Maimed by a bomb, detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) becomes the future of law enforcement — a cyborg cop. But he soon finds it’s not easy being grey. And then black.
When the So Bad It’s Good Society comes to evaluate José Padilha’s RoboCop for membership, its star witness will be a scene found roughly halfway through. It involves the film’s hero, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), just after he’s been blown up and encased in his life-saving metal suit. Murphy asks his creator, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) how bad his situation really is. Norton, reluctantly, shows him, as robots remove first Alex’s legs, then his arms, then his torso, revealing him finally as nothing more than a wailing head above a pair of CG lungs and a disembodied hand, floating around randomly. Sadly, the scene doesn’t end with Norton telling Alex that he can still play the piano.
It’s awful, and symptomatic of the problems that dog Padilha’s reboot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic. No heart, no balls, no funny bone.
The original was a sharp, funny, brutally violent action thriller full of pointed Verhoevian satire, this time of the media and big business. Seen as a tacky Terminator rip-off initially, it was quickly re-evaluated by the So Good It’s Good Society.
Yet there’s a sense that Padilha, or perhaps his corporate overlords, don’t really get what made the original so special. So out goes the scalpel-sharp satire, in comes hammer-heavy swipes at US foreign policy, mainly delivered by a ranting Samuel L. Jackson as a TV personality, waving his hands aimlessly around a green-screen set like a cross between Jeremy Paxman and Wincey Willis. Out goes the gut-busting violence, replaced by undercooked, over-CGed action scenes. And, more importantly, out goes the original’s central drive, which saw a machine slowly remember what it was like to be a man, replaced by an overwrought and melodramatic storyline in which Kinnaman’s bland Murphy tries to reintegrate himself with his wife (Abbie Cornish, crying so hard that she’s 90 per cent salt by the film’s end), and wondering what it truly means to be human.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with sci-fi films asking Big Questions, but the delivery doesn’t have to be — should never be, in fact — this tedious.
Throughout, one character refers to the new RoboCop as ‘Tin Man’ and to the film’s credit, it desperately wants to have a heart. Oh, if it only had a brain.