Review: Robocop

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ImagePaul Verhoeven said, in a more-recent Robocop interview, he laid-out his intent on his view of Robocop being the “American Jesus” after he had read the script, that he saw the entire “Jesus Myth” of the “American Jesus”, insomuch as it relates to the events of the film and one of Robocop’s final lines in the movie (after having just walked on water): “I’m not going to arrest you”. He viewed his Robocop as a benevolent machine protecting the innocent, giving “due justice” when necessary, but that in the end, he forgets his ‘programming’, forgets his ‘intent’ and becomes what Verhoeven sees as the “American Jesus”, a mythic Che Guevara-like being, who finally uses guns to solve his problem. “And what,” Verhoeven says, “could be more American than that?” Well, in the first fifteen minutes of the new Robocop, we’re treated to a very well-directed, cracker-jack scene, seemingly pulled from another, different, movie, a movie about the very real prospect of robots in a middle-east setting, a town pressed-down by the weight of an eternal war, where the only ability people have to fight back is to use their own lives to be ‘free’ from the tyrannical process of life under machines, where every movement is processed, every person suspect. In the prospect of the first scene, Padilha comments on so many aspects of the modern world, I half-expected to hear Verhoeven’s voice, giving his approval, saying, in his awesomely manic gesturing and great accent that this is what a modern film about robotics is meant to start to say, a slap on the back and an ‘atta boy’, and I smiled, and I was wondering what all of the poor reviews had meant, (What the Flick being an especially good review, and a good review site in general), and I settled in and decided this movie deserved a chance, the opportunity to tell me something. Besides, you also know who is in this movie, from Gary Oldman to Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson and you’re expecting them and it’s great to see them, but then there’s even Omar from the Wire, Michael K. Williams, and you think about the great casting, also, and you think, if just for a moment, “Is this going to be this good?” and then it begins to devolve, and you see it approaching like a ‘Hollywood Derivative Screenplay Freight Train’, this lumbering, unstoppable dread that they’re taking shortcuts, that too many people had too much to say about the genesis of the movie (too many people who want to use it as a ‘recognizable brand’ all over the world) and they’re taking shortcuts and you know this is going to end badly, but you don’t want it to, and then they show a scene where people accept robotics, in a sense that it serves them, in a hospital setting, that these Americans understand robotics is making their lives better, and the contrast can’t be any more stark, or so very-well-played and presented, and you think “Oh, we’re back, here come the ‘big questions'” and maybe it was all too much to ask of this, this Robocop, and maybe I’m being ridiculous and it’s only a movie and you may be right, but Robocop has never just been ‘Robocop’ to me, it’s one of my ‘big 3’ films growing up, one of the Big-3 in my development as a ‘Watcher of Films’ and it means a great deal to me, and I liked the contrast of the rest of the world ‘accepting’, in air quotes, surveillance and robotics and America is denying it, and the O-Reilly stand-in is having an aneurysm asking how so many people can be so adamant of its acceptance and the movie is answering him! and you want to point out that Americans are accepting it, as long as it makes their lives better, and maybe they’re onto something that the rest of the world has no say in, and you think, “Whoa, this Robocop is alluding to the original Robocop in a new and different and of-its-time way”, and you’re impressed and you shift in your seat and wait for them to expound on the notion, to explain what we’re seeing, if our understandings have some basis (but then, no one got what I saw in Gravity, so what do I know) and you wonder: ‘Is this going to be able to keep this up?’ in a Hollywood context that you never even expected to get this close to these kinds of things and you wonder if it’s Padilha’s hand or it’s just a lucky stab-and then a car explodes, and suddenly there’s a Robocop, and wait, who is this guy, and why do we care, and why did you just leave all those questions, those things you wanted to say, and wait, what, he just goes to see his kid, and the kid is sad and we only find out the kid’s significance later, and it’s only a plot machination, but then-why not say that then, and-you remember it’s just to drive the plot to the rote ‘Hollywood ending’, of hedge-fund manager studio owners and well, that’s stupid, in the original Robocop, Murphy had the added pathos of not being able to be what his kid wanted, in a specific, TJ Lazer way, and we empathize with Murphy, how all of this was taken away, but we’re never given anything specific that was taken away, Robocop isn’t even populated by a character, by someone we have come to know, by someone we care about-it’s just another explosion in a world of explosions and millions of kids a day watch people explode and explode themselves like you said in the beginning, with no one there to give them a happy ending and now you’re physically angry at the precipitous slip into mediocrity and Murphy’s son was ever only a cypher in the original, a memory Murphy tries to find, who is able to take his anger out on even more technology and who is writing this and why is this suddenly two separate movies, one good and one so bad and why is he so accepting of his fate so quickly, and whoa, was there a scene that showed his lungs? that was awesome, and who wrote that other line and man, Keaton is growling his way through this, and man, Jackie Earle Haley is a great actor, and why is the Oldman character the ‘stand-in’ for all the things Murphy came to understand about himself through his robotics and wait, did Keaton’s character say “No, the machine is controlling Murphy, so it’s not illegal” and that makes no sense to what the woman just said and it’s worse than the ‘5 gallons for 4 gallons’ explanation in Die Hard with a Vengeance, but that’s forgivable, in a better movie, like it was in Vengeance, and man, get back to the big questions, and it flirts with them, if you look really closely enough, and try, however shortly and with so little thought, a scant couple times more, and don’t get me started on the ending and the ‘I’d buy that for a dollar’ line and its throw-away usage made me physically ill-don’t even put it in-

There’s a movie by Kim Ji-Woon, a ‘Robot Masterpiece’, called ‘Heavenly Creature’. It’s in a little-seen Korean triptych called ‘Doomsday Book’. Robocop is not the progenitor to this Robocop. This Robocop is simply another view of what is a well-respected, still relevant robot movie from the ’80’s, itself a satirical screed of its time, brilliantly-so, and not until ‘Heavenly Creature’ has a movie with a robot protagonist come even close to the level of the original Robocop, a ‘b-movie with big things to say’. Heavenly Creature is difficult to find, and must be viewed outside of the triptych as a whole, as its own stand-alone movie, speaking-to and answering and leaving open the ‘big questions’ of where robotics will lead us into the future, and what that will mean for mankind. Robocop could have set itself apart, with war allusions and surveillance and in different circumstances, and perhaps in different hands (though Padilha is unequivocally a great filmmaker, but perhaps not strong enough to get his way), perhaps this Robocop could have staked its claim to being something different, having something to say. But in this iteration, it most certainly turns its back in all of the things it could have been and said for amateurish Hollywood formula, but man, the framework is there, it’s just such a shame its, as one reviewer said, “-so aggressively mediocre”. I guess what I could say, as James has said, is I liked it, or at least got more from it than I ever expected I would. And in the this new world of hedge-fund-owned studios, that’s a lot more than we can be expected to accept.

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