Susceptible to rust, giant magnets, and love…
In the year 2028, manufacturing conglomerate Omni-Corp is doing it’s best to overturn the Dreyfuss Act, thereby allowing them to fill the streets with their peace-keeping robots and save the lives of countless police officers. The problem is – the voting public doesn’t fully trust turning over their safety to machinery without a human aspect to it. When good cop Alex Murphy is critically injured in his attempts to bring down an arms dealer, Omni-Corp sees the perfect avenue to add a face to their mechanical lawmakers.
I fear that I’m going to be spending a good part of my review severely contradicting myself. On one hand, having now seen this remake, I think it’s essential to not let your memories of the original get in the way of your enjoyment of this film. On the other hand, comparing the two is an inevitable part of the process of seeing this film to begin with. So, let’s just say – if you can put your feelings about 1987′s Robocop (full disclosure – I’ve always loved it and think it still stand up today) aside, I think you’ll really enjoy this new take. After you’ve seen it, and for the purposes of this review, you can go back and compare and contrast the two.
First and foremost, this new take almost completely forgoes the comedicaly satirical edge of the original. The only real exception to this is a bombastic news host played with bravado by Samuel L. Jackson (or, was it Laurence Fishburne?). This proto-Bill O’Reilly provides a modern touch, and you’ll have a ton of fun with Jackson’s portrayal, but it never quite matches the bite of the first film’s faux-commercials.
In place of the satire here, we instead get a much deeper portrayal of the effects and ramifications of the Robocop program on both the subject and his family. Joel Kinnaman as Murphy starts off a bit bland in his person form, but, oddly enough, becomes much more human in his portrayal after becoming Robocop. We get a lot more time with him here sans mask (and even sans body on a couple of occasions) than Verhoeven’s take gave us. The emotional aspect is explored at much greater lengths here as Kinnaman balances his makers’ attempts to emphasize his robotic aspects with his own desire to reconnect with his family. Abbie Cornish is also very effective and moving as a wife who is willing to do anything she can to save her husband, but soon comes to realize that he is not the same man that he once was.
One area in which the original film truly shined was in giving us two levels of interesting villains, in the form of both tough gang members and smarmy executives, to root against. The same approach is taken here, but it can’t quite match those heights. Michael Keaton appropriately chews scenery as the sleazy head of Omni-Corp, but Patrick Garrow’s Antoine Vallon is a far cry from Clarence Boddicker. Even the fun spin on the original ED-209 is relegated to bland, generic robot here. The most interesting entries into the rogue’s gallery here were Jackie Earl Haley as a military tactician in charge of training Robocop and Jay Baruchel as the head of marketing, providing a bit more comic relief. Omni-Corp isn’t all evil, though – Gary Oldman excellently provides one of his signature sympathetic (and sympathizing) portrayals as a Dr. Frankenstein type torn between loyalty to his company and never losing sight of the fact that there is still a human behind the machine that he created.
And, that is where this movie ultimately differs from it’s grandaddy. The dichotomy of what makes Robocop a human and what makes him a robot is explored the entire way through. At times, the character almost falls into the trap of being less of a main character and more of a plot point in his own movie. The second act of the film starts to become more about the big picture – will the first attempt at the Robocop program ultimately cause the country to repeal the Dreyfuss act and can a family still be a family when one member has necessarily been altered so greatly? It begins to falter a bit towards the end once Murphy goes rogue to solve his own murder (again, the lack of a solid villain hurts), and there are a couple of emotional strings left not-quite resolved, but it ultimately ends on a pretty satisfying note.
JASON’S FINAL THOUGHTS:
Focusing much more on the human aspect and the overall effects of a government program like this one was really the only way to even have a chance at properly making an enjoyable Robocop remake. And, despite what you may see in the trailers, this is what the filmmakers here are going for. This makes for a film with much loftier intentions than you’d ever expect from a Robocop film. Here we spend much more time on the creation and evolution of Robocop (don’t get used to the familiar grey armor – the much maligned black suit gets the majority of the running time) rather than jumping right into the action (the action scenes we do get tend to fall into the current trap of quick cuts, dark lighting, and shaky cam).
The last thing that we needed in a Robocop remake was an attempt to make another generic action movie with no chance of matching the dizzying heights of the still-great original film. You have to at least admire that they took the much more difficult route of trying to explore avenues that were only hinted at originally, and, for the most part, they pulled it off. Not nearly as fun as the first, but if you can put those feelings aside for a couple of hours, you have a pretty successful stand-alone film.
Review by Jason Howard, Film Critic