UK Release: 09/06/2014
Directed by: Jose Padilha
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton
I know what you’re thinking – why would anyone remake Robocop? It’s not exactly the most high-brow sci-fi film ever made, but its retro-futuristic visuals and gut-churning effects made it an instant classic. How can a remake possibly compete?
The thing is, Robocop is more than just a remake… and where I originally balked at the thought of a new version of this classic movie, there’s plenty of new bits and bobs to make this a new story that’s worth telling.
Much like the original, we follow detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) – a Detroit police officer who is brutally slain in the line of duty. And as if by chance, a plucky tech company happens to be on the lookout for a test subject in their latest robotics programme… It’s a tale that so far sounds very familiar. But this is where Robocop takes a left turn.
OmniCorp – this film’s version of OCP – has been in the business of building fully-operational military drones for years. In fact, the very start of the film shows the emotionless droids searching for insurgents in a foreign land. The problem is, the American people won’t stand for drones on the streets of their home nation… but OmniCorp boss Raymond Sellars (plays by Michael Keaton) senses a huge profit to be made.
It’s clear that Robocop brings something new to the table… namely, its rather modern take on the concept of drone warfare. Clearly, the entire film is underpinned with a brilliant social commentary on the politics (and ethics) of drone warfare – something which is increasingly relevant even today.
Much like the original, detective Murphy soon finds himself an unwitting participant in OmniCorp’s grand plan – to put a man inside the machine. Making their droids more human will surely increase the public perception of their mechanised units. And that’s the entire reason Robocop has been created – as a marketing gimmick.
Convinced that Americans will rally round this new, half-man, half-machine hero, Robocop is unleashed to the Detroit police department… but not before a bit of fine-tuning.
This is where the second (but no less-important) ethical conundrum arises. Put simply, Robocop isn’t efficient enough to meet the pin-point accuracy and blazing-fast response times of their standard droids. Backed into a corner, Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is forced to make Robocop a better machine – effectively taking away his free will by bypassing the brain when in combat mode.
In fact, Norton’s rather unethical modifications continue to become more and more severe, turning Murphy into little more than a drone himself… while appeasing the public with the illusion of free will.
It’s an interesting concept and works well to tip the idea of the original movie on its head. Complimented by some brilliant performances from Kinnaman and Oldman, and a power-hungry CEO from Keaton, it’s not just a simple remake… and manages to add a new depth to the idea of the original while doing away with the over-the-top violence.
In that respect, it’s interesting that the film went for a 12 rating instead of the previous movie’s 18… and while some purist may think that the film has been toned down, it’s just not the same kind of film anymore. It takes the concepts of the original Robocop and expands upon them, making it a very different film indeed. But no less enjoyable.
Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Robocop suffers simply by being a reboot. It will never be remembered as a classic like its predecessor, but it’s still an enjoyable, thought-provoking and intelligent sci-fi action movie.