Set in the future (2028), though with not much discernibly different from current life beyond the obvious robotics advancements and Samuel L. Jackson’s bizarrely retro fashion, the Robocop reboot attempts to tell a human story, make social and political commentary, AND be a violent-but-not-too-violent action film. The villain of the film is corporate giant Omnicorp, run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) who capitalizes on the near fatal injury of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) to create the robotic human hybrid - Robocop.
From the opening sequence with Samuel L. Jackson delivering a Glenn Beck-like diatribe on the safety of America, complete with a live TV robot execution of middle-eastern suicide bombers, including a young teen boy who is merely incidental, it is clear that this is a message film written at the level of a melodrama. By mid movie I almost expected the audience to cheer the hero and call out “BOO” every time the villain appeared. Taken a little farther it could have been campy or satirical, but as it is, it's just annoying and contradictory.
While shoving a political agenda down our throats, it's busy shooting everything that moves. It demonizes corporate mega-giant 1%ers as amoral, profit driven, freedom hating, inhuman monsters – equating Omnicorp without any subtlety to criminals – yet the film itself is capitalizing on its market in such an immoral way it got under my skin. The whole time I was watching, I couldn’t help but think about how my 14 year old son knew the movie was coming out before I did, and how much he wants to see it.
The PG-13 rating and marketing have been SO focused on a teen boy audience. Much has been said about how the violence has been sanitized from the original R rated Robocop. Sanitized, yes, but in a disturbingly consequence-free way. At one point, Robocop takes on a whole warehouse full of opponents with automatic weapons. They specifically make mention of the caliber even. Yet the moment of engagement, Robocop, and the camera view, switches to “heat vision,” which makes the whole thing look like a video game – removing the connection to the serious reality of the resulting deaths and injuries.
The lack of blood-spatter may clear the way for the rating and opens the door for teen viewing, but what does it teach about what happens when you take a gun in hand? Some have even compared the clean quality of the violence to blockbuster superhero films like Ironman. I’d counter that there is something fundamentally different in the fantasy comic-book scenarios, which usually involve explosions of buildings or lasers and aliens, and real world guns and police officers.
Important to note that I’m not categorically against gun movies. Our love affair with the shoot-out runs deep, and I enjoy an action film probably more than the average girl. But juxtaposed with irresponsible marketing and coupled with a heavy-handed soapbox message, this film just falls flat.
The Robocop reboot does redeem itself somewhat by stacking up the acting heavyweights. Given the over-the-top nature of the melodramatic script, it is amazing that Keaton and Kinnaman were able to pull off such relatable characters, but they totally do. And Gary Oldman is the highlight of the film as the conflicted doctor, torn between the prospect of scientific advancement of saving officer Murphy and his knowledge of how Robocop will be used, and what must happen to his humanity in order for him to function as necessary. I’ve loved Oldman ever since Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead, and his performances remain stellar.
Summary: What to know if you want to see it
As an action-adventure junkie, my final verdict on Robocop is that it is mediocre. The visuals were good. Action sequences were like video games, especially at the end. His motorcycle is awesome! Mainly, I just found it tedious how soapboxy the whole thing was. Give me mindless fun with a sub-standard plot before you preach to me about politics and get all didactic. It can be handled well, with satire or with wit – but Robocop opts for the dumptruck method of delivery. I got so sick of Samuel L. Jackson I wanted to slap him. However, if you go in prepared to overlook the posturing, you can enjoy the CG and the action.
As a mom, I give Robocop a total thumbs-down. It is deceitful to give it a PG-13 rating. On top of the violence, there is much that is just plain disturbing. In a scene where Alex Murphy asks to be shown how much of his human self is left, the CG team shows off by removing the suit, leaving a few dangling body parts, functioning lungs, exposed brain… you get the picture. My stomach did a flip, and I’m pretty solid. An opening scene shows a middle eastern child (maybe 11 years old), rushing to defend his father from a robot, is blown up in close-up. I know that they took blood spatter out to get this rating, but it is NOT deserved. I will not be allowing my children to see this film. It is violent at its core. For further parental advisory, there is moderate bad language for the rating and an intimate scene when Alex Murphy takes his wife’s shirt off. She is wearing a bra the whole time.