MANILA, Philippines – Warfare can be automated – quick, efficient and without conscience.
Just last year, the Obama administration took considerable criticism for its use of military drones, which contributed to the growing number of civilian casualties, but in a broader sense, the use of military drones has come to represent something far more damning. With a flick of a button and the right signature, a person could be killed from thousands of miles away.
The issue continues to be a touchy subject. But when a Hollywood film like RoboCop tackles it head on, the issue runs the risk of feeling tacked on, and that’s what happens, despite the film’s most valiant efforts.
In the film, Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured in a murder attempt by suspected crime boss Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). But when multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance to create a man-machine hybrid for military application, OmniCorp executive Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) convinces scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to save Detective Murphy by making him both man and machine. Robocop is born.
RoboCop begins with the American public vehemently opposed to the use of robotic law enforcement. The general consensus is that something unable to understand human life shouldn’t be given the opportunity to take it. It’s a poignant point that solidifies the film’s anti-military sentiment, and Director Jose Padilha makes no attempt to hide it.
But while the original film managed to convey commentary through comedy, Padilha’s inability to balance the dramatic with the comedic waters down the impact of his noble intentions. Although the film’s heart is in the right place, its slack pacing and unfocused story makes the film a prime target for criticism.
To Padilha’s credit, the director takes great care to sidestep old story beats from the original film. Unlike other Hollywood rehashes, RoboCop has its fair share of inventive ideas that go beyond the aesthetic.
In fact, some of the film’s strongest moments are those that detail the emotions of the man behind the machine. Although RoboCop is the clear headliner of the film, it’s Gary Oldman’s Dr. Norton that steals the spotlight.
As the conflicted scientist responsible for RoboCop’s functionality and welfare, Dr. Norton finds himself forced to choose between Murphy’s humanity and his obligations to the company. Oldman’s performance makes it clear that Norton isn’t a doctor who is quick to toe the line, and easily becomes the film’s most complex character. But when your villains are caricatures and your hero is on remote control, it isn’t a high bar to clear.
Like its main character, RoboCop suffers from its own identity crisis. On one hand there is the ongoing commentary on military drones, on the other there is the story of Murphy’s struggle for humanity. Unfortunately, neither is brought to a satisfying conclusion.
Watch the RoboCop trailer here:
Ultimately, Padhila’s vision of a reimagined RoboCop feels mostly compromised. Despite the film’s many original (and sometimes brilliant) ideas, it’s unable to step out from the shadow of the original (whether RoboCop is a remake or reboot of the original 1987 action-satire is a matter of semantics). References to the original film are shoehorned without wit or context, and the lack of violence robs the film of any sense of desperation or urgency. Without the first film’s novelty and vitality, the remake feels lacking, hollow and largely forgettable.
Depending on how easily swayed you are by explosions and computer-generated pyrotechnics, the film’s few action sequences are disappointingly lackluster. RoboCop mostly blasts through the opposition, and with practical effects being swapped out for computer generated ones, the punches feel as flat as the characters that throw them.
Like the very drone technology the film rallies against, RoboCop ends up as cold and automated as the metal that drives it. While the film takes a number of worthy risks with its material, it’s not enough to make any of them resonate.
RoboCop may have its heart in the right place, but the rest of its metallic exoskeleton is hard-pressed to keep up. – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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