Robocop (Review)

Release Date: 2/12/2014
Dir. José Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy), Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Michael K. Williams (Jack Lewis), Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak)

Initial Thoughts
I walked into Robocop with very little knowledge. I knew it was a man in a suit and I knew that there are a bunch of people in this world who adore the franchise. Not being one of them, I didn’t have any past movies tainting my view on this film. In my review you’ll see no comparisons to the original, just my thoughts based off this movie. That said, I was nervous about the movie’s February release. I’ve talked about movies being released early in the year and the fear is still there. With a little glimmer of hope that Robocop would be an enjoyable movie, I was able to walk out of the theatre satisfied. It was a solid science fiction film and I thoroughly enjoyed it (even if I didn’t love it). Will it be winning awards any time soon, probably not, but it was a fun and thought provoking ride. Yes, you heard right Robocop isn’t an action movie.

Beware of the spoilers!

Plot Overview

Robocop Promotional Poster

Robocop Promotional Poster

After a live field report of Omnicorps machines in Tehran on The Pat Novak Report, we are quickly brought up to speed on the current political landscape in America. A law called the Dreyfus Act prevents robots from replacing police in the field because robots can not feel. On the other side of the law is Raymond Sellars, the man behind Omnicorp, and he needs to get his product into the American landscape and the only way is to put humans into the robots. Along comes Alex Murphy, who after nearly busting criminal Antoine Vallon is made a target, resulting in major injuries that he may never recover from. Omnicorp wastes no time and recruits Alex through his worried wife.

Alex is turned into a machine, no more than a head, lungs, and a single hand remain of his body. Bit by bit as Omnicorp tries to take the human factor out of Alex to make him more efficient and stable, Sellars discounts the importance of the man within the machine. Alex proves to be a great asset to Omnicorp as they are finally able to sway the public and the senate to repeal the Dreyfus Act that could make the company millions. Despite having his brain rewired and chemical balance controlled, Alex regains control and rebels against the corporation trying to control him as a PR stunt. Just when he is about to be decommisioned (and with a little help from Dr. Norton) he escapes and confronts Sellars. In a rebellion against the programming within him, he takes out Sellars and ultimately frees himself.
End Plot Overview

Robocop was in every sense of the term an origin story. We are brought through the begins of Alex’s inception. We see his motivations from his prior life and we can thus connect to the feelings of family and friendship that are being torn from him. For a new inductee into the Robocop universe it was a good introduction. Unfortunately, for many of those who are returning fans, this may have seemed slow. Rather than get right into the

Robocop on his bike

Robocop on his bike

I believe that Robocop is more of a science fiction film than an action movie The movie wasn’t about blowing things up and shooting as many people as possible. The film did certainly have elements of this, but it wasn’t the core of the movie. Instead, the movie dared to ask questions about the material that was being presented. It wanted to make you question certain aspects. The ethics debate that could swirl about from the emergence of this film are quite interesting. That said, it was rather frustrating that the film felt it needed to announce these questions for the audience is here. It was like the film screaming, look I have something for you to debate. It would have been much better if the audience was allowed to form these conclusions on their own rather than slapping everyone over the head with it.

As for the actual ethical questions that the movie arose, they were interesting. I found the question of free will interesting. Despite all efforts from Omnicorp to sedate his personality and make him an emotionless robot, Alex struck out against everything that was controlling him and regained himself. How much of him is really his to control He has been programmed rather than be allowed to be himself. At one point they even mentioned that he is a robot that was programmed to believe that he, Alex Murphy, was still in control. Alex was put into a position were he was stripped of himself and all of his free will. Alex went from a cop to property of Omnicorp and it wasn’t of his own free will. He couldn’t even walk away from what was placed on him as he could be switched of with the press of a button. He was controlled.

The acting in the film wasn’t bad, but it could have been stronger. There was a lack of emotion from from Joel Kinnaman’s portrayal of Alex. Yes, Alex is more robot than human, but his brain was still his. Even as he was manipulated and driven to be functionally emotionless, there was no drive. At the height of his emotion, he was still cold. The only emotion we seemed to see on Kinnaman was anger. For a man we needed to sympathize with as a man who was driven by his emotions we didn’t get much. It would have been great if we had more to go on.

On the other side of the spectrum, Gary Oldman was wonderful as the morally conflicted Dr. Dennet Norton. If the role had been given to a lesser actor the internal conflict that Dr. Norton held could have been lost. Norton was a man who wanted nothing more than to help people get their lives back on track after accidents. He wanted to work to improve people’s lives. Instead, he was drawn in to perform procedures to strip away the humanity from a man in the name of public safety. As he drew further nto the well, you could see his discomfort. Oldman brought nuance to the role that transformed a character that could have been flat and flipflop-y into a solid character. Unfortunately his late inaction made it somewhat hard to full sympathize with him.

Robocop makes an arrest

Robocop makes an arrest

I’d be remiss not to mention the biggest plot hole in the story. Before Alex was chosen for the Robocop program, there were a number of candidates that were considered. One was ruled out because h had let himself go after losing his legs. Another was ruled out because he was mentally unstable. They needed a stable subject for the Robocop program. That seemed to go out the window with Alex. For starters, if Omnicorp was just going to strip their subject of their body then why not use a previous screened candidate. Secondly, they didn’t know the mental state of Alex. They knew he had a family and that he went off to solve a case without the proper orders. What Omnicorp got was a man who was striped of his body save for a hand and was previously unscreened. Yes, it was a PR move for Omnicorp, but it seemed like they were begging for a failed project.

Final Thoughts
I didn’t expect to love Robocop. I didn’t expect to be moved by robot. And to be honest, neither of them really happened. I really enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to others. It’s worth a matinee movie. Robocop wasn’t a big action movie with a lot of explosions. But it was a science fiction origin story that was thought provoking and enjoyable. Best of all, it makes you want to know what happens next for Alex Murphy and at the end of the day, a lot of movies can’t make you say that.

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