When detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman – The Killing) is severely injured in the line of duty, he is selected to undergo a radical new procedure to save his life. Meshing man and machine, Murphy becomes RoboCop, a cyborg made by Omnicorp to become the future of law enforcement.
27 years on and Paul Verhoeven’s seminal classic still stands the test of time. The original Robocop was groundbreaking on so many levels, with stylised ultra-violence blanketed in biting satire. Let’s be plainly clear – RoboCop, like countless other cherished properties from our past, DID NOT need a remake. Any new version was never going to beat the original with its near-perfect blend of action and dark comedy. So we now find ourselves welcoming an inevitable new vision for ‘the future of law enforcement’.
As a huge fan of the original I greeted news of this remake sceptically but the more I heard about the project the more I became curious on just how they were going to tackle this. So I’m approaching the remake with a deep passion for the source material but open-minded to what any new interpretation could bring to the table.
Joshua Zetumer has adapted the amazing original screenplay by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner but his remit is noticeably different. Gone are the in-jokes, replaced instead with a much more linear story that sits squarely as an action movie. The only satire comes in the form of Samuel L. Jackson’s news-hound who gives us gems of patriotic propaganda during his current affairs show. It should be said that Jackson is superb in the film and frequently steals his scenes.
The story is fundamentally the same but to its detriment it leaves out big chunks of what endeared RoboCop to its audience in the first place – the fact that man learns to overcome the machine. Apart from one quick scene, we never feel the human element of RoboCop making a real impact in this story.
Director José Padilha brings a nice stylised vision to the table and makes the reboot his own movie. The action sequences are frantic and the establishing shots even echo parts of The Dark Knight. He gives the film a keen eye for drama and frames his shots very well. The opening gunfight in a restaurant has a shaky-cam feel that suits the situation perfectly whilst every shot of RoboCop riding his motorcycle through Detroit looks infinitely cool.
Joel Kinnaman has the toughest job of all here. His Alex Murphy isn’t given enough time to really draw in the viewer. Following Peter Weller was always going to be a tough ask and he does what he can with the material at hand but Kinnaman isn’t as impactful as he should be. He still handles the action very well and is a good leading man; I just think Alex Murphy needed to be fleshed out more for Kinnaman to really make the role his own.
The supporting cast are all good with Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle and Jackie Earle Haley all delivering solid performances. Michael K. Williams doesn’t have much to do in the under-written role of Murphy’s partner Lewis but former Batman Michael Keaton does exceptionally well as the head of Omnicorp. RoboCop achieves its biggest success through Gary Oldman though. He is frequently better than the source material, but Oldman still brings his A-game to every scene and lends a human fragility to the role of Dr. Dennett Norton that’s amazing to watch.
Violence played a huge part in the success of the original RoboCop. By chasing a 12A certificate, this remake had downed any hope of touching the same levels of action a long time ago. However it’s interesting to see quite how much you can get away with on a 12A picture these days. In its own way, this is violent enough. It may not have the same emotional pull as you felt when Peter Weller’s Murphy was being mowed down with gunfire or Clarence Boddicker is being thrown through panes of glass but it seems to fit its purpose just right. I would have preferred a hard-18 rated movie but if selling toys and bringing in a younger fan-base was what they wanted, they’ve achieved it in a satisfying and successful way. The film’s action could have sucked but it doesn’t. I just would have liked to have seen more of it.
The end of the film seems bereft of big ideas and doesn’t end as satisfyingly as it should. Given the stellar start and the time spent setting the scene, it’s a low payout whatever way you look at it. The ED-209’s should have featured in a better final fight and the wow factor should have been present throughout. Sadly this is all too predictable and offers little in the way of invention or setting its own agenda.
When all is said and done, RoboCop isn’t as bad as previously feared. It’s even quite enjoyable if you approach it with an open mind. There will be those who can’t distance themselves from what’s come before and I completely understand that predicament (if anyone remade Back to the Future I would be livid). 2014’s RoboCop is certainly more entertaining than the sub-par sequels and TV series we have had before and this at least brings a fresh spin to the iconic hero’s lifecycle. I’d really like to see a sequel to this movie too; it could develop into a nice franchise now that they’ve got the tricky origin story out of the way. Sadly, I don’t see this doing big enough business to get one, especially given the bad press it’s received so far. But with a great nod to the classic original right at the end, RoboCop Mk 2 could be still be a very entertaining ride to take if audiences are willing to give this one a chance.