The original RoboCop grounded itself in satire and comedy. The robocop in that film, though mostly machine, often displayed a lot of human emotion and human wit. He told jokes. He understood sarcasm. He very convincingly mocked the police system. The film itself was chockablock with blood and exploding limbs. Often it all looked very comical. This new RoboCop is sleeker, smarter, faster, deeper, more tragic, and ultimately much needed.
I thoroughly enjoyed this remake, and that’s because it devotes a lot of its time and attention to Alex Murphy the man, not to robocop. There is a scene early on that demonstrates this difference. Murphy returns home after a hard day’s work to be with his family. He tucks his son into bed and promises to watch hockey games with him. He retreats to his bedroom with his wife (Abbie Cornish) for a romantic night. His car alarm interrupts the undressing. What happens next you’ve already seen in the trailers.
This scene is strategic because it introduces us to Murphy’s family. Yes, it’s a little bit contrived, but it’s something the original film lacked. In order to feel for this man, we need to know what he has to lose. In the original, Murphy’s family was only shown to us via memories and dreams. They could’ve been dead for all we knew. Here, they are very much alive, and Murphy’s wife plays a larger role. By the end of the movie we are not sure if we feel more sorry for Murphy or for his family.
The general idea of RoboCop, in case you missed the 1987 original directed by Paul Verhoeven, involves a police officer becoming a robot, or a cyborg. In order for this to happen, he has to die, or come dangerously close to death. All that has to survive are his neurological signs. The technology, developed by the Omni corporation, ensures that his physical body can be manufactured. The reason for this transformation, however, is different in both films.
In the original, the Omni corporation wanted a more efficient law enforcer. They released a prototype machine that malfunctioned, causing the board of directors to push for a more organic approach. In this remake, robots are already patrolling the streets of foreign countries. Now, OmniCorp — headed by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) — wants to disperse its robots to the streets of America. A debate rises. Do the people of America want humans with intuition, judgement and logic keeping them safe? Or do they want efficient robots protecting them and the lives of their law enforcers? “Not a single police officer has to die in the line of duty ever again”, Raymond ensures.
Raymond wants his machines protecting America, thus bloating his bank account. The United States congress believes nothing beats human intuition. Raymond and his PR team come up with the solution: Put a handicapped man in a mechanical body and give the people what they want. The best of both worlds. They find Murphy, badly charred and disfigured after a murder attempt sends his car up in flames. With the help of R&D chief, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), they create robocop.
Murphy is played by Swedish-American actor, Joel Kinnaman, who does a fine job of underacting. This is ideal because he spends most of the movie sedated, stoned, or rigid-faced. I am not familiar with his work, but I suspect he was chosen because his mouth, chin, and voice bear uncanny similarities to Peter Weller’s. His downgrade from human being to monotone machine is well charted. And at times it’s very painful to witness. Director José Padilha does well to draw his transformation to the foreground. Here is a man whose only hope for survival is to become a machine. And in order for him to become a successful machine he has to surrender his humanity. Where is the line that separates us from them?
RoboCop takes its time with its characters. It gives us the space to lend sympathy. We are familiar with Murphy’s plight, but we are not familiar with what this plight does to him. Now we are. Now we can see that he isn’t a hero; he’s the victim. His whole life is nothing but a test. A gimmick to help promote OmniCorp’s arrogance. The original RoboCop was a gritty and gory action flick that exalted its titular character to superheroism. It lacked depth and patience, and it never penetrated robocop’s metallic exterior. If I had to judge this remake on its own, I would’ve given it 3 stars. Compared to the original, it gets 4.
Best Moment | There are plenty.
Worst Moment | The talking villain cliche.