You can count me among the people that weren't looking forward to this Robocop remake. Nothing against the cast or anyone involved, but I love Robocop. Like many of you, I'm growing tired of all the remakes and reboots, and if there was any film that didn't need a remake, it was Robocop.
That's not to say a remake couldn't be good though. There have been some good ones, but there's been some really, really bad ones. Fortunately, this new Robocop falls somewhere in the middle. While it won't make anyone forget the original, it stands up as a solid, but flawed, action film. It's far from the trainwreck I feared it would be.
A word of warning, while I'll avoid spoilers as best I can, there are certain elements I'll be bringing up in comparing the two. If you haven't seen the original by now, then shame on you.
From the opening moments, this has a much different setup and tone. Outside of a few main points, there's not that many similarities to the original story. OmniCorp (OCP) has been supplying robot soldiers that are deployed overseas, and have been successful in decreasing confrontation. They want to bring this to the US, but due to something called the Dreyfuss Act, robot soldiers are outlawed. Despite their efficiency, they aren't trusted by the public to deal with the human aspects of law enforcement. The CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides that a cyborg police officer can be sold to the American public, bridging that gap and allowing them to overcome public opinion. Candidates are selected by lead scientist Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), and it's just a matter of waiting for someone to "volunteer".
Meanwhile, Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and his partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) are tracking down a local crime boss, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). After an attempt to get Vallon fails, Murphy is targeted by Vallon and severely hurt by a car bomb. His only chance for survival is the Robocop program, and his wife (Abbie Cornish) gives her consent to save him.
This was one of the aspects I was concerned about. In the original, Murphy dies and his mind is wiped. One of the main themes is Murphy remembering things about his past life, and slowing regaining some part of his identity and humanity. In this remake, Murphy remembers all details about his life. Everyone seems to be aware of the fact that he's alive, and not many are surprised to see him as a cyborg, as if it's not that big of a deal. He struggles a bit with what was done to him, but gets over it pretty quickly. I also found it odd that they mentioned a few times publicly that he had died. If you're trying to gain the public trust, do you want that face of that to be someone that's been brought back to life? Just say he was severely hurt in the line of duty and OmniCorp technology allowed him to resume his duties, only better. Otherwise people might think he's some kind of cyborg zombie.
Also, his identity can't be in doubt when he has a retractable mask that doesn't obscure his face. I thought the new mask and exposed human hand were going to bug me, but in the context of the film it works. Without it explicitly being stated, you can tell it was a conscious choice by OmniCorp to give him more of a human look to identify with the public. At times he simply looks like a guy in fancy tactical armor.
The aspect of regaining his humanity is replaced with one regarding the concept of free will, when it's revealed the Murphy's brain has been altered, so that he's not always in control of his actions, even though he thinks he is. There are also some interesting themes though regarding media and political manipulation. It's very serious, which leads to probably the biggest problem with the remake: it's too serious. When talking to a few random folks after the film, one consistent complaint was the lack of funny commercials from the original. It's missing the all the campy satire and goofy lines. While there are a few funny parts, this isn't a film I would call fun.
Another issue I had is the lack of a strong villain. The original gave us the awesome Clarence Boddicker, played perfectly by Kurtwood Smith. His performance is still quoted to this day. There's really no central villain in the current film. Antoine Vallon is totally underdeveloped and you never feel any consistent threat from him. He's practically an afterthought halfway through the film. The lack of a central villain is made worse by a very sloppy and rushed conclusion that felt like it was improvised as they went along. It's so poorly conceived that it almost ruins all the good things setup in the first half of the film. This is the weakest aspect of Joshua Zetumer's screenplay. It seems odd that they would try to reboot a franchise with someone's first screenplay. It would have been a good idea to bring in a veteran screenwriter to punch up the script and come up with a better ending.
I was happy they didn't shoehorn a bunch of references and quotes from the original. The updated, original theme song was a nice touch.
The effects are good for the most part, but there are a few times where Robocop looks a little too much like a CG creation, especially in some of the bigger action sequences. With all the black on black, you can't always make out what's going on. There were a few creative scenes though, and it always cool to see Robocop taking out bad guys. I've never seen any of director Jose Padilha's other films, but he seems to have a good handle on action.
There were a few times where I had a hard time telling if Kinnaman was in a suit or some CG/green suit creation. It's just not the same as seeing Peter Weller in a big ass robot suit, and you lose some that tangible quality. On a side note, I've always heard stories about how Peter Weller worked so hard on making his moves robotic that directors in other works had to remind him to stop walking like a robot or turning at 90 degrees.
Robocop boasts a very strong cast and is well acted across the board. As much as I like Joel Kinnaman as Holder on The Killing, I wasn't sure if he was the right choice for Robocop. He showed some surprising emotional range and he did a good job overall. It was nice to see a different side of him. Gary Oldman was his dependable self always classes any film up. Michael Keaton was a welcome sight after what seems like years and years of not seeing him in anything. Kind of an inspired casting, but he did well. I'd like to see him in more roles like this. I also thought Abbie Cornish did a good job. She's always come of as kind of flat in other roles, but I actually thought she was really showing some emotion this time.
Samuel Jackson has the most fun as Fox News type television show host. He has some of the few genuine laughs of the film. These were also some of the parts I also though were the most interesting, as his character was attempting to use his show to sway public opinion.
As it's PG-13, there's very little blood, no nudity, and very little swearing I could recall. I think it's suitable for teens though.
It doesn't have the same fun or subversive satire of the original, but the Robocop remake manages to be a solid action flick. It's well acted, has good special effects, and outside of a messy conclusion, is smarter than expected. If you can get past the aversion to remakes, and go in with an open mind, I don't think you'll be that disappointed. It's worth a matinee.
3 (out of 5) Death Stars