ROBOCOP (José Padilha, 2014)
OmniCorp is making a fortune using robotic law enforcement overseas, and CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) can’t wait to deploy it on the streets of the United States. Sufficient Congressional and public resistance requires finding a solution to persuade the masses that his machines provide a safe method of policing. The lack of a human element in decision-making is the sticking point for many, so the way to alleviate public fears is to enhance a wounded officer with the latest technological advancements.
With so much riding on the experiment, the perfect candidate is needed to inhabit the suit. They find him in Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who is just a head, hands, and thorax after being targeted in a car bombing. His grieving wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) consents to the procedure as a way of keeping him alive but fails to consider that doing so turns him into corporate property. As Alex’s intellect and emotional capacity prove problematic in testing, leading OmniCorp scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is instructed to program the human element out of him.
The 1987 ROBOCOP satirized corporate greed and questioned putting trust in technology. Director José Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s ROBOCOP consigns the biting humor to segments with Samuel L. Jackson’s cable news blowhard stumping for the adoption of robotic security forces. Reflecting the times, the challenge in this version isn’t whether such science should be used for law and order but who is controlling it and to what end. For instance, in the near future drones are almost certain to become more widely employed, so the question becomes how they are incorporated without infringing on the rights and safety of citizens. Other thematically relevant information is lobbed into the new ROBOCOP, but overall the film plays as though it lacks a point of view. It seeks to get credit for providing food for thought without digesting.
The talented cast, which also includes Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earle Haley, add class to what has the potential to be savage material. Like the new, shiny ROBOCOP with the latest special effects and slick production values, the actors are simply adornments. Respected actors, snippets of sociopolitical commentary and flashy computer effects are collected badges to claim something vital is present. It looks good but lacks the personality or depth.
With more focus placed on the forces manipulating him behind the scenes and the family that misses what he was, it can seem like the RoboCop character is an afterthought in his own film. Part of the appeal of Peter Weller’s version was seeing a cyborg lawman push around the city’s scumbags in ways a mere man would be incapable of doing. Through no fault of Kinnaman’s, this RoboCop isn’t cleaning up the city so much as he’s trying to solve his own murder and get his emotions to override his programming. What Murphy looks like when the suit is removed is a great and disgusting reveal, yet there’s little identification with what remains of the man who’s an unwilling tool of the powerful.