It’s a brave person that makes the decision to remake Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 cult sci-fi, classic RoboCop. It takes an even braver individual to chose to remove the satire and ultra violence to make a RoboCop very much aimed at a mainstream, presumably teenage boy, audience.
The story is similar to the original but the aesthetics less gritty. This time OmniCorp are a global organisation, their robo-droids dispatched throughout the world in peace keeping exercises. But back in the good old US of A politics and public opinion mean that OmniCorp are unable to deploy their hardware on the streets with many arguing that a robot has no moral compass with which to make decisions.
Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a good cop in a bad city determined to hunt down the corruption within the force and the drugs on the streets. When he becomes the victim of a car bomb OmniCorp steps in to save his life but only with the help of robotics expert Dr. Dennet Norton (Gary Oldman) who turns Alex into RoboCop. But is he man or machine? That last point is key to this RoboCop and it seems, unfortunately, the filmmakers aren’t entirely sure either.
On the one hand RoboMurphy has emotions, he’s driven to do things outside of his directives but on the other he can be overridden and programmed like a robot. It’s hinted that this is the point, with Robo’s name being ‘Tin Man’ but it often feels like no definite answer is ever offered up. Furthermore, many of the characters seem to have been polarized in multiple re-drafts. Oldman’s Dennet, a man who prides himself on bringing emotion to his robotics work, refuses to be any part of the Robo program but once he’s in he seems only too content to ‘wipe’ Robo’s memory in order to get him to follow orders.
Despite this there are many interesting and good ideas on offer. The concept of man vs. machine, the idea of whether droids are a moral way of engaging in warfare all play key parts in the updated, rather than upgraded, RoboCop. Throw in some kinetic action sequences, deftly executed by director José Padilha, some visual flourishes, the remnants of Murphy being just a set of lungs, a head and an arm being a particularly memorable one, and RoboCop certainly has a degree of appeal to it.
Of course given the emergence of the superhero genre as the guiding light by which studio execs are now driven, RoboCop feels distinctly like a superhero origin story. Alex’s alter ego is RoboCop but he still has his wife and child back home as he learns to harness and then utilise his huge powers. Unlike his clunky ‘80s predecessor this Robo is super-fast, strong and agile. He can leap great distances in a single bound, is the quickest draw in Detroit and he’s even assembled by an Iron Man like gizmo. It’s the kind of material that Verhoeven would have had a field day with, but movies like the original RoboCop simply aren’t made anymore.
Like its protagonist RoboCop is confused as to what it wants to be, paling in comparison to the original film it often lacks in heart but just about has enough ideas to maintain the minimal of interest.