Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Samuel L. Jackson
The original RoboCop directed by Paul Verhoeven was a cult hit when it was released in 1987 and has since become a modern classic thanks to its forward thinking commentary, cutting edge special effects, use of brutal violence and sex, and honest portrayal of a decaying Detroit (which is ironically more in line with today’s Detroit than this remake portrays). We’re in in an era of Hollywood film making where remakes/reboots aren’t only a normal occurrence, but they’re almost expected if they’ve got a strong brand. Is a RoboCop remake really necessary given the source material’s still spot on criticisms and satire?
RoboCop opens by taking us to Detroit in 2028 where Omincorp CEO Raymond Sellars(Michael Keaton) is trying to find a way to repeal the “Dreyfuss Act” that is keeping his robotic police off the streets. When it is clear that he can’t beat his opposition in the courts, he decides to create part human/part robot hybrid that will rally voters against the bill. After asking too many questions, policeman Alex Murphy(Joel Kinnaman) becomes the target of an arms dealer who attempts to kill murphy with a bomb.
A shattered Murphy is then chosen as the ideal candidate to become Sellar’s pet project to become a robot police officer that people will want to cheer for. Once Murphy is transformed into the cyborg law enforcer; Murphy’s family, Sellars, and key members of Omnicorp struggle to determine whether he’s really the robotic “product” the world needs as he takes no prisoners rounding up criminals both on the streets and behind the desks of corruption.
This remake actually opens strong by introducing us to a world not unlike our own that is asking questions about the ethics of taking the drones we use in war zones and bringing them to defend us on the home front. With an almost cocky smug it portrays the power and absurdity of the right wing media(via Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak who is practically Bill O’ Reilly meets Stanley Tucci’s turn in The Hunger Games). And most importantly I think it puts an interesting spin on a lot of ideas concerning the cost of the type of safety that can be sold as a product. The world building here is commendable and dare I say it-impressively layered.
With all of that being said, the story is confused in its commentary and suffers from some sloppy narrative choices that keep the movie from fully realizing its own potential. The movie lags in places, has characters like Jay Baruchel’s that are poorly conceived and others so poorly written that it makes the actors look bad(it’s really hard to make someone as talented as Michael K. Williams look wooden and stilted). The action is fun, sexy, and impressive; yes, but is equally frustrating as it seems to completely sidestep the heart of the satire on display. Last but certainly not the least among it’s flaws is that Joel Kinnaman actually seems even more robotic when he’s fully human than he does once he’s undergone his transformation. His chemistry with essentially all of his cast mates is dead in the water throughout the first act of the movie which in my book wrecks the connection we’re supposed to have to the character and his family.
The movie is undoubtably a bit messy with some of its goals and execution, but what really sets this apart from the slew of other remakes that have been made throughout the last decade is that this film is actually taking some new angles and exploring totally different aspects of Robocop that the original had either glossed over or missed altogether. Sure the movie makes it’s nods and call backs to the original, but in the end this is not a remake that is retreading what we’ve already seen which gives this movie a fresh taste of an age old dish we already love.
Despite having some weak leads and some pretty spotty character writing, I actually enjoyed some of the smaller character arcs such as Gary Oldman’s ethical struggle and Jackie Earle Haley’s vendetta against Robocop. The movie did a great job at casting most of it’s supporting character actors, and their parts in the story made what could’ve been really bland throwaway roles something memorable enough to give the movie an extra layer of depth and humanity. Did I mention that Samuel L. Jackson’s scenes are hysterical and spot on despite being almost completely expendable?
RoboCop delivers on the the action with some good old robot smashing fun that is topped with a good bit of deadpan humor that make for some great crowd pleasers. This movie isn’t short of adrenaline inducing stunts and I’ve got to say that I certainly had a lot of fun even if some of the shaky handheld camera choices were a bit nauseating on the IMAX screen. Brazilian director José Padilha deserves props for at the very least knowing how to take the action packed energy to the next level with some great stunts and impressive visuals.
Overall RoboCop is a good movie and a good remake that actually could have been something great had the script been given a bit more care and the leads been chosen differently. Fans not overly worried about the loyalty to the original should be pleased with the fresh ideas and new take brought to a classic while people who are less familiar should enjoy the satire and the action that really delivers on laughs and eye candy. Robocop may not be all it could have been, but what we have is a nice and fun filled reminder that remakes can actually bring a fresh perspective on an already great story.