Art is a creation and a reflection of its times, and the latest Robocop remake relies on the current tropes of first-person shooter video games, moral action at a distance through robotics and drones, jingoism, militarism, the cynical manipulation of public sentiment, and the cardboard cutout emotional response to the void that it all delivers. In other words, business as usual in the United States of America, circa 2014.
But while it hints at all these things, it never delivers.
What struck me the most was the empty response to I had to it all. My friend who invited me along to the preview screening asked afterwards, “What did you think?” and I summed it up with: gratuitous.
Guns, bullets, death, explosions, gore, and digital displays were everywhere and omnipresent to the point of banality. The few scenes that did not include those things felt inauthentic by comparison, as if they were accidentally left in during editing. The familial emotional storyline was as overplayed as the lingering scenes of a deconstructed and squishy Robocop that only an anatomy student would love, and in doing so, all the emotion and suspense were drained out of them.
Where the original never took itself too seriously, the reboot can’t seem to make up it’s mind if it wants to wink at you or engage in social commentary. So it does both. Over and over and over until you start rooting for the plants in the background to do something to surprise you, because the movie sure won’t, as it’s too busy telegraphing what’s going to happen next.
It’s a shame really. The topics it presents to viewers deserve a serious skewering, especially the creeping, Brazil-like data fascism (Gilliam was ahead of his time) that has infected our body politic. Instead, the strongest feeling it arouses is a longing for computer user interfaces that operate as smoothly and quickly in such a glitch-free fashion.
In the end, all the gallons of blood spilled and thousands of shell casings spent may really just have been an attempt to attain an R rating instead of the PG-13 it carries. If anything, you can walk alway with the knotty puzzle that is American cinema ratings, which nicely mirrors our cultural schizophrenia. In that case, Robocop does come through and make you wonder who the bad guys are.
I felt the same with the Desolation of Smaug in some ways: which is to say, I didn’t feel much in spite of the death and violence, and that felt weird.