film review – RoboCop

Let’s get this out of the way first: I haven’t seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop, so I won’t and can’t compare this new version to the beloved original. Still here? Alright, on to José Padilha’s take on the story about honest cop Alex Murphy, who after an attempt on his life is put in a machine by OmniCorp, a company not interested in philantropy but only in furthering its own agenda: getting the US government to put their defense robots on the street, effectively netting them lots of money. It’s simple and unoriginal as far as set-ups go, but RoboCop takes this premise to focus on something much more interesting: a man struggling to come to terms with the fact he’s not really a man anymore.

While the raw direction is one of RoboCop‘s strenghts, the biggest thing it has going for it is its cast. Joel Kinnaman portrays Alex Murphy and he makes the cop likeable from the get go, which is very important because he’s not given much to work with before Murphy’s blown up and put in a robotic body. It’s because of Kinnaman we care about Murphy’s fate, which is something an audience needs to invest in for the movie to work. But it’s after the attempted hit that Kinnaman proves how much of an asset he really is: he only has his face to act with and it’s incredible how much he conveys with very little. There are scenes too in which he has to do the exact opposite: to show no emotion at all. It’s the juxtaposition between these two states that makes you buy into the RoboCop character and the questions the film raises about Murphy’s free will and the meaning of humanity. Kinnaman has a fantastic supporting cast to bounce off of too: Michael Keaton as the slimy OmniCorp director, Jennifer Ehle as his right-hand woman, Gary Oldman as the lead scientist, Michael K. Williams as Murphy’s partner and Jackie Earle Haley as the head of OmniCorp security, to name a few.

While Alex’s fate is the core of the film, RoboCop‘s also addresses the possible implementation of drones in warfare and homeland security, and the movie is quite satirical in its approach to certain television channels more dedicated to influencing viewers than to providing actual insight and objective news coverage. RoboCop has a lot of ideas and it’s quite adamant on taking its time discussing the issues it brings up, in addition to setting up characters and their connections to each other. The script only drops the ball in regard to Murphy’s whife, played by Abbie Cornish, who’s poorly drawn, only there to drive the point home Murphy’s a victim and OmniCorp is bad news. But the bigger problem is RoboCop‘s pacing: it takes so much time setting everything up that it seems like it doesn’t have enough time left to properly create a fitting conclusion. The last third of the film feels extremely rushed and overly simplified compared to the rest of the movie. This leads to very anticlimactic final moments and a want for more of a satisfying ending than the film offers.

Another shortcoming is the action: the first action scene involving RoboCop is the best action sequence in the movie and the others never reach its heights again. They don’t even come close. It’s a let-down because the scene in which RoboCop takes on a lot of robots in an abandoned warehouse is beautifully shot, choreographed and executed. It oozes cool, is genuinely exciting and very slick. Compared to this standout moment the rest of the action scenes feel messy, choppy and sub-par. By the way, don’t expect too many setpieces: for a film marketed as an action movie, there’s surprisingly little of it. RoboCop‘s more about its characters, ideas and dialogue than its about shoot-outs and fisticuffs.

RoboCop is an ambitious film, but it falls short because of a weak last third and a lack of jaw-dropping action moments. It’s the enticing RoboCop story and character that still makes it worth a watch, mainly because the cast is so damn good. 7/10

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