Robocop Reinforces Science Fiction Renaissance

March 14, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2016

I’m really into science fiction. Yes, it’s true. Really into it. I’m one of those annoying types that pronounces the genre name correctly; “science fiction,” not “sci-fi,” and I will correct people on it (sometimes in public too), which sometimes doesn’t quite work out to well for my already tepid social life. Indeed, during high school, revealing that I was into sf was quickly met with scathing looks, and usually a sudden migration away from where I was standing or sitting (complete with Roadrunner-esque speed clouds).

In college, it became quickly evident that there were fellow appreciators of the genre (often wearing trench coats), and that was when I finally worked up enough chutzpah to come out about it with a loud and proud: “Here I am world, take me as I am!” (Sans the finger snaps and head-swiveling; wow bad visual). I wasn’t quite up to the level of revealing that I’d actually played tabletop science fiction roleplaying games such as “Traveler,” “Gamma World,” and “Star Frontiers,” but it was a start, and I had ripped the screws right off of that closet door. Even my publisher knows about my formerly dirty little secret, as they recently commissioned me to write a break-down of the more common science fiction sub-genres on their website.

Joel Kinnaman as the new Robocop opposite Gary Oldman courtesy of Sony Pictures
Joel Kinnaman as the new Robocop opposite Gary Oldman courtesy of Sony Pictures

Luckily, I’m not alone in my appreciation of the genre. Ever since the golden rays of the dawn on science fiction (well, black & white back then) bathed stunned moviegoers with the famous shot of the Manhattan inspired skyline in Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterwork, Metropolis, audiences have been treated to similar awe-inspiring moments in film history.

I mean, who can forget the tiny Rebel ship trying to outrun the Empire’s gigantic Star Destroyer at the beginning of George Lucas’ similarly genre-defining 1977 space opera, Star Wars? Roy Batty’s (the final escaped replicant) lamenting of Pris and his final monologue in the haunting 1982 cyberpunk epic, Blade Runner, sent chills through many a backbone. Or how about the ominous thundering of footfalls (or should I saw claw falls) during the T-Rex breakout in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, Jurassic Park? Whether set in modern times where the world seems bent on a cataclysmic invasion by futuristic, time-traveling cyborgs in the Terminator films, or out in the far reaches of space battling horrific Xenomorphs in the Alien franchise, audiences have been thrilled and chilled by escapist fare in the form of moving pictures for quite some time now.

With a few exceptions, such as The Matrix (1999), the turn of the century saw a leaning out of great science fictions films. But in recent years, Hollywood has more than compensated for this period by launching into overdrive and delivering films such as Avatar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Inception, District 9, and a spectacular Star Trek reboot (which even pleased fan boys and trekkie nerds; no small feat).

However, I did become a little nervous when I had heard there was a Robocop remake in production a couple of years ago. I had thoroughly enjoyed the original 1987 film by Paul Verhoeven, which combined some seriously unpolitically correct satire about the privatization of the military industrial complex, where human rights and dignities were being offered on the altar of an encroaching police state, and human greed is at an all-time high. It was the perfect dystopian mix that didn’t take itself too seriously, but made many prescient points at the same time.

José Padilha’s recent 2014 remake features much of the same socio-political satire that made the original film a cult classic, where once again corporate state fascism has run amuck and companies are trying to “help” our troops by hyping up the use of drones on the battle field. This is all delivered in a slick, glossy, and highly sleazy package by over-the-top infotainment style tabloid “news” via a top of his form Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, the drones have a few little kinks to work out, such as when a testing exercise goes wrong in Tehran and a little boy who produces a knife gets blown away.

These minor hiccups don’t seem to bother the ethically bankrupt megacorp CEO of OmiCorp, well-played by Michael Keaton, who has drubbed the masses into being tough on crime at almost any expense. Gary Oldman turns in a fine performance as the morally compromised, but brilliant scientist Dr. Dennett Norton, who is tasked by OmiCorp to create a new cyborg super-cop that they help to sell to the ever-fearful public. Their chance comes sooner than expected when idealistic Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is horribly maimed by a car bomb after he gets a little too close to a local crime boss.

I won’t spoil what ensues if you haven’t yet seen the film, but suffice it to say that there was a more humanist touch to Murphy’s cybernetic enforcer character, as he struggles to re-establish ties with his wife and son. The old film only features a few flashbacks of Murphy’s former life, which while effective, weren’t as in-depth. Also, after reading reviews of this film, many critics were displeased with the lack of over-the-top violence and gore associated with the first film; such as when (in the original) Murphy is literally blown to pieces in a drawn-out sadistic sequence in the beginning. However, this isn’t surprising, as the “gore-quotient” has been steadily rising with the establishment and proliferation of torture porn films which began mainly with the “Hostel” films.

I call this the “roller coaster effect;” where certain folks, after riding on the same roller-coaster a few times, become quickly bored, and feel the need to seek out something more extreme. Make the roller-coaster faster, higher off the ground, and maybe add some flaming hoops that it shoots through, and the same people will be appeased with the new ride…for a short time. Then their insatiable thirst for even more intense highs clicks in and they lust for something more excessive, and so on…but I digress.

The new Robocop film is well-produced, has the same scathing (yet tongue-in-cheek at times) and prescient satire of the first film. However, much of this content may force many critics and movie-goers alike to feel a little uncomfortable as they deal with many of the aspects of a very possible near-future dystopian world.