There are not a lot of things that define the ’80s better than Paul Verhoeven’s ‘RoboCop’. Whether, it's the campy over the top violence, the ruthless satire of America and action movies, the epic theme song or oft-quoted “I'd buy that for a dollar!”, ‘RoboCop’ is a pure product of that era.
It even predicted a bankrupt Detroit. So when a remake of ‘RoboCop’ was announced, people went crazy. The film's slogan should have honestly been replaced by ‘Fanboys have a new enemy’, instead of ‘Crime has a new enemy’ on its poster.
In this new take, we visit Detroit in the year 2028. OmniCorp (the reinvented OCP), a technology mega-corporation headed by mogul Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), has been successfully deploying drones (including the less sucky versions of the giant mechs ED-209 and the humanoid looking EM-208s) overseas in the military for years.
Sellars and his company are keen to rake in more billions by bringing the technology stateside to replace America's police force. However, they are blocked from doing so by Senator Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) and a bill that he has instilled, arguing that machines aren't able to assess the grey areas of morality when enforcing the law.
Despite lobbying by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) on his talk show ‘The Novak Element’, Sellars isn't able to sway public opinion on the matter. Meanwhile, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a cop who has dug too deep into the corruption in Detroit's police department, is critically injured by a car bomb.
Seeing his opportunity, Sellars persuades Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to help him put a man into the suit and then, convinces Murphy's wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to save Alex with the procedure.
Here, director Jose Padilha tries to stick to one best thing that the original did, using the future to comment on possible problems of the future — this time around, these problems are mostly that of surveillance and artificial intelligence. This iteration does the same thing, but very much in its own way. He seems to be aware that the insane tone of the original is almost impossible to pull off in this current age and wisely tones it down.
Gone is the sharp wit and biting satire in Verhoeven's film. Instead Padilha attempts to communicate his ideas through a more heartfelt approach about the meaning of humanity, privacy and family in the cyber age. Still, there are many references to the old movie in the form of jokes or dialogue.
Honestly, it already sounds a lot less fun on paper. Luckily for him, Padilha has a very talented cast at his disposal to make it all work. Joel Kinnaman, from AMC's ‘The Killing’, puts in a steady workmanlike performance as Alex Murphy/RoboCop, a concerned cop caught up in the web of corruption and greed in the city.
As Murphy, he is quietly convincing as a heroic cop and father who is adverse to the idea of the suit, but comes around when he realizes that he has another shot at life with his family.
However, stealing the show are Keaton and Oldman's characters. As Sellars, Keaton is delightfully villainous, a slippery snake who switches stances on everything just to get his products out the door.
But it is Oldman's conflicted Dr. Norton, stuck between a rock and a hard place that is the most compelling character of the movie. He's constantly torn between the conflicting sides of his work: trying to balance the moral implications of getting funding for his work/research by working for a rather evil corporation whilst still trying to keep his work ethical and respectful towards his subject, Murphy.
Even Samuel L. Jackson gets in on the fun as a parody pastiche of Bill O. Reily and other right wing political talk show hosts, arguing in favour of foreign occupation and Sellar's plans for an unmanned mechanized police force. Even in this very non-SLJ role, he manages to sneak in a decent insult or two on us at the very end. Bravo.
The action is relatively decent, although there's way too much shaky cam, in the last action set piece in particular. The design of the suit, which has come under fire from many fans... still isn't much better.
Before they tack on the black paint though (due to Sellars' desire to make RoboCop more 'tactical'), the suit's silver and black design actually harkens back to the original look quite a lot. The all black design just ruins it. Urgh.
All in all, ‘RoboCop’ is a pleasant surprise simply because most people thought it was going to be a disaster.
And while it may lack the wild unpredictability of the original, if one can learn to not expect the same exact offering of its predecessor, this iteration of ‘RoboCop’ is a very enjoyable if slightly generic action flick that showcases what great actors and a decent script can do for a movie.