RoboCop (2014) review (Blu-ray)

A cop with a heart of gold and a loving family, tasked with hunting down a criminal gang, is critically injured. He's left with no chance of survival, except for being revived by a company specialising in robotics and fused with machinery to create the ultimate crime fighting weapon. Yes, ladies and gentlemen this is RoboCop, only not the one we all grew to know and love slickly portrayed for by Peter Weller and expertly crafted in a swash of ultraviolent goodness by Paul Verhoeven. No, this is a shiny new RoboCop rebooted and retooled for the 21st century. But is it any good? Well, yes and no.

One of the issues that was inevitably going to plague RoboCop is the fondness for its predecessor. While Verhoeven’s RoboCop is far from perfect, it was a very successful film – spawning sequels, both an animated and a live action TV show, countless video games, and even a very bizarre association with the now defunct World Championship Wrestling (RoboCop made an appearance at WCW Capital Combat 1990, scaring away the dastardly bad guys while walking very slowly). So in the cultural lexicon, Robocop has a very special, generally very well received place which was always going to weigh heavily on any attempted adaptation of the story of Alex Murphy.

However, if taken in isolation, this new RoboCop is a very enjoyable action romp. The story is well paced with some excellent action set pieces, and a very satisfying character arc, coupled with a very even handed performance by Kinnaman, ably capturing the human side of Murphy prior to his transformation, as well as the robotic element. Kinnaman looks the part, and strikes the correct emotional balance as a man who has awoken to find his life in tatters, as well as his body, and is understandably distressed. There is a particular scene in which the extent of Murphy’s condition is revealed to him that particularly stands out, and in many respects gives this a leg-up over the original by giving Murphy a more human element.

While Kinnaman deserves plaudits for his role, there are some excellent supporting performances which help to set the film apart from the average remake. Keaton is perfectly cast as the cutthroat executive hiding behind a veneer of acceptability, while Oldman is, as expected, on fine form as the conflicted Doctor Norton.  Although, despite limited screen time, Jay Baruchal steals the show for me, as the sleazy PR executive, a role he plays with aplomb. Conversely, I’m not sure how much Jackson got paid for his brief appearance, but whatever it was for this phoned-in, lazy performance it was too much.

RoboCop is a solid sci-fi action movie that attempts to make a statement about our relationship with machines, especially from a military and defence point of view, which is appropriate given the recent furore over drone strikes. However, it is somewhat muddled in its message and never quite settles on what its key argument is. Robotic technology is bad? Or humans are bad? Or that we shouldn’t be mixing the two? That the mix of man and machine is the future? It’s never quite clear what the take-home message should be, and for me that is the biggest weakness in the film.

There will always be detractors for a movie such as this, especially given the reverence with which the original is held, and rightly so. However, if viewed in isolation, without the trappings of being the re-imagining of such a well-loved movie property, RoboCop is a very solid, very slick action film. Unfortunately, there will be precious few who will be able to enjoy it without making comparisons, which will always drag down what is an otherwise enjoyable film.

EXTRAS ★★★ The special features are plentiful: five deleted scenes (3:55), although none that the film would be better for having included), three featurettes – The Illusion of Free Will (7:46), To Serve and Protect (5:49), and The Robocop Suit (15:00) – and 10 promotional videos for OmniCorp, which are interesting on a number of levels, although get a bit tedious towards the end.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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