If you read my New Releases post on Friday, you’d know that I didn’t have high hopes for this film. In the interest of total disclosure, I was far more cynical than that. The original RoboCop was one of my favorite films of all time, and I was fully expecting the remake to be awful. I went to see it only because I felt obligated, if only so I could know what I was complaining about.
I came out of the theater surprised, pleasantly surprised. No, the film didn’t replace the original in my heart, any it’s anything but a perfect film, but I had to admire what the filmmakers did with the concept.
Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is an honest cop on the Detroit police force who stumbles upon a gun dealer who might have connections inside the department. His investigation doesn’t root out the rat, but it does put him on the bad cop’s hit list. A carefully planted car bomb later, and Murphy is left deaf, blind and missing a number of limbs.
Lucky for him, Omnicorp is looking to diversify. Unable to employ its highly successful line of robot drones on U.S. soil, it decides to create the next best thing–cyborg law enforcement officers. Murphy becomes its first test subject and, seemingly, its first success. But when memories of the life Murphy left behind starts overriding Omnicorp’s programming, the corporation moves to protect its asset by any means necessary.
You get the impression that the powers that be knew they couldn’t match the gonzo uber-violence of the original, so they didn’t even bother trying. Instead, they went with a more grounded, more “realistic,” approach to the characters. No, there won’t be any thugs doused in toxic waste then splattered like a bug by a van. Instead, we get tech that seems like it is only a generation or two ahead of what we have now and a hero whose body might be more machine than man, but his emotions and humanity are not diminished.
Another change from the original is that Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish)and son, David (John Paul Ruttan), play a bigger part in the proceedings, acting as the impetus and catalyst for Murphy’s struggle to regain his humanity. This was one of the changes I was most skeptical about, but I believe it worked in the film. It is a tad underdeveloped, but it does play well with what the film is trying to say and adds a layer of pathos to the story.
There is still social commentary, but, other than the Pat Novak character, nothing as “in your face” as the satire in the first film.
Once the realization sets in that this will be an different take on the concept, it becomes much easier take the film for what it is. And what it is is a pretty good sci-fi action film. The action scenes are well staged, they present the technological upgrades in unique and exciting ways, and you are able to become invested in the hero.
Of course, the film is helped by the stellar acting from top to bottom. Kinnaman is solid through all phases of Murphy’s life cycle. Gary Oldman does a good job as the doctor in charge of the project, Dennett Norton. Michael Keaton is great as the slime Omnicorp CEO Ray Sellars. Hopefully this will lead to more roles in big films in his future. Even Samuel L. Jackson as Bill O’Reilly-esque Pat Novak and Jackie Earle Haley as a mercenary named Mattox acquit themselves nicely, although their roles are basically exposition aids.
There are flaws, however. Pacing is an issue. Some scenes seem to drag on too long, yet other scenes speed by without their plot point becoming fully established and there is a rather awkward, preempted sex scene that seems a bit out of place in a PG-13 film.
But, all in all, RoboCop was much better than it needed to be. It can’t hold a candle to the original but it holds it own as its own film.