Going to see the new ROBOCOP, there’s a lot stacked up against it. First, the draft of the screenplay that was released was pretty damn awful. Luckily, they did work on it. Second, nobody that was a fan of the original ROBOCOP really needed to revisit that property, because us original fans love every frame, line and part of Verhoeven’s masterful ROBOCOP. When I did a screening of ROBOCOP with Peter Weller last year, Peter further convinced me that he IS ROBOCOP. And this is not a point to be argued. Cuz he’s right. He is ROBOCOP.
But then… ROBOCOP is an owned property. Like the character in the film it is owned by a parent corporation. After the films, comics, cartoons… there’s no denying that ROBOCOP is an iconic beloved film character with the potential for reboots – like everything else that we’ve ever loved, but ROBOCOP, the original – has such a particularly unique flavor – that seeing it boiled down to the action beats with all wit and satire removed… that shit terrified me, but then, I’ve seen ROBOCOP 3, so really… how bad could it be?
Yoko was feeling under the weather today, so Father Geek and I took in tonight’s screening, arriving 2 hours early to see a long line of fans shivering in the freezing temperatures hoping to be entertained tonight.
If you love the original, you’ll still love it on the other side of this, but you might actually really like this version in ways that will surprise you.
The second you see Leo the Lion on screen and hear… what you’ll hear – there will be a couple things running through your head. “OMG THIS IS GOING TO BE WORSE THAN I THOUGHT…” or “WTF IS FUCKING GOING ON?” or just nervous laughter. As the film continues, the sounds are explained and we have Samuel L Jackson front and center – wielding his personal Situation Room style silly high-tech gobbily goop like Wolf Blitzer does, but with a Bill O’Reilly bullshit factor turned up past the recommended sane levels.
Just like the original ROBOCOP – we launch into a News Report that is overtly working to sway America’s opinion – like so many “News Shows” these days. That said, if Sam Jackson had his own political commentary show… I would watch EVERY EPISODE EVER! Mainly because as Samuel L Jackson proved to that sad sack of a KTLA Entertainment reporter… there’s only one Sam Jackson! We’re in a future, where America’s dependence upon Drones have grown. A news crew is on the ground in Tehran looking for insurgents… they’re there to help sway Americans that the robotic forces developed by OCP for the military are not only working, but could be used here at home to keep us safe.
Essentially, this is the scenario that Klaatu gave us in DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Gort was the first ROBOCOP! And when you watch Michael Rennie talking about how his people empowered the robots to act at the first sign of aggression – and there’s a sternness in Rennie’s voice… that as a kid… frightened me. As an adult film geek having had “GORT” conversations for a very long time… Watching paramilitary robotic machines shake a society down… well, as I watched this opening, you KNOW that the folks in Tehran are going to pirate this footage as ACTUAL PROOF OF THE GREAT SATAN’S DREAMS for their region. It’s brutal, it’s overkill – especially what happens to the kid with a knife. It’s shocking and powerful, and when we pull out of the footage back to Sam Jackson, he points out exactly what none of us were thinking. All that violence, but not a single American harmed. “It works!”
All this further is setting up the political struggle that OCP is facing in Congress and more importantly in the hearts and minds of the citizenry of the USA. Apparently, we don’t want robotic unfeeling weaponized guards everywhere, but OCP has a plan to change that.
I dug the hell out of this opening. One, the satiric wit was biting – and absolutely believable in my mind. The U.S. military is pushing automation into the ground game, working on taking the soldiers out of harms way. Tech is moving forward in a fashion that we can hardly believe – and this film is playing with matters that frankly… are knocking on our door.
When the original ROBOCOP hit theaters – most everyone I knew thought it was a fucking joke of a movie, before they saw it. When I met some of the crew at a convention in Houston while they were shooting the original, they thought the movie was going to be a steaming pile of shit. But ROBOCOP defied all that. Weller put a soul in that costume and his charisma shone through.
This new ROBOCOP is PG-13, but PG-13 like a Daniel Craig BOND film is PG-13. It’s violent, horrific and downright inhuman at times, but it doesn’t cross into the R-zone. There’s imagery that I found incredibly involving and horrifying. When Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennett Norton shows Alex Murphy what is left of him… it’s terribly inhuman. But look at that scene and realize, this is a potential future that we’re looking at. This, to a degree is exactly what Google’s Ray Kurzweil is working on. The film is also showing the amazing potential of having a human mind having computer like access to information that would be impossible to process in the manner a mind could. Thus we’re actually in the territory of HER and later this year, Wally Pfister’s TRANSCENDENCE – but they’re tacking Human/AI hybrid intellect here – but with the twist of a Corporate overlord watching not only your every living moment, but your thoughts and thought processes too. It was hinted at in the original, but since we’re significantly more advanced along these lines than we were at the time of the original… it is fleshed out.
In fact, most everything is fleshed out in ways that didn’t particularly interest the original filmmakers. For example – the original ROBOCOP had Murphy’s wife and kid just fucking disappear. That always bothered me. But given OCP wanted Murphy on the down low… it worked. Here, that Robocop is Alex Murphy – is key to the PR campaign of OCP in trying to change the minds of the American public.
Also, in the original, they junk all his memories, emotions, etc before he’s launched. Here, it’s a process of dialing them down to a functional level. That process is kind of fascinating to watch. Mainly because those scenes deal with Gary Oldman – and Gary Oldman completely owns me. He’s so good here.
Now, Michael Keaton controls OCP – and he’s also really great here. But the film isn’t going in the same places as the original. You won’t see execs doing coke from the cleavage or working ladies. You won’t see any of the kind of gore that we love in the original ROBOCOP. No “BITCHES LEAVE” – and while there’s a shout out to “I’ll buy that for a dollar,” it is a throwaway line.
While everyone is worshipping Paul Verhoeven, as they should… The Director of this ROBOCOP isn’t some brain dead hack that the studio handpicked to make a cookie-cutter film with no neural munchies… Nope, they hired Jose Padilha. Who? Well – seek out ELITE SQUAD and ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN. These are a pair of Brazilian movies that Padilha helmed that are fucking brilliant. Really truly great movies! He’s also a Documentarian – and what he did with this reimagining of the ROBOCOP franchise – is actually very worthy of our time.
So – Joel Kinnaman… our new Alex Murphy / Robocop. He, by no means, overshadows Peter Weller’s work. If anything, Weller’s performance in the original is poetically beautiful. Joel Kinnaman struck me as a young Keith Carradine, not really sure why I’m saying that, but the connection for me seemed very on the mark as I watched the movie. The film is built to build Kinnaman up in the role. Murphy’s kid and wife play a part in the story. His doctor, Gary Oldman plays a very strong role with Murphy. His partner Lewis’ role is less of a partner in this film. Not because they flipped the sex of the character from female to male, but because they used that partner time to develop Alex’s Robocop more. Michael K Williams never really saves Robo, the way Lewis does in the original. No, recalibrating of Robo’s targeting systems… None of that. Here it’s more about the dirty cops on the police force that work with criminal and corporate elements – all of which are themes that Padilha did so wonderfully in his ELITE SQUAD films.
The action… solid. Robocop zipping around on that motorcycle while surfing the brain-net he has going – is actually a tad breathtaking and disturbing. The ED-209’s don’t have nearly the personality of the Tippett originals, but they do have menace down – and they’re definitely not silly or Keystone Cops-ish anymore.
Sam Jackson’s PAT NOVAK comes up repeatedly throughout the film – and always knocks it out of the park.
Favorite things? The use of Basil Poledouris’ iconic ROBOCOP THEME… is very well done. I love Jackie Earle Haley’s Rick Mattox. He works in the military division of OCP – and is completely sold on the Robot military – and doesn’t see what a Robocop could really do. His antagonizing of Robo… well, it’s delicious, especially the music choice for Robocop’s first showdown opposite a full robot in simulations!
Jay Baruchel plays a PR exec for OCP – and is as usual fun. Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the Police Chief in Murphy’s department is, as she always is, a delight on screen. You must check her out in SECRETS & LIES – I’ve loved her ever since.
Nothing was ever going to replace ROBOCOP – in the same way that nothing really beats the Sean Connery Bond films… unless we’re talking about ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and SKYFALL – but even then, those don’t dampen my love for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THUNDERBALL, GOLDFINGER or YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Nor do any of those movies take away my enjoyment for the Roger Moore outings.
I mean, let’s face it – ROBOCOP after ROBOCOP 2, went downhill in the way that Buzz Gunderson’s hot rod! Ultimately though, I feel this is a successful reboot. And I mainly want a sequel so I can see that final design in action.
This film is a whole lot better than I was expecting or heard. I still don’t like the “Tactical Armor Robocop” but there’s a reason that version exists and I like the reason it exists.
There’s a lot of fun discoveries to make in this film – and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as me. Just realize, nobody is judging you if you do like it or hate it. I can totally understand someone that loves ROBOCOP for its excesses being a tad underwhelmed by the PG-13 of this, but they did a lot of great character beats and went in directions the first film didn’t know to go in, while essentially on the broad strokes… tell essentially the same story with heart, humor and wit… and a whole lot of action. Wait for the long list of stuntmen in this film!
Most of all – I can’t wait to see Jose Padilha tell more stories, this is a very talented filmmaker.