RoboCop: Finally, a Decent Remake
I went in seeing the RoboCop remake without any preconceptions that it would not stand apart from the gluttony of remakes Hollywood is presently fascinated with. No recent viewing of the original classic would lead me to compare to this reboot. In fact, I haven’t seen Paul Verhoeven’s film in over 20 years, but I do remember enough of the plot without staining today’s viewing experience.
The RoboCop franchise first started out as a 1987 sci-fi film that spawned two sequels, a TV series, TV mini-series, two animated series, video game and several graphic novels. But it’s been over 13 years since any new media has been available from the franchise, making 2014 a prime time for a remake. In a world of parallels, it should be noted that the original film takes place in 2014.
The remake has most of the same elements of the original. Set in a crime-ridden Detroit, police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is brutally murdered by local gun dealers with corrupt police protection and later rebuilt as a cyborg, mixing organic and mechanic parts making him into a superhuman police officer. The mega-corporation Omni-Corp is behind the RoboCop design, run by evil CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) with creator and Chief Scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) as the sympathetic insider and friend to the fallen officer.
Taking place in the year 2028, RoboCop blends gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, media manipulation, dystopia and how human nature deals with these themes. The film cleverly showcases how corporate power trumps political goodwill with a redesign of contemporary robot technology.
The film opens up with a live TV demonstration of US robot soldiers conducting a security sweep in Tehran, Iran. Safely ensconced in the confines of “The Novak Element” studios, host Patrick “Pat” Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) is a biased supporter of mechanical crime control and Omni-Corp, and a severe critic of the Dreyfuss Act, a law that forbids such technology in the U.S. During the live telecast, a group of terrorist vainly attack the robot soldiers, further fueling U.S. population support for the Dreyfuss Act.
To address the public’s concern and overturn the law, Omni-Corp team, including a typecast evil attorney and greedy marketing guru, devise a solution by combining a permanently injured officer with the robo-technology. After getting consent from Officer Murphy’s wife (Abbe Cornish), within three months we have an outfitted RoboCop with enhanced strength and advanced software tapped into his brain.
The film takes its predictable twists and turns through conflicts with military tactician (Jackie Earle Haley) and Murphy’s loyalty to his former partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams). But the one difference from the original RoboCop, Officer Murphy at times is emotionally overwhelmed by his new life, leading to his brain chemistry to be altered. This leads to a first-person perspective shoot-em up that would make the developers of “Call of Duty” proud.
The cast is adequate and not overpowering. Williams is underutilized as Murphy’s partner, Keaton is not as obviously evil as the original Omni-Corp execs and Oldman stands out the sympathetic, yet torn doctor. Joel Kinnaman is delivers a believable performance as the amputee trapped in a robot suit.
The film at times delivers a dated nostalgia that would warm the hearts of 80’s fanboys. The heavy synthesized soundtrack by Pedro Bromfman is a fine tribute to 80’s sci-fi, and the appearance of 70’s Dutch rock group Focus’s instrumental “Hocus Pocus” was actually pretty funny.
Director José Padilha is faithful to the original, but it should not be compared to the 1987 movie. Not as humorous or witty, this feeds into the darker elements with a touch more of robotic humanity that addresses how humans are superior to machines. One of the better remakes, it is not as dark or depressing despite the amount of violence. The future in 14 years does not look as bleak as it sometimes portrayed.