Like Dredd before it, RoboCop is an example of a remake done right. It doesn’t quite surpass the original in the way that Dredd demolished its forebear, but it does enough to justify its existence. Fans of the 1987 film and its director Paul Verhoeven don’t have to fear another rehash in the vein of the derivative Total Recall reboot.
This is largely thanks to the stellar cast that incoming director José Padilha (Elite Squad) has assembled: Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. Donning the suit is The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman, who ably fills the shoes of Alex Murphy – a law enforcer ‘saved’ from dying by being turned into a cyborg. It’s a surprisingly adept pedigree, and reflects the story’s shift in focus from action to character.
While there’s action to be found, mostly in the film’s second half, much of the story is concerned with the psychological consequences of turning a man into a robot and the morality of performing such a procedure. The horror of this situation is convincingly portrayed by Kinnaman, but it’s Oldman’s rueful Dr Dennett Norton who does most of the heavy-lifting. Oldman runs rings around the rest of the cast and is a delight to watch whenever on screen.
Bonus political satire and jingoistic social commentary, conveyed by news show The Novak Element hosted by Samuel L. Jackson’s pro-robot presenter, helps RoboCop to become a sci-fi that keeps you thinking and entertained. The Novak Element supports aloof CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton) who wishes to use RoboCop to sway the public in favour of repealing an Act that prevents robots from being used on American soil to enforce the law. The problem is who’s in control of Robocop – the man or the machine?
It’s a strong premise competently executed, with a good mix of practical and computer effects. It falters only in its slow start and generic cityscapes. While the action lacks the high-impact violence of the original it’s afforded a fresh emotional weight. Those looking for gore will be disappointed, although a scene revealing what’s beneath the suit will turn stomachs. Top it off with tasteful nods to Verhoeven’s film, such as the use of Basil Poledouris’ classic RoboCop theme, and this is one remake that embraces its heritage without being slavishly bound by it.
Less brutal than the original, this RoboCop trades violence for character development and takes the series in a slick new direction.