Over the last few years, Hollywood has had a love affair with remakes, reboots and sequels. This month brings us another reboot, Robocop. I hesitate to call it a remake because while the plots share many key elements, the overall story and character development are quite different. I’m going to be doing some compare and contrasting but will do my best to avoid major spoilers but you have been warned.
The original Robocop is one of my favorite sci-fi films and the central hero has also been iconic to me. As a quick refresher, the original film sees Officer Alex Murphy get shot up quite badly. He survives because he is placed into the robotic suit we’ve all come to know. The technology is owned by OmniCorp and they use special programming code to restrict Robocop’s ability to take action against OmniCorp employees. The new film is similar in many respects. The new Alex Murphy is indeed severely injured but as the trailers show, he isn’t shot. He is essentially blown up by a car bomb outside his home. OmniCorp still plays a primary role in the film just as it did in the original with a few exceptions. Instead of programming code restricting Robocop against taking action against employees, there is a special wrist band worn by people that is protected by the code. This has significance in the introduction to the film and does come back toward the end, kind of.
We’ve seen in the trailers that the new Robocop has a different suit but if you have a keen eye, you’ll notice that the trailer does show a suit very similar to the original at some point. As the posters and overall marketing suggests, the black “tactical” suite plays the primary role. What’s important here is that this film is a reboot of a 1987 classic. Technology has come a long way in that time. The reboot does its best to update the technology dealing directly with Robocop and the rest of the world. Cellphone and tablet technology, for example, is updated to something you’d see out of the new sci-fi TV series, Almost Human. While the original film never really comes out and states a date, the new Robocop takes place in 2028 and yes, it’s still in Detroit.
The true focus on the film centers around the moral and ethical battles between Dr. Dennett Norton (played by Gary Oldman) and Raymon Sellars (played by Michael Keaton). Sellars is the CEO of OmniCorp and Dr. Norton is the genius behind the robotic technology. Together they must find a compromise that not only saves Officer Murphy’s life but also promotes the drone-like technology on American soil.
At the end of the day, there is no way for me not to compare the new film to the original but with that said, the reboot stands on its own very well for exactly what it is… Robocop. If you’re hoping for a deep drama that dives into the complexity of what it truly means to be human… this is not the film for you. If you’re looking for solid science fiction in the form of a cybernetic cop and his battles against the giant conglomerate that is controlling him, go see this film. The new movie is slick, exciting and well formed. Let’s break it down.
First, the casting. Joel Kinnaman plays Office Alex Murphy. Personally, I think he does a solid job channeling Peter Weller. He’s a little too cocky and a bit of a lose canon but overall, I think he handles the emotional complexity of the role quite well. He is, of course, supported by an all-star cast. Gary Oldman is fantastic. His character is clearly the most complicated in the film. Dr. Norton must wrestle with more ethical dilemmas than anyone else involved because he is the only one with the knowledge of how to keep Murphy alive and well. Michael Keaton plays his role equally well. As the CEO of OmniCorp, he doesn’t really care about Murphy. He wants Murphy to succeed only because he wants his robotic drones policing American streets and as the trailers suggest, this is not legal. Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, the host of a massive “news” program that clearly is making a statement about the hyperbole driven media we have today. As usual, he is animated, energetic, aggressive and stellar. He really sells the whole concept his character is meant to enforce, even though he isn’t a major part of the overall film. Then you have Michael K. Williams. Williams plays Office Jack Lewis. Who? Well, you might remember an Officer Anne Lewis from the original. She was Murphy’s partner. Well, instead of having a female partner, Murphy has a male partner this time around. Williams does a fine job but his role has been significantly diminished from the first film. Additionally, I missed the balance of having a female to balance out Robocop. Some of this balance is restored by Murphy’s family which is more prominent in the reboot. Murphy not only has a wife (played by Abbie Cornish) but also a young son (played by John Paul Ruttan). Cornish does a really great job playing her part and her character is integral to Robocop finally figuring things out. Finally, there is Jackie Earle Haley who playes Rick Mattox. Mattox is the “in your face” jerk of the film. He clearly doesn’t like Murphy from the get go and that never changes. He is what I call “the obvious villain” of the film. For the part, Haley does a great job making me hate his guts. The rest of the cast does a fine job but these are the major players.
Next, let’s talk about the overall plot. Personally, I think this film does a better job explaining the need for the technology and the uses behind it. The advances we’ve made over the last three decades help support this part of the story but either way, it’s a positive addition. The parallels to current confrontations, discrimination and media atmosphere are spot on though maybe a bit exaggerated at times, for affect. The story is fairly consistent and keeps me interested. I can’t fault it for not being deep or overly complex because at the end of the day, it’s Robocop.
Finally, the special effects. I’m very impressed. The suit looks perfect. The detail and movements are very impressive and it doesn’t look anywhere near as cumbersome as the original Robocop design. The rest of the drones are equally impressive. I feel that they did a solid job blending the CGI with actual models… or maybe it’s just really great CGI.
So there you have it. I liked this film and was impressed with what they did by rebooting the franchise. If you’re a fan of sci-fi action flicks, RoboCop or the 80’s style of action movies, this is a must see.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”