Someone with an eye on 1980s nostalgia decided the future of law enforcement needed an update, but unlike the remakes of master director Paul Verhoeven’s other signature films – the forgettable Total Recall and ill-advised Starship Troopers reboot – Robocop 2.0 is metal gear solid.
For his Hollywood debut the producers gave Brazilian director Padilha a huge vote of confidence by providing a heavyweight star cast and a mega-budget for this controversial “reimagining” of a movie held as dear as Aliens, Die Hard, Predator and The Terminator to most men aged in their 30s.
However, with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy more of a touchstone than the flying Dutchman’s 1987 original, Padilha’s Robocop delves deeper into shady corporate machinations and the emotional repercussions on the wife (Abbie Cornish) and young son of slain Detroit undercover detective Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) when he is rebuilt as the 2.6 billion dollar man.
This version avoids launching the salvo of brutal humour Verhoeven fired at Reagan era yuppified consumerism his European sense and sensibilities encountered when making his first American “adult fairy-tale”. Gone too are the parallels between the resurrections of Murphy and Christ.
Set further in the future of 2028, media satire is far more heavy handed this time around, with a bewigged Samuel L. Jackson playing Pat Novak, a hyper right-wing anchor lobbying from his television pulpit for weaponised robots to patrol American cities, just as they do in global war zones.
Robots fulfill Uncle Sam’s reluctant superpower role as the world’s policeman, without paying in blood.
Omnicorp chief executive Raymond Sellers (Keaton) realises a part man, part machine law enforcer will circumvent the Government ban on street fighting droids and boost his profit margin, so tasks the Oppenheimer-esque robotics genius Dr Dennett Norton (Oldman) to save what’s left of Murphy when gangsters blow him up outside his home.
The new Robocop more than the original explores the body horror of a man waking up to discover he has become a machine and addresses the contentious contemporary issue of drones – who, or what, should pull the trigger.
With flourishes of film noir and Western genres to add to the mix, not to mention the required amount of eardrum-splitting, bloodless gunplay, digital Robocop is a worthy successor, but not a replacement, to the analogue classic.
FOUR POPCORNS OUT OF FIVE
Starring: Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Gary Oldman (Paranoia), Michael Keaton (Clear History).
Director: Jose Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within).
Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown