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Robocop

Year: 2014
Studio: MGM
Director: Jose Padilha
Writer: Joshua Zetumer
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Hayley

Of all the modern remakes of classic movies from the Gen X era, this might be the one I was looking forward to the most after loving the original so much.

What's it missing? Economic rationalism and the corruption of rampant privatisation just isn't news any more, and no matter how much I've always felt that was the most successful subtext of the original, MGM, the writers and director Jose Padilha couldn't be faulted for making it about the drones debate. Taken to the extreme, it becomes a morality play about the ethics of killing without a human making the decision. Take away the compassion and conscience needed to decide to pull a trigger, Robocop asks, and who's responsible?

What's intact is a level of smarts and a multi-threaded storyline that's as good as any offered by a mainstream movie full of effects and action.

The bare bones of the original story remains. In a crime ridden future Detroit, dedicated cop Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is targeted for assassination by corrupt officers of his own precinct that are in cahoots with a local gun-runner.

It's the perfect opportunity for Omnicorp CEO Sellers (Keaton) to make his move. Desperate to put the company's robotic soldiers and cops into service in America where the law forbids it, he thinks he can circumvent the rules and get the public on his side by putting a human inside the cybernetic technology devised by brilliant company scientist Norton (Oldman).

Rebuilt/revived in a factory in the middle of rural China (another clever nod to the times), Murphy finds himself nothing but a head, an oesophagus and a hand, every other component robotics. He's petrified and enraged, busting out of the place and running until they shut him down. Along with several other motifs and themes, it's one not explored very much in the beginning – the extent to which, being essentially a computer, Omnicorp can control his new body and even his emotional state through remote chemical control.

After a tumultuous adjustment and training period at the hands of Omnicorp's paramilitary tactician Mattox (Hayley) Robocop is put to work, almost single handedly reducing the crime rate and proving a big hit.

But they're not letting his wife Clara (Cornish) and son see him nearly as often as they promised, and when his investigations into his own murder attempt lead him further up the chain of the company of the very company that built him and the department he worked for, he becomes a threat they need to contain.

Taking tonal cues from the original, it's not a kids' movie. Not just because of the violence (which isn't nearly as extreme as Verhoeven's was, this being PG-13), but because of the dense narrative and adult characterisations. The film's just as conversant with the machinations of the corporate world as it is the right wing media (thanks to Samuel L Jackson's O'Reilly-like talk show host), robotics and modern manufacturing.

It will never stand up to the original purely because it came second, but Padilha has held onto several deeper elements you might not realise were so prevalent first time round. If this was the stripped down version he was left with after the creative interference of the studio he complained of, his unhindered vision might have been no less than brilliant.

It's not quite brilliant, but it's a great movie that has everything it needs – it's satirical, critical, exciting, smart and action packed – everything Verhoeven's Robocop was. There are even cute smaller nods, like Mattox saying 'I wouldn't buy that for a dollar'.

The single weak link is Kinnaman himself. Surrounded by names like Jackson, Oldman, Ehle and even Keaton he was never going to stand out too far, but he's so bland he nearly fades into the background most of the time. Of course, that might actually be great casting, Padilha knowing his hero had to disappear not just into the cybernetics but a story where he's a mere pawn.

Much better than you dared hope for.

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