The remake of 1987's RoboCop is finally here. Whether or not Paul Verhoeven's ultra-violent movie needs a reboot is an irrelevant discussion at this point. However, what does matter is whether director José Padilha's take on the sci-fi story is worth paying a dollar to see. Okay, movie tickets are obviously way more expensive than just a dollar, but the pun was too tempting and I swear I won't make any more.
The core of RoboCop's story remains similar to the first but it's modified to fit the modern world. OmniCorp has robots creating "safety and security" as they occupy nations across the globe, but politicians and citizens here in the United States aren't cool with heartless drones and droids walking around in the streets. Naturally, this is upsetting news to OmniCorp because they could make a whole lot of money by selling products at home. And so begins the idea of putting a man in a machine -- something that'll put the public at ease because it'll allegedly have emotions and be more relatable. The key message behind the story is still there and Samuel L. Jackson's character -- a manipulative pundit -- delivers a good serving of satire, but the movie then implements a ton of changes.
Many of the big changes are given away in the trailers, so it's not a spoiler to point out one of the significant alterations is Alex Murphy still has a connection to his family. Instead of focusing solely on Murphy and his partner like the first movie (Michael K. Williams plays the partner and doesn't have a significant role), this one dedicates a very large amount of time to how his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son (John Paul Ruttan) are responding to these drastic developments. It aims to get the feels going and you'd have to have a heart of ice not to feel for the family, but at the same rate, some of these scenes tend to drag a bit.
Michael Keaton plays Raymond Sellars, the cliche greedy and two-faced OmniCorp executive. He does a fine job with the role, but Keaton never really has the opportunity to shine, either. Gary Oldman's Dr. Dennett Norton, the mind behind creating RoboCop, and he finds himself in a moral dilemma over how Murphy is being handled. As always, Oldman gives an engaging performance, so it should come as no surprise that scenes with him never really fall flat. As stated above, Samuel L. Jackson's character, Pat Novak, is an unexpected highlight. The actor nails the absurdity of some pundits and never fails to enthrall. Let's get right to the main one: Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy. Initially, the performance doesn't standout and comes off feeling generic. However, once he's put in the suit, he gets the opportunity to hit us with much stronger performances -- be it emotional or completely cold as RoboCop -- and definitely does the role justice.
Padilha's reboot has one big advantage over the first one: visuals. Just like RoboCop's redesign, the movie looks slick. There's more than a handful of thoroughly pleasing moments from Murphy's perspective as he runs through simulations of potential paths in combat or targets his enemies and takes aim. Even something as simple as Murphy racing through Detroit on his bike or leaping over a wall and then running through a field is a nice dose of eye candy. The ED-209 battle likely won't blow anyone away, but it's an energetic and pretty fun action scene. Despite seeming bulky, Murphy's much swifter and it's quite entertaining watching the hero leap around and move fluidly. There's also a bigger focus on Murphy's detective work and it's a real treat as we see him solve a crime with his enhanced vision and database. It feels similar to the "detective mode" in Batman: Arkham Origins, and if you've played the game, you know that's cool.
Without blatantly giving anything away, I will say the direction OmniCorp takes in this film feels drastically different than what happened in '87 and it provides a more emotional experience. It likely won't get the waterworks going, but it's commendable they weren't just blatantly rehashing the original storyline and they do a solid job building our empathy for Murphy. The overall plot may not be as good as the original, but this new path produces some particularly effective new material (e.g. the first couple of scenes with Murphy in his new body).
The classic RoboCop had a crazy amount of violence, and while this reboot is PG-13, you can still get away with a lot of graphic material in that rating. Unfortunately, this movie doesn't feel like a hard PG-13 at all. One visually gripping scene of Murphy's new physical status aside, there's a significant lack of bloodshed. Sure, people are killed, but it usually consists of them abruptly falling over or via explosions so the actual death is obscured. Now, I'm not saying excessive blood squibs is a mandatory for the movie -- especially since the franchise is clearly paving a new path and tone -- but there's barely any blood, even during the big shootout. The movie is clearly trying to give a fair amount of respect to the classic (the theme is used, two famous lines are added), but to have it not deliver at all in this regard definitely feels odd. Throw in the fact Murphy now frequently uses a high-tech taser pistol and you're sure to have many fans very disappointed with this and walk out of the theater thinking it's a watered-down version of the story they adore.
The main criminal in this one comes off as incredibly lackluster and uninspired. The guy never has a standout personality and is even hesitant about the idea of killing a policy officer. He almost feels forced in just to remain somewhat true to the main plot points of the original movie. Honestly, it would have been better if they found a way to make Jackie Earle Haley's character (an OmniCorp employee who works with machines) behind all of the dirty work. Unlike the primary criminal, Haley's charismatic and gives a noticeable presence. Lastly, the push for extra security in the United States feels unwarranted because you never get a sense that things are really that bad. Yes, there's signs of corruption and unsolved crimes, but it never feels like Detroit is a city where additional law enforcement is desperately needed.
I'm left down the middle with RoboCop. If you compare it to the original -- which is expected from lovers of Verhoeven's movie -- odds are you won't be the biggest fan around. However, if you judge this reboot on its own merits, then you just may find this to be an alright dose of popcorn entertainment and a decent way to begin a new franchise. It's not violent or even all that compelling, but it's slick and does a thorough job creating a whole new road for Alex Murphy.