose as Verhoeven’s Robocop. As with the first of the Planet of the Apes reboots, we get some of the classic lines from the original repurposed for this one and there’s a blast of Basil Poledouris’ theme occasionally, but ironically, the film might have been better without these reminders. Go into it with an open mind, and chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Verdict: A different take on the idea provides a sometimes surprisingly enjoyable movie. 7/10