The New Robocop

There is a scene in this new Robocop film, where they reveal to the battery operated officer how much of the real him is left after the violent attempt on his life and the subsequent ‘procedure’ to ‘save’ him. There isn’t much, just a head and a few other bits and in his review, Empire Magazine writer Chris Hewitt used this as a metaphor for what is wrong with the movie as a whole; “no heart, no balls, no funny bone”. It’s a great line, I wish I’d written it but is it fair?

Peter Bradshaw called the film “a dumbed down shoot ’em up”. Little White Lies Magazine said it lacked originality and that the titular hero was a “Teflon Power Ranger” (another great line but their reviews are often more concerned with their writing than reviewing) and The Telegraph labelled it “both slicker and blander” than the original.

Certainly remaking Paul Verhoeven’s highly regarded 1987 movie was a brave choice (after Footloose, nothing is sacred) so maybe the film is just getting the kicking it inevitably deserves,

or maybe not.

Total Film hailed it as “a smart, thrilling sci-fi, different enough to exist in its own terms without ignoring or disrespecting its roots” and SFX Magazine said it was “driven by its ideas, script and actors as much as by its effects, quality sci-fi that plays confidently as if it’s beginning a franchise”.

Even Mark Kermode in his own idiosyncratic way said “it is a lot less bad than it could have been and there are things in it that are actually perfectly alright” which for him, for this kind of film, is a good review.

Clearly reactions to the movie are polarised.

I liked it.

It isn’t going to be considered a classic and it’s kind of forgettable but if you just fancy something that will entertain you for a couple of hours then I say go for it. Certainly it didn’t annoy me at all and that isn’t something I can say of a lot of recent action films.

I think the film makers have got the balance between keeping the old stuff and giving us new stuff just right. This uses the same basic premise from the original film and a lot of the ideas are the same but it doesn’t really feel like a remake. We have seen a lot of reboots recently with X-Men, Spider Man, James Bond, Star Trek, Superman and Batman and although it isn’t playing in those big leagues it is that sort of film. I don’t remember anyone decrying the recasting of Captain Kirk (maybe that’s a poor example, sorry Bill) so there is no reason to worry about a new Robocop.

We still have the classic outfit (for some of the film), the music is there, it is set in Detroit and Omnicorp are the corporate bad guys. There are also other more subtle references to the original, like the inclusion of the line ‘I’ll buy that for a dollar’ but it certainly doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it all, done better, before.

First if all, is isn’t as violent as the 80s Robocop and that’s totally fine. The original was one of those watershed movies for me in that I’d not seen anything quite so graphic before. I was about fourteen when I saw it and the bit where they blow Murphy’s hand off was both thrilling and revolting to me. The moment where the guy gets soaked in toxic waste and comes apart all over that car was just awesome though, gross but awesome.

There are still plenty of directors doing that kind of thing if you still want to see it but it’s okay that superhero films are generally now pitched at a younger audience. If this film was overly violent we would just as quickly criticise it for that, saying it was trying to copy Kick Ass.

Hero Alex Murphy isn’t instantly lobotomised any more either. Whereas before his humanity was slowly fighting back against his programming, this time we mostly get to see a compos mentis man coming to terms with being a machine.

Again, this is reflective of the time in which it is being made. We don’t want passionless killing machines anymore, we want our assassins with depth and humanity. If you look at the personality driven action franchises, like Iron Man, against those that give us carnage over character, like The Expendables, it is clear which ones do better. (Avengers is the third highest grossing film of all time, Stallone’s team up is number 479.) The day of the mindless 80s action hero is gone and robots are cool but only when they are being driven by, or working with believable human characters.

Tied into this is the inclusion of Murphy’s wife and child who play a big part in the film rather than getting instantly written out the second the hero is mechanised, as in Verhoeven’s script. This gives the whole film a very different feel and Chris Hewitt in Empire was wrong, here the film has quite a lot of heart.

In fact the film brains and a conscience too in the form of Mr. Gary Oldman. Oldman may be doing this one to pay the bills but as a doctor who’s incredible work with automated prosthetics is used for less than selfless means, he is brilliant. It isn’t a subtle theme but as we see the man struggling with the increasingly immoral demands of his financiers the film says something about capitalism, pharmaceutical companies and private security firms.

Is this one for the kids?

It always bothered me that the original Robocop had a toy line. I know there was a milder TV show, which didn’t really take off here in the UK, but here was a children’s action figure of a character from an extremely violent, expletive filled, 18 certificate film. You can see the appeal to boys (sorry for the gender stereotyping) of a robot copper so let’s assume it wasn’t the deeply inappropriate marketing tie in it appeared to be. Battle Royale lunchbox and matching thermos anyone? How about the Human Centipede sandwich offer at Subway? Cannibal Holocaust Onion Rings? A Clockwork Chocolate Orange?

Anyway, now it seems that the concept and demographic match. The film is a 12A and is fine for most kids aged ten and up. It is low on bloody gore, the disembodied body parts bit mentioned earlier is icky but clinical so isn’t that bad. The movie doesn’t shy away from the shoot first, ask questions later policing of the first film. Here though we see the pain and grief connected to mortality so you could argue that the deaths are handled more appropriately than a lot of other films with the same classification.

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