I should have learned long ago that no intellectual property is safe from the scourge of unnecessary remakes; not even seemingly safe 1980’s cult sci-fi classics. Alas, the day has arrived for Robocop to be tied down to the sacrificial alter so that another generation of twitchy, attention deficit kids can be exposed to a cherished franchise in precisely the wrong way.
Robocop comes to us from Brazilian director José Padilha, chosen for the commercial success of his previous foreign language films Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Apparently, Darren Aronofsky was, at one time, slated to direct, though he ultimately declined so that he could direct his upcoming film, Noah. Now, since Aronofsky opted out of Robocop, The Wolverine, and a plethora of other recent films that otherwise would have doubtless been outstanding under his direction, I fully anticipate that Noah will be the single greatest cinematic endeavor in the history of the medium or I will personally set Darren Aronofsky’s house on fire. It’s difficult to say whether or not Padilha is fully responsible for the mediocrity of the final product, as, according to Wikipedia, he was quoted as sharing with City of God director Fernando Meirelles that the filming of Robocop was “the worst experience of his life” and “for every ten ideas he has, nine are cut” He further expressed that “It is hell here. The film will be good, but I have never suffered so much and I do not want to do it again”.
Joel Kinnaman stars as the titular Robocop, turning, as if by magic, one of the most cherished sci-fi heroes into one of the 21st century’s most generic action protagonists- which is saying quite a lot. In a departure from the 1987 original, Kinnaman’s entire face is actually visible for most of the film, now that he has the ability to retract his iconic visor at will- which, suffice it to say, does nothing to change that fact that he looks remarkably bored throughout the entire film in what is perhaps an impressive attempt to mimic my own expression during the two hour runtime. The thing about Kinnaman is that he’s not an offensively bad though still generic-looking actor like Jai Courtney, nor is he as surprisingly talented though just as generic-looking as Ethan Hawke. No, Kinnaman is a mediocre actor in a generic, white bread male’s body, which might prove to be the perfect visual representation of the film as a whole; a boilerplate, run-of-the-mill little experience that pales in comparison to the original but isn’t even offensive enough to provoke discussion.
Many critics have suggested that José Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer didn’t have a clear conception of what made the original Robocop so successful in the first place, but I don’t think that’s entirely the case. Director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop isn’t, after all, that difficult to deconstruct, but the beauty of it lies in the implementation. Rather, I think that Padilha and Zetemer didn’t trust those ideas enough to allow them to carry the film; a grave mistake, to be sure. In place of the original’s classic wit and charisma, we have a multitude of generic, bloodless gunfights, which seem to be par for the course as we progress further into a century marked by this increasingly vapid and psychopathically commercial film industry. Ironically, that visceral and cathartic gunplay that the 1987 Robocop was universally famous for has been completely removed in favor of a myriad of slick-looking but ultimately meaningless and frenetic shootouts that can be found in *insert one of about a million different tittles here* in an effort to keep the film at a safe (read: despicable) PG-13 rating. “Why would they want to do this terrible thing?” you might ask. I would reply, my voice thick with disdain “It’s so that they can sell a new line of action figures to the hateful, mewling kiddies, you idiot.”
After much deliberation, I think I’ve come up with the perfect analogy to sum up my opinion of the film while still staying within the established context; Robocop’s motorcycle. Let me explain. In this new adaptation, Joel Kinnamann’s Robocop drives around a sleek, high tech, futuristic-looking motorcycle that admittedly looks pretty badass. It’s one of those ultramodern bikes that probably goes about 300 miles per hour and can stop on a dime and Robocop looks really cool while he’s riding it. Now, let’s assume that he takes down a bad guy. It doesn’t really matter who, but the important thing to remember is that he’s programed to follow the letter of the law as part of his directives; a plot point, which, in this instance, would require Robocop to take the suspect back to the police station to be booked and jailed. Do you see the problem here? How is he supposed to take the bad guy to jail if he’s riding a motorcycle? It’s that kind of sloppiness that’s really indicative of the quality of the film as a whole. There are so many ideas added in simply because they look cool and flashy, and it’s clear that no one stopped during production to consider if it was the smart thing to do.
Subsequently, what we’re left with are the bones of a half-baked action flick which deserves nothing more than a noncommittal “meh.” I believe that if both Padilha and Zetumer sat down with Verhoeven’s Robocop and thought- really thought- about what they wanted the film to be and how they wanted to bring the deep and complex world of that film into the 21st century, that they might have come up with something really special. As seems to be so often the case, any heart and sparkle that we might have otherwise enjoyed has been stripped out and replaced with sleek but utterly hollow visuals in a crass, exploitative effort to appeal to the common denominator.
Rating: 2 out of 5