Release Date: February 12, 2014
Director: José Padilha
Writers: Joshua Zetumer (screenplay); Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner(1987 screenplay)
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
MPAA Rating: PG-13
It can certainly be argued that Hollywood never really needs to remake any films. But, as far as unnecessary remakes go, RoboCop works surprisingly well.
One advantage this new film has going for it is the idea of robot cops patrolling out cities seems a lot closer to reality than it did in 1987. We have cars that drive themselves and robots that can vacuum your floor. And we have unmanned drones that the U.S. military uses in Iraq and Afghanistan to eliminate enemy combatants.
This new film wisely taps into that. In this version, set in 2028, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is using its robots in every country except America. (One of the opening scenes shows their ED-209s patrolling the streets of Iraq as suicide bombers attempt to take them out.) Congress has a law preventing OmniCorp from using robotic peacekeepers in America. The company’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is desperate to find a way to have the law repealed, since getting an American contract would bring in billions in new revenue.
Sellars decides that he needs to sway public opinion and the only way to do that is to humanize these soulless killing machines. So OmniCorp abandons its autonomous robots in favor of an android – a machine that is still controlled by a human. That way, someone with a conscience is pulling the trigger.
At least, theoretically. In reality, Sellars pushes his top scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to dehumanize his new RoboCop as much as possible. Human’s hesitate. They are slower on the trigger than their robot counterparts. So Sellars wants Norton to create the illusion of free will while programming the humanity out of their new cyborg soldier.
The man they choose for the job is Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an honest Detroit cop who is nearly killed while investigating a drug kingpin. Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish) signs a consent form allowing OmniCorp to convert her husband into RoboCop. But the company finds that purging Murphy of his free will isn’t as easy as they thought it would be.
While his computer upgrades make him an efficient supercop (and the PR boost OmniCorp has been praying for), he doesn’t stick to their script. Instead, he begins investigating his own attempted murder, which leads him back to his own corrupt police force.
The internal struggle between man and machine becomes the heart of the film. And by tying that struggle in to modern real world concerns like drone strikes and the NSA spying on Americans make this film feel incredibly relevant.
One other wise update director José Padilha and company add to this version is talking head Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), who is clearly meant to be a satirical version of the type of hyperbolic pundits found on Fox News. Novak is leading the charge for OmniCorp’s transition into the states, attempting to convince viewers why its absolutely necessary to sacrifice personal freedom in the name of public safety.
Similarly, Jay Baruchel plays Tom Pope, the marketing guy for OmniCorp working to sway public opinion in the company’s favor. When RoboCop goes rogue and begins investigating his own attempted murder, Pope amusingly says “Why didn’t I think of that?” as he realizes how much the average American is going to eat that up.
The entire cast is solid. I particularly enjoyed Keaton and Oldman in their roles, as well as Michael K. Williams as Detective Murphy’s partner Jack Lewis and Jackie Earle Haley as Rick Mattox, the sadistic OmniCorp employee in charge of getting RoboCop battle ready.
Fans of the original film may find themselves underwhelmed by the action sequences. They are slickly produced and nicely composed, but with a PG-13 rating, they lack the graphic ultraviolence that was a signature of the 1987 film.
Also, personally, I found the modern matte black version of the suit underwhelming. There are scenes early in the film where the robosuit has the original silver paint job, which is much more interesting visually, but it is painted black when RoboCop makes his public debut.
In the end, RoboCop is about the best you can hope for with a remake. It feels different enough from the original thanks to its use of modern special effects and a script that capitalizes on present day political concerns, but still keeps the heart of the story intact. Unlike most remakes, which feel like a robotic retread of the source material, this film is surprisingly full of life.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.