As a huge fan of the original RoboCop film, I was a little concerned about the idea of rebooting the series. The original movie has become a classic, the suit is iconic, and the violent and satirical tone of the movie made it something truly unique. So the only way that I could find to fairly look at this move was as if it were not a reboot and let it stand as its own movie. Luckily, that was not very hard to do.
RoboCop starts off in the year 2028 with a scene in Iran in which robotics company Omnicorp has brought “peace” through the use of drones that roam the streets and keep the people in constant fear of going outside. While this has become U.S. foreign policy it is illegal to use drones within the United States. In order to sway public opinion in his favor Omnicorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides they need to create a public icon people can rally behind. They find it in Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinneman), who is extensively injured in an assassination attempt. While Murphy tries to adjust and find his place in the world Sellars sees him as nothing more than a PR stunt to usher in his lucrative drone business in the United States. With that, Murphy’s every action is under control of Omnicorp but the human side of Murphy resists being controlled.
This is really what’s at the heart of the movie; the human element. Alex Murphy is a man and is always aware of it. From the beginning we see his relationships with his partner and family and after his accident he is the same man (though physically most of him is gone). He knows who he is and everybody refers to him as Detective Murphy; he is not a mindless robot following a program. He has emotions; he knows his family and is even allowed to see them in his new form. This really makes the new RoboCop suit make a lot more sense than when it was first shown in photos. By showing Murphy’s face a majority of the time and leaving one human hand the touch of his human presence is always there. This is a contrast to the faceless drones that are entirely void of thought and emotion. The film really pays a lot of attention to the incorporation of technology in our lives and how these things might be more efficient and effective they are missing the human element. One of the largest detractors of drones in the movie points out that if a drone kills a child it feels nothing. The human element brings remorse and, when needed, fear and hesitation. The point is driven that these are benefits and not flaws of being human.
The film itself is paced pretty well. There is a balance between action and drama. Drama plays a large role in this movie with Murphy struggling to accept his new body, work on his relationships, and not lose his identity. Gary Oldman does a great job as the scientist that creates RoboCop, Dr. Norton. Norton is always in a state of ethical dilemma as he fights Omnicorp’s attempts to strip away more and more of Murphy’s human nature. Sometimes these philosophical debates can seem tedious but they do make interesting points. And then there are the action sequences. There are many and they are very well done. Director José Padilha has great skill at action sequences; they are fast paced and often play out like a first person shooter video game (from the view of RoboCop’s visor). Fans of fast-paced action movies will surely be delighted by these scenes and find them worth the wait through the slower parts.
The casting with RoboCop is very strong. Joel Kinneman does a good job as Murphy. He shows a believable range of emotion and plays the stoic character well when needed. Gary Oldman is wonderful in his role and shows us he can play a sympathetic nice guy just as well as he could play any villain. Michael Keaton is just slimy enough as Omnicorp CEO Raymond Sellars; although it always seems he could take it a little further. Two of the most fun characters in the film are Pat Novak, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a TV pundit that loudly and excitedly expounds on the benefits of drones and cuts off any opposition to his view. Jackie Earle Haley is also great as Mattox; a military strategist that wants RoboCop to fail because he thinks robots are more efficient than anything human. While not comical characters, Novak and Mattox both serve as a comic relief and had the audience laughing. This was necessary considering the generally serious tone of the movie. The only actor that really seemed out of place was Jay Baruchel as the sleazy Omnicorp PR officer. He tries his best but when surrounded by the seasoned actors in this film he just feels too young for his role and unable to go toe to toe, but not so much that it ruins the film.
Now: back to the original RoboCop. Is this film a direct copy of that movie? No. This version seems to have a voice all its own and is intended for today’s technological, fast-paced audience. With a PG-13 rating, the new film will not have the language and gruesome violence that the original film was known for. Nor does it have such strong political themes and subversive tones. If that’s what you want to see, you won’t find it here (but would you really want to see such a direct rip-off?). It’s much more of a modern Hollywood movie. However, it does delve into the interesting debate of what separates machines from humans and losing yourself to the machines you become reliant upon. Overall, it’s a pretty good movie. It’s not the original, but for taking the premise into a whole new direction and doing a good job of it I think the movie is really worth a watch.
RoboCop hits theaters today!