Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
Director: José Padilha
Screenplay: Joshua Zetumer
Action/Crime/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: February 12, 2014
Murphy/Robocop: Single, N-P Emotional/Physical, Pro (Enlightened Lone Hero)
Sellars: Single, N-NN Moral, Ant (Irredeemable Mastermind Villain)
Scott, it’s time for a movie about an Irish policeman: Rob O’Cop.
And in the tradition of Madonna and Prince, he became known simply as RoboCop. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
It’s the year 2028 and America is in a war with Iran. They clean the streets with Omnicorp’s mechanized military. But back in America, such “drones” are illegal. Evil corporate genius Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants desperately to sell his robot soldier technology to police forces in the US but the Dreyfus Act forbids the use of such tech on the homeland. So, he gets the great idea of putting a live cop inside one of his robots, but finding an appropriately disembodied psychologically ready cop turns out to be harder than he thought.
A Detroit cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is horribly maimed by a car bomb outside his home, and Sellars convinces Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) to fit Alex with a robot exoskeleton. Sellars’ hope is that the public will feel more comfortable approving of robots with a human face. At first, Murphy is horrified by his new mechanical appearance, but soon he agrees to fight crime as Detroit’s first robocop. He’s an instant success, but trouble looms with technological glitches and bad guys lurking all around him.
Scott, this is a remake of the 1987 movie of the same name. And it gets the full treatment. The graphics and animation are impeccable as we witness high speed chases and shootouts with an army of competitor robots. Robocop is a well-made action adventure.
Robocop wants to deal with the thorny issue of man versus machine. It offers us Raymond Sellars as a sort of Steve Jobs with no social conscience (he even utters the line, “How does somebody know what they want if they haven’t even seen it?” which Jobs is famous for). Sellars doesn’t care about the ethical issues surrounding turning the police force over to machines who cannot feel. In fact, he argues, it’s better if the robot cannot feel because it increases reaction times. No fear, no hesitation.
Robocop is derived from a long line of science fiction stories featuring the blending of human flesh with technological implants. We saw it decades ago in The Six Million Dollar Man TV show. The Star Trek franchise ran with it in their creation of the arch villain Borg, as did the Total Recall movies. We see most recently in the Iron Man movie franchise, and now we see it here with Robocop.
In some ways Robocop also reminds me of Frankenstein. A “freak” is created from various parts and then is set loose, only to go out of control and eventually become intent on destroying its maker. But Robocop separates itself from all the modern incarnations of man-machines by emphasizing the humanity of the hero, a feat seen only in the original Frankenstein. Somehow, Murphy’s human, soulful essence is able to overcome the technological mutilation of his brain.
Alex Murphy (aka Robocop) stacks up pretty well as a hero. He starts out as a compassionate and caring father to his son and a good husband to his wife. He’s a dedicated cop on the trail of a bad guy named Antoine Vallon who is dealing in illegal drugs and guns. But when he gets too close Vallon has Murphy targeted resulting in the car bombing. This attack on Murphy makes us feel sympathy for him. Once inside the Robocop suit, Murphy wrestles with the fact that he’s forever trapped as a part man / part machine. We’re given a hero with both a sincere pain and eventually a desire for revenge.
I agree, Greg. Alex Murphy is a worthy hero in this movie. He is certainly cast into a dark, dangerous world and must grow to heroic lengths to overcome daunting forces seemingly beyond his control. One complaint I have is that only by invoking mysterious forces is Murphy able to claw his way out of Dr. Norton’s programming. It would have been a more effective hero story if we, the audience, were made explicitly privy to how this transformation takes place. Yes, we can say that his humanity rose above his implants, but this very important part of the story needs some fleshing out (pardon the pun).
As befitting any good hero tale, there are nice supporting allies for Murphy, too. His wife (Abbie Cornish) and child (John Paul Ruttan) are both supportive yet skeptical about Murphy’s new role as a Detroit robocop. His police partner Jack (Michael K. Williams) is a supportive sidekick. Then there is Dr. Norton, who appears to be an ally but we’re never really sure until late in the game. Gary Oldman as Norton does a masterful job of straddling the line between hero and villain in this story.
We’re dealt a pair of villains in this story. The first is a classic bad guy: Antoine Vallon. He’s a very generic dealer in contraband. There isn’t much for us to analyze here. He’s just a bad guy for Robocop to attempt to bring down.
Only slightly more interesting is Michael Keaton’s Sellars character. As I mentioned earlier, he is cut from the same cloth as other corporate geniuses. And like so many other corporate geniuses we see in the movies all he cares about is making a buck. He’ll do anything to improve his bottom line. And that includes threatening innocent women and children. Heck, I was expecting him to kick a dog at one point just to show how mean he was. Keaton gives it his best, but Sellars doesn’t offer us much to really dislike in this film.
I thought that Keaton did a terrific job in his role as the main villain of this story, Greg. He pursued his greedy quest in a most cunning and ruthless fashion, and he did it with style and pizzazz. I agree that Vallon was a fairly useless cardboard villain, but Norton, the corrupt cops, and police chief were all effective in their villainous roles. Overall, the main thrust of the story is Murphy’s journey as the robocop, and so I was impressed that Sellars’ character enjoyed as much development as he did.
Robocop is a pretty good action/adventure with plenty of chases and gun play. I’m sure there will be a video game out soon where we can all live vicariously through Robocop’s exploits. For an entertaining and well-crafted 2-hour flick I award Robocop 3 out of 5 Reels. To get a higher rating I would want more character development for Murphy and supporting characters.
Alex Murphy / Robocop is a fine example of mythical heroes. He starts out as a virtuous man who dies and is resurrected as a more powerful man. We can all feel his loss, pain, and angst. In the end he exacts his revenge and sets things right. I give Murphy 3 Heroes out of 5.
As we’ve already agreed Vallon is a stock character and doesn’t really warrant a score of his own. Sellars was played well by Keaton but I thought he lacked any development. We’re just given a typical Hollywood greedy corporate head with ambitions of more wealth. I give him a score of 3 out of 5 Villains.
I enjoyed Robocop, largely because its human elements and storytelling detail allowed it to rise above its appearance as a mindless action flick. In addition, the film raises a philosophical point about the integration of men and machines, as well as the issue of how far we should go to preserve a human life. I agree with you, Greg, that Murphy was a worthy hero but he wasn’t a character with a lot of depth. That limits my rating of the movie to 3 Reels out of 5.
Robocop does feature a nicely done hero story. Murphy’s journey has many of the classic elements, but as noted above, his character doesn’t have the flair or magnetism that I like to see in a hero. For that reason I’ll limit my heroes rating to 3 Heroes out of 5.
I was impressed by Keaton’s performance here, Greg, probably more than you were. Sellars’ obsession with greed and his manipulation of Norton, of public opinion, and of Murphy were a joy to watch. This is a villain that we love to hate. And we never did discuss Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, a sort-of villain whose extreme viewpoints mixed with disingenuous showmanship made me want to vomit. Any villain who is vomit-worthy is worth 4 Villains out of 5.