Hollywood’s ever-increasing propensity for remakes, reboots, and reimaginings has led to a cornucopia of mixed results, but for the most part, I tend to give new versions of old films the benefit of the doubt, if for no other reason than genuine curiosity to see what new life might be breathed into classic (and not-so-classic) fare. I’ll admit to being skeptical of the Robocop remake, my enthusiasm for the Comic-Con footage long since derailed by the film’s marketing, but I still hoped for the best – and was pleasantly rewarded.
The year is 2028, and Omnicorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) has made billions by supplying the American military with an elite force of peacekeeping robots, whose usage in US-occupied countries has eliminated the need for soldiers to risk their lives in order to maintain order. While Sellars views the domestic market as an untapped goldmine, the American public is still a bit “robophobic,” and a Senate bill has blocked the machines from being used here at home.
The solution: give the people a product they can trust, an efficient combat machine with a human face, whose emotions and instincts are not a hindrance, but an asset. A prime candidate emerges in Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit detective whose recent run-in with a weapons dealer has left him comatose and near death. Under the expert guidance of Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a brilliant scientist who specializes in creating advanced robotic limbs for amputees, Alex is rebuilt to become the world’s first robotic police officer: Robocop.
Alex is an instant hit with the public, solving cold cases and taking down criminals in record numbers, but as his memories and emotions slowly begin to override his programming, he begins to veer off course, ignoring orders from his superiors in favor of trying to solve his own attempted murder. While this echoes the events of the original film, there are a few more layers to sift through this time around, most notably Alex’s struggle to reconnect with his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son, who Omnicorp regard as little more than a liability.
Robocop also retains the sharp, satirical wit of its predecessor, conveyed in recurring segments featuring Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a futuristic Rush Limbaugh sort that spews propaganda and vitriol via his Fox News-like talk show. These interludes provide the bulk of the film’s humor, but some of Novak’s speeches could just as easily be applied to current affairs, rather than futuristic politics.
Director José Padilha, working from a surprisingly intelligent script by Joshua Zetumer, has done a respectable job of updating Robocop for a modern audience. It’s a very different film from Paul Verhoeven’s original, yet manages to keep the spirit of the 1987 flick alive and well, with more than a few references that fans will appreciate. The production design combined with Padilha’s direction result in some impressive action sequences, but it’s the film’s more intimate moments that elevate Robocop above the typical remake schlock.