“What if I told you we could have a completely safe country without endangering a single law enforcement officer?” says right wing TV commentator Pat Novak. His manner is part circus promoter, part tele-evangelist. Graphics flash over his shoulder, illuminating crime statistics in the United States then revealing the future of law enforcement to come: Robocop. And the film he stars in is a similar hybrid – part action movie, part insightful spoof.
RoboCop is a remake of the 1987 sci-fi classic by Paul Verhoevan who also brought us the original Total Recall and Starship Troopers. This time around José Padilha is at the helm, successfully replicating the pace and the satire of the first version. Pat Novak, a larger than life persona in an expensive suit, is played to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson. Michael Keaton stars as Raymond Sellars, one of his ‘celebrated Americans, the CEO of Omnicorp a company responsible for providing the Pentagon with heavily armed robots for ‘urban pacification’.
The film is set in a future America which has taken on peace-keeping duties in Tehran where metal soldiers are busy blowing away suicide bombers before they can claim a spot on the evening news. “Incredible! Incredible!” says Novak, “Once upon a time that would have been American men and women risking their lives to pacify those people!” But the real irony begins when Omnicorp moves to introduce the same peaceful influence at home. For some strange reason Americans are resistant to the idea of robotic soldiers executing justice on their city streets. But Sellars hits on a plan to gain their confidence and win a lucrative civil defense contract:
Raymond: “We’re gonna give Americans a product they can love, fear they can rally behind.”
Lawyer: “We can’t put a machine on the street. “
Raymond: “Forget the machines. They want a product with a conscious. Something that knows what it feels like to be human. We’re gonna put a man inside a machine.”
The focus of the film then shifts to Alex Murphy, played by Joel Kinnaman, a detective investigating links between gangsters and corrupt cops in the Detroit Police Department. Murphy is murdered by the mob but Omnicorp scientist Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) offers to bring him back to life if his wife will simply sign his body over to the company. The moral question of the film then emerges: how much of our humanity is tied up in our bodies? Will what emerges be Alex with heavily armed prosthetics, or a ‘tin man’ without a heart?
RoboCop is a rollicking good ride well suited to a guys’ night out. There’s plenty of explosions and fast-paced action to keep the film rolling along, as well as laughable send-ups of big business attitudes, the politics of fear and America’s right-wing media. But Padilha still manages to keep the moral question in sight: how much of a man can you take away and still have a real person left? And strangely, long before robotic replacement parts were thought of, the same question was perplexing first century Christians.
The Bible contains a letter to the church at Corinth from the apostle Paul that seems to address their concerns about what sort of eternal life God could offer if their bodies weren’t around to collect it. Believers lived in a time when Roman authorities were condemning them to be burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions – in either case, little would be left to bury. But Paul writes,
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
There is a part of us that survives, no matter how much of our body is taken by animals, flames – or indeed disease and old age – and God knows how to preserve it. RoboCop supports at least the first part of that statement, constantly referring to the ‘something’ inside of the mechanical Murphy that is interfering and overriding their systems. But God goes one better than their futuristic labs, promising to provide His children with a new body that won’t perish or fade. One that will make Robocop’s gleaming-black chassis look like a child’s toy. Which indeed it will be because if this film teaches us anything it’s that we can only copy God’s design – and even our most technical marvels fall far short of what He has already given, and has in store.
Release Date: February 6