RoboCop review

Review Ryan Lambie 5 Feb 2014 - 18:00

Elite Squad director Jose Padilha brings us a new take on the 1987 classic, RoboCop. Here's Ryan's review...

In terms of both science fiction movies and 80s cinema in general, RoboCop was a true one-off. Made by a group of actors and filmmakers at the top of their creative powers - not least director Paul Verhoeven, firing on all cylinders in his second English-language movie (his first being Flesh & Blood) - RoboCop was so much more than an action film.

It was a sci-fi western about a cop out for revenge. It was a satire of 80s politics and corporate ruthlessness. It was a meditation on the nature of existence, like a retelling of Frankenstein. It was a black comedy that took precise shots at contemporary American media.

The makers of RoboCop’s sequels singularly failed to capture much of the tone and power of the 1987 original, so it’s unsurprising that, despite the exceptional talent of Brazilian director José Padilha, the remake doesn’t quite manage it, either. But RoboCop 2014 comes closer than you might think, and unlike other recent remakes and reboots, it doesn't feel like a sanitised, defanged version of the original - or, even worse, a comic book movie designed to sell toys.

RoboCop’s opening, backed by a welcome revival of Basil Poledouris' strident theme, is a strong one. It’s about 15 years hence, and America’s still embroiled in wars in the Middle-East. But by now, flesh-and-blood forces have been replaced by heavily armed robots, allowing for the pacification of foreign territories without the threat to ordinary soldiers. The Republican media, as represented by Samuel L Jackson’s opinion-editorial-spouting TV presenter Pat Novak, counts this as a victory, and argues that a law forbidding the use of mechanical enforcers on American soil should be repealed.

The creators of those robots, OmniCorp, is irked by the US government’s refusal to replace human cops with security droids, and CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) hatches a public-relations plan to win over both suspicious politicians and their voters: fuse the body of a human with a robot, thus creating a deadly product that will do its superiors’ bidding while retaining the appearance of an ordinary beat cop.

After a brief search, Sellars and cybernetic scientist Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) settle on Alex Murphy as their candidate. A Detroit cop seriously injured by a car bomb, Murphy's life is signed over by his grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) at the behest of OmniCorp's hawk-eyed lawyers. Alex wakes to find his body transplanted into an armoured machine, and as he’s pressed into back into service as a prototype lawman, he becomes the unwitting hub of a corporate and political PR campaign.

There are plenty of new ideas to be found in the first hour of RoboCop, some of them genuinely thought-provoking. The opening sequence, partly set in an anonymous Middle-Eastern city, is effectively staged, and the sight of the remake’s new, towering ED-209s barking “Peace be upon you” to terrified civilians quaking on the pavements is a memorable one.

Joel Kinnaman’s Alex Murphy, here a tough undercover cop partnered with Michael K Williams' Jack Lewis, is a solid lead, and despite a somewhat brusque introduction, really comes into his own when he wakes to find himself inside the metal prison that is his RoboCop outfit. That he’s effectively standing up when we first see him (rather than seated in a throne, as he was in the 1987 version) immediately recalls Hayden Christiensen’s transformation into Darth Vader in Revenge Of The Sith, but no matter: the performance itself quickly dismisses those parallels, as he cycles through anger, grief and begrudging acceptance as Oldman’s scientist gently calms him down.

In these emotional moments and the scenes of loud action that interrupt them, Padilha displays much of the remarkable talent he brought to his Elite Squad films - and explores similar themes in RoboCop - but he’s let down in part by a script that never quite clicks into gear. Where Verhoeven's film strode purposefully from Murphy's brutal murder to his resurrection and subsequent vengeance, the new iteration - written by Joshua Zetumer - loses its way somewhere in the middle, fumbling with an unremarkable plot involving a gunrunner and several corrupt cops.

The story also suffers greatly from the lack of a villain as unhinged or as charismatic as Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker from 1987; Jackie Earle Haley snaps at the hero’s heels as a bullying military type who dislikes the idea of people inside robot suits, while an oddly-cast Keaton merely smirks from behind a desk as the corporate puppet master, but they're a wan substitute for the brutal thugs of the 80s version. The new, beefed-up and more numerous ED-209 security droids are introduced as the film's one truly credible threat, but they're seldom seen until the final third, which feels too rushed to truly satisfy.

Yet despite all these problems, something of the first RoboCop's brilliance shines through. Some quite striking - even disturbing - visuals threaten to rival some of those in the first, and several of the new themes presented here really hit home. Padilha's RoboCop isn't the future of law enforcement so much as a gimmick - a lure to fool the government into boosting OmniCorp's profit margins. The original themes of corporate greed become something else here: the new film's more about how big business and media can manipulate popular opinion, and how technology can trap us while providing the illusion of freedom.

Before its release, there was much nervous speculation over the design of the new RoboCop suit, and whether the remake could possibly match the sheer savagery (both in terms of cutting humour and violence) of the original. As it turns out, the suit actually looks perfectly serviceable in the context of the story, and Padilha gives the violence a harsh, unvarnished kick.

Really, though, the brilliance of the 1987 RoboCop didn't lie so much in the design of its suit or its action - though these were undeniable factors in its success - but in the plight of the character at its centre. Alex Murphy was always a tragic hero, and he remains so here. He's a lost soul kept unwillingly on life support rather than a messiah with a gun; a slave to his own software. And just as the terrible fate that befell Peter Weller's Murphy made us empathise with him, so we want to see Kinnaman's Murphy become something more than a walking, shooting iPad.

While the remake is fated to live in the shadow of the original, RoboCop at least avoids the fate of becoming the studio-approved, toothless merchandising machine some might have feared. It's a difficult film to score in terms of star ratings, but on balance, we can't help but conclude that RoboCop's achievements far outweigh its problems. Look beyond RoboCop's manifold flaws, and you'll find more than a shred of the 1987 film's dark spirit still thriving inside it.

RoboCop is out on the 7th February in the UK.

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Disqus - noscript

I can't wait for this!

I'm still wary, not just because I've been seeing a mix of good and mixed reviews, but because I love the original so much. A comment I've seen a lot across sites is that it has the "charm" (or spirit, as Den of Geek put it), but lacks some of the stuff that made the original special.

I'm gonna watch it, I'm looking forward to it. But my expectations still aren't particularly high. At least it doesn't sound dreadful, which I'm extremely glad about.

Good to hear they’ve been successful in doing something different. Like many, I love the original but felt that simply remaking it would be a waste. Have been astounded at the level of hatred/bile from the internet for this remake since it was rated less than a hard 18. My fave comment, free of irony, was “Making this a PG-13 is another example of movie studios ruining our childhoods”

Hmm. Reviews seem very mixed - mostly either 2 or 4 stars. Won't be going out of my way to see it, but if I find myself on an impromptu cinema visit I might check it out.

I saw the trailer on Friday and it did look quite cool. Its a shame they didn't find an actress to play the Lewis role. Nancy Allen was superb in the original.

Ultimately, the main thing I'm getting from this review is that it's not as good as the original.

That's exactly what I feel a remake should do, take the idea of the original and do something different with it. That's why I feel a tiny amount of positivity towards the Rob Zombie Halloween remake (even though overall I really don't like the film).

Rob Zombie put his own stamp on that film and there's only a tiny amount of similarities to the original. I may think it's rubbish but at least it wasn't just a rehash of the first film.

Did anyone honestly expect it to be? The original's a genre classic.

If I watch this and it turns out to be total rubbish, I will consider you to have broken both the First AND the Second Prime Directives!

It's not. It's a completely different film. Suspect it may prove divisive, but two of us went to see it, and both of us have been chatting about it ever since. - Simon

Wow, four stars. Dredd only got three. Is this seriously a better film than Dress?

A different film, reviewed by a different person, combined with the problem with star ratings! That sounds like a cop out, granted, but both films will stick in the head after the credits roll, for good reasons (as well as one or two not so good).

Loved the original. Will watch the new version with an open mind.

If ever there was a film destined to suck...then you come along with 4*

Didn't see that coming.

FYI Robocop was Verhoeven's *first* American film.

I was referring to Flesh & Blood, which has a partly American cast and was his first in the English language. Was also distributed by Orion, but was shot in Europe. I've amended the sentence to make my thinking clearer.

"The Republican Media"... so, one network out of 5? Truly overpowering.

Republican media my ass. The liberal bias in movie critics is astounding. Both sides are owned by the same financial interests you moron.
Obama is the biggest warmonger by far now, drones, invasion of foreign territories has expanded under his reign.

This review feels bought and paid for.

This of course isn't the main selling point, but they kept the original theme? YES!!!!!

Have you seen the movie? He was describing the movie, not what's in reality. Movie =\= Reality.

It should be written "Movie != Reality", you Republican shill! :P

DoG in great review shocker!

What I find amusing is the amount of people on here having a pop at DoG giving this movie a good review. Some people seem to want to dislike this movie so much that they are having a go at the site for giving an honest opinion.

Cant wait to see this movie with a couple of other lads who grew up watching the original over and over.

I was already stoked but after reading this and a few other (largely positive) reviews, I've got to say I'm SUPER STOKED to be hitting the IMAX in London on Friday. So much yes.

Hell yes. This has an amazing cast and looks great.

The main thing the risible sequals lost for me was the emotional story that underpinned the original. If the remake can recapture the empathy you feel for Murphy as he looks on as his family get on with their lives that will be a bonus.

Well it wasn't. - Simon

I wouldn't class the original as a 5* film though. It's definitely a solid 4*, which makes the reboot equal to it, according to this review.

In my eyes 4* and above deserve a permanent place in my DVD/Bluray collection. DoG - would you be happy to have this film in your collection? If the answer is yes, then it warrants 4*, if it doesn't then surely it's only a 3* film.

The first mostly positive review I've read... fair enough. I'm still in two minds about seeing it... but I've got a feeling I'm not going to be happy.

Seems like this will divide people then. DoG and SFX are fans, Empire aren't and they've just absolutely trashed it on Film 2014. Interesting...

I love robocop, one of my most watched films as a teen along with predator. Thought this was a far more balanced review than empire or digitalspy provided. on the strength of that i'll watch it on its own merits. it cant be any worse than the total recall remake?!

though the trailer was absolute crap tbh

This! It's fair for the 'RoboCop' remake director and writer(s) to take shots at a corrupt and biased media... but that corruption and bias is not coming from the Right side of the political/ideological spectrum, it's from a Left-leaning media that has done everything it can to shill for Democrats and Obama - not caring whose life and reputation they destroy in the process of electing their ideological fellow travellers - and anyone who has actually SEEN Bill O'Reilly would know he is very, very far from the buffoonish caricature presented in this film... no, that caricature belongs on MSNBC's roster, they're the ones who have recently fired some presenters/employees and apologized for their caustic and offensive racist/misogynist comments not Fox News!

I don't care how good (or otherwise) this remake is, it's still an utterly pointless remake made by a corporate industry that have seemingly given up on original ideas... screw Padhilla and his liberal agit-prop, hope this movie flops, the fact the marketing for it has been relatively low-key for a hundred-million-dollar+ movie shows that the studio think it will too!

This is a prime example of why DOG should move to a 10 star rating system. Do you not think 5 stars is too limiting?

I think it divided the author, a 3 star sounding review given 4 stars!

The review did criticise the new version quite a bit.

What I took from it was 'half decent plot, bit of a crap villain, everything's rushed in the end, but the source material was so good it held the rest of it together.'

It didn't make me want to see the new version, but the old one.

Let's leave politics out of this please.

Dredd was akin to watching someone play a video game for 75 minutes framed by exposition.

I think that the problem is that the review sounds like a 3 start review if you read it, and what pushed it into 4 starts isn't clearly expressed.
It seems to me that a large part in that is that the movie had ideas that stayed with you and you discuassed later - so I kind of see it as a 3 star review with an extra star for post movie experience reasons.
Sure the original movie had strong themes in it, but for many peple it wasn't about that it was simply a cool, kick ass, movie - it was a great movie at a visceral level even if you didn't discuss the themes (or even notice them).
So - question. If we say this review is a 4 star cereberal reaction review, what star rating would you give it in a visceral reaction review? Frankly that matters to me more in a Robocop movie.

Seriously someone wrote that, sometimes my faith in humanity gets pretty low when I see comments like that

When will you be posting the Robo-Veg review

So... A movie.

Agreed! People now are so scare of looking stupid and so desperate to gain pseudo-artistic credibility they'll latch onto any excuse to bash a blockbuster flick.
Film snobbery is at an all time high, as is cowardly group-think. People just don't know how to enjoy a popcorn vfx actioner for what it is.
It's entertainment people!

Will probably go and see this. But go in with an open mind and on a Tuesday Saver at my local cinema!

Nail on head.

A '4 star' review makes a film appear to be 'excellent' when this review is saying it is anything but. In fact, it says that its "achievements far outweigh its problems". Surely a film with that many problems does not warrant a 4 star review?

Judging on the article here, I would say this would have got a 6/10 rating. Which would show it's not as bad as we thought it was going to be, but still not up there as a great film.

I can appreciate that this film may have turned out better than we all thought it would. I can also appreciate the new angle the director is coming from. Political, what it is to be human etc.

But when all is said and done, I just have no desire to see it. It is still a remake of a classic film I grew up with, which still holds up to this day.

What I do not get about the new film, is that the world it is set in (from what I hear), is not actually that violent. It's just that drones now are far more used.

So that begs the question, if the world is not that violent, what is the need to create a 'Robocop'?

The reason Robocop was first made in the original is because the world was literally falling apart, the violence was over the top, and it called for something special to deal with it. This film does not even have a real villain, so what is the point in creating a Robocop if the world does not need one?

Just an after thought.

To be fair there is going to be a whole swathe of people that will not be able to disassociate this one with the original and comparing for better or for worse (myself being one of them).
However I work with a young guy who hasn't seen the original (or any films from that era; Predator, Die Hard, Terminator, etc) and will be really interested to hear his review. I shall report back with his verdict.

In truth, star ratings will always be a problem. The ideal is that there are no star ratings at all, as it puts the focus on the review rather than the score. To be clear on this one - and we debated the score for a long time - had it left our head on the day we saw the film, it may have ended up with a three. But its stuck with us more than we expected, which helped creep it over the line.

It's still only a number, though. The film's worth a watch either way! - Simon

In what way exactly?

There's many films you could accuse of that, but if you actually LOOK at Dredd there's not a great deal of 'action' in it - a short car chase at the beginning and a couple of brief shoot-outs and fist-fights. It's much more about the buildup of tension, and NOWHERE near as 'videogamey' as The Hobbit or Transformer movies with their interminable cgi set-pieces.

Fed up of people ragging on Dredd for being a simple script. Just because a film is simple and light on plot doesn't mean its dumb, just as making a film needlessly complex and convoluted doesn't make it intelligent.

Haha, I get it, COP out!

So now no-one is allowed to call something shite, even if its their genuine opinion, for fear of being branded a snob. Lets all just wallow in the mediocrity of it all then, in equal but opposite "cowardly group-think" as you put it, and pretend we like stuff that we dont so that people with lower standards dont have to get all defensive. Balls to what you or anyone else thinks, Im not going to polish turds on anyones behalf.

Well if they haven't seen the film, then yes, they can't bash it.

Simon ................... so shall we just say a 3.25 to 3.50 stars ........... just between friends ;)

Well Im glad its better than we all feared - it was a film with such a strong message that could have so easily been railroaded over

Just wondered what the rating would be if you had never seen the original at all. Would it change to be a more solid 4*?

I'll check it out. 4 stars? I'll watch it.

woah! Didn't imagine for a second that this would get a four star rating from anywhere, let-alone from DOG...

Those sound like major flaws that don't justify a "four star" review.

No. Treated it as a different film entirely. If you go in expecting anything close to the original, you're going to come out disappointed. You may come out disappointed anyway to be fair, but we saw it as a film that tapped into some of the original's themes, but had different ideas as to what it wanted to do with them. - Simon

There goes the credibility of this review. Set in the Middle East? Really? Robocop was interesting just to see the sorid corruption on our home turf and the rise of the corporation...this is a lot of blah from start to finish.

Not seen DRESS. Is it any good? I heard its greass ;)

My only question in considering putting down what is becoming an ever-increasing amount of cash at my local cinema to watch any remake is whether there is anything in the new film which, taken by itself, would be seen as a highlight (or even good or possibly interesting) that wasn't present in the original movie. From the above review, and from the publicity and other reviews I've seen to date, it doesn't sound like there is. While remakes to have a role to play, namely where the original was filmed at a time when the fx weren't up to the task, the film itself didn't do justice to the interesting concept or a reinterpretation can add a different nuance not seen in the original, just remaking or rebooting a film because it is "old" and so the 21 and under crowd may not have seen it seems utterly pointless and certainly not worth my cash, particularly at this time of year when the current award season contenders are all still in the cinema.
For me a key (but not the only) indicator will always be the inclusion of some token throwbacks to the original, not just as a sly aside in the new film but front and centre in all advance publicity, as a means of luring in the original fans (and thereby showing a true lack in faith in the remake being able to stand on its own based on the desire of the so-called target audience to see it). Recent examples include the razor glove in the bathtub scene in the remade Nightmare on Elm Street, the three breasted woman in the remade Total Recall and, now, the "dead or alive, you're coming with me" in Robocop. None of these are actually essential parts of the underlying concept and yet all of them were not only included in the remake (which would be fine, and indeed potentially amusing, as a cheeky aside) but also highlighted in all trailers etc in the hope that some fans of the original would clap their hands in glee at recognising something and go see the new film. If the filmakers are so lacking in confidence in their new film standing on its own two feet, why should I bother with it when I can just watch the original again on DVD at home. Final thought for those of you doubting this test - anyone want to bet that when they remake Predator (and you know they will), not only will someone say "get to the chopper" but that line will appear in the every trailer, no matter how long that trailer may be.

For me, the original robocop was ahead of its time, not just for its special effects or its grim take on the western worlds future, but for the predictions it makes which are about society, consumerism, capitalist mega corps, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of civil freedoms.

Blade runner, starship troopers, 2001, silent running and robocop all pose the most difficult questions about ideology, politics, polution, capitalism, hypocracy and morality.

This is what good cinema should do for an adult audience; but deliver it wrapped up in an exciting and entertaining package...sadly hollywood seem to want to drop the message and maximize the entertainment 3D included.

I loved the new dredd film, i thought the 3 lead actors were excellent but they had to go back to basics and set the tone for what a judge of mega city would be like.

Some might have hated the simplicity of the story, set and script, but after stalone's version which included facets from the cursed earth, judgement day, rico, the judge child and some abc warrior nonsense thrown in it was refreshing to have a clean and straightforward story to follow.

Hopefully some time in the future we can see karl urban reprise the role and maybe get an epic retelling of judge death.

I didn't know idiots visited this site... I thought it was a special place...
Ugh. Shame.

Maybe the reason for creating a Robocop is explained in the new film. The above review hints at robot soldiers replacing human ones and one of the trailers hints at the need to put a human face on a robot to negate the distrust felt towards them. Don't get me wrong I saw the original at release and have had many subsequent viewings ever since. I'm seeing this version next week and if I like it great, if I don't then at least I've seen it and I can make an informed decision. Just to clarify I'm an unlimited card holder so my feelings towards seeing a movie that might not be great aren't really an issue, it would be good if this film got some positive word of mouth behind it and I'd like to read a review from someone who hasn't seen the 1987 version to see what there thoughts are.

Can we have an open forum next week so we can all come back and discuss out thoughts?

total film gave it 4 stars too, Empire only 2. Sounds divisive if you ask me.

DoG liked it, Film 2014 hated it. I'll wait and see what I think!

I am looking forward to it, in a separate like-the-Battlestar-Galactica-reboot kind of way.

I've seen quite a few reviews saying it's actually better than we expected and giving it 4 stars. Film 2014 absolutely HATED it. I'll go see it anyway.

But, pray, do tell... is it true what the interwebs say about it having little or no blood? Violence without blood? In this day and age, when TV's Hannibal shows up some really screwed up stuff...

so the movie's abt astroturfing?

Just seen it. Watchable at best. Impossible to not compare it to the original, especially as it uses the old theme tune without ever offering a new one. That's a running theme as it goes, nothing new is capitalised upon. It's like everything that made the original cool has been forcibly removed and replaced with two dimensional characters and no apparent menace in sight. Dear cinema, stop wasting Michael Keaton and Jackie Earl Haley in mediocre films. Even Gaz Oldman looked stumped. He could've had a really nice arc moving from curiosity and greed to compassion and following an ethical code. But he doesn't. He just does whatever the screenplay needs him to do, like a leaf blowing in the wind. I don't disagree with the review entirely, but it's a two star film at best. Unless you're high or drunk, you crazy sonovabitch.

If you've got kids then take them to see it, they might get a kick out of it and ignore the many, many flaws. Then show them the original for goodness sake. They deserve better.

I thought it was a brilliant remake. It was great

I watched the original in a movie theater as a kid. this movie was a pile of ass by comparison.

You sir are a 'tard. It's not that they couldn't be arsed with a new theme tune, it's that tune is as much a part or robocop as the storyline. It's dramatic and emotional, using anything else would have been wrong. Honestly, you should really be banned from making any form of public address for fear of spreading your stupidity.

Mat, take that young guy under your wing, and immediately introduce him to those classic movies. It is your civic duty :-)

Will do sir. I have already started with Pulp Fiction.

Where do I say they couldn't be arsed to do a new one? Call me a 'tard when you've missed the point spectacularly just seems a bit berk-ish.
The positive reviews of this film ask us to not compare it to the original, which is nigh on impossible, especially as it reuses (among other things) the same theme. Did you remember any other piece of music from this film? Well then. Was there anything new in this film that was anywhere close to being as iconic and memorable as a film nearly three decades on? Nope. Now get back to what you were doing before you started wasting my time (those windows aren't going to lick themselves y'know, hop to it).

The star ratings themselves are far too limiting, in my opinion. I tend to ignore them and just focus on the reviewers personal impression of what they saw.

Only if there's a separate forum for the fashionistas to discuss 'in' thoughts ;)

It was said purely in jest, in reference to the original commenter's remark.

Ugh, you just reminded me that "get to the chopper" was in AvP: Requiem. Gosh, that was an awful film.

But you're right. Random callbacks to the original that aren't actually integral to the story simply take those in the audience who recognise them out of the film...

Got to agree with most of the comments. It's a 3 star at best, a watchable movie but nothing special.

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