As the remake of the 1987 film directed by Paul Verhoeven, “RoboCop” has its own interesting areas to explore, and I like that aspect despite some reservation on it. There are several moments in the film which inevitably take us back to the original version, and its lack of that offbeat edginess in the original version is more apparent because of that, but the movie mostly works as a nice remake with different appearance.
Its initial premise is not so different from that of the 1987 film. It is 2028 in Detroit, and the city has been suffering from increasing crime rate. While that is not particularly shocking to many of you considering how much Detroit has already gotten worse than its ‘futuristic’ depiction in the 1987 film, I must point out that Detroit in the movie actually looks nice compared to the real one which was once chosen as the worst city for tourists in the world by Lonely Planet(not so surprisingly, the movie was shot in Canada).
Anyway, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is eager to provide the solution for that problem through their robots which have been successfully used in many American military operations around the world, but there is a problem blocking their lucrative business plan. The majority of American citizen is against the introduction of robots into their legal system, and there is also an ongoing political movement in Washington D.C. to pass a bill legally banning that once for all.
Raymond Sellars(Michael Keaton), the CEO of OmniCorp, has tried to find a way to change the public opinion, and then he gets a nice idea which might work. He decides to make a cyborg policeman to put the human face on his plan, so he recruits Dr. Dennett Norton(Gary Oldman), a leading expert of advanced prosthetic technology who reluctantly joins in Sellar’s project while not denying his scientific interest in it.
Not long after they begin to search for someone suitable for their project, they come upon an ideal candidate. Alex Murphy(Joel Kinnaman), a diligent Detroit cop and decent family guy, is seriously injured after he and his partner went a little too deeply into their recent case involved with a local gang organization and police corruption. There is not much hope of recovery due to the severe physical damages throughout his body, and Dr. Norton persuades his devastated wife Clara(Abbie Cornish) that his project may be only way to help her husband.
As soon as he regains his consciousness, Murphy is naturally horrified by what has happened to his body, and it takes some time for him to adjust to his new condition through Dr. Norton’s help. Clara is glad to see and talk with her husband again, but the awkwardness between them is palpable when he visits her and their son at his home. His humanity may remain same in his new body, but Murphy is contained in the body controlled and monitored by others, and he soon faces the limits imposed on his mind when Sellars begins to regard him as a product to be discarded after realizing that RoboCop’s popularity in public can actually ruin his plan.
While the 1987 film is still fun to watch, its special effects looks dated and clunky, and the remake version ably uses its technical advantages to give itself a more polished look. It looks far more closely into its hero’s transformation process which was rather brief and sketchy in the 1987 film mainly due to its technological limits, and many of its science fiction details are interesting to watch. While Peter Weller in the original film had to endure a really hard time in that hefty metal suit which almost exhausted him to death during the production, Joel Kinnaman looks less uncomfortable in comparison, and his RoboCop is capable of many things which were virtually impossible to be depicted on the screen in 1987. Thanks to CGI, he can move more freely like the other robots in the movie, and we also have a chance to look literally inside him at one point(and that is not a pretty sight, by the way).
The movie becomes less interesting when it changes its gear into a standard action mode with lots of bullets and explosions. José Padilha, a Brazilian fillmmaker who previous directed “Elite Squad”(2007) and its 2010 sequel, is a good action director, and the action scenes in the movie is brisk and intense on the surface, but they are usually handled with shaky camera movement and busy editing to get PG-13 rating instead of R rating. It is nice to see those big robots from the 1987 version doing lots of actions with no sign of stiffness, but I found myself losing interest to the story during the climax part as I did during many CGI action scenes.
The actors in the movie do as much as they can do to fill their functional roles, and some of them are good while others are not so good. While Joel Kinnaman keeps his character intact amid lots of special effects, Gary Oldman is more interesting as a scientist on the thin line between principle and compromise. As the main villain of the story, Michael Keaton plays his character with understandably business-minded selfishness, and Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, and Jackie Earle Haley get the mundane job of playing flat characters on his payroll. While Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Michael K. Williams do not have many things to do in the underdeveloped part associated with Murphy’s last investigation before his transformation, Samuel L. Jackson, who plays an ultra-conservative TV show host, amply brings his usual commanding presence into his scenes, but these scenes are not successful as either satire or social commentary – and that is the main reason why his last scene feels unnecessary and distracting.
“RoboCop” is not as good as the 1987 version, but I give my reserved 3 stars mainly because it does a better job as a remake than “Total Recall”(2012), which was based on another famous SF action film directed by Paul Verhoeven. Compared to Verhoeven’s striking mix of SF action and bloody satire in the 1987 version, this remake version undeniably looks less distinctive and amusing, but it has its own style and ideas while acknowledging its senior, and the result is a slick entertainment film with enough interest to hold my attention. I think it will not be remembered well, but I also think it is a little too good to be ignored.