After he is injured in an attack on his home, Detroit Police Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is absorbed into OmniCorp’s project to create a half man, half machine police officer.
There is a special place in many a film fan’s heart for the original Robocop film; released in 1987, the film is a classic 80s bloody, sci-fi crime thriller. Good and bad a lines firmly drawn in the sand and mostly people stick to them; unless they are double crossing one another. Not so, the 2014 remake. This time out, we are presented with a Robocop whose wife and son consistently get in the way, where he struggles with his new role and bad is often done for the sake of trying to do good. Sound familiar? It feels like much the same treatment as Total Recall and The Planet of the Apes got in their recent remakes, where lead actors become conduits for action and origins stories take far too long.
Not that the cast isn’t brilliant, it is. Samuel L. Jackson’s rhetoric spouting TV show host is a delight, Gary Oldman chews a little scenery, but calms it down for the sake of being the good guy scientist – even if he doesn’t have a whole lot to do – and Michael Keaton camps it up in every way possible, while still making his character slightly believable, as the head of OmniCorp Raymond Sellars. Abbie Cornish, however, gets another raw deal; this time playing a nagging wife and lead actor Joel Kinnaman seems to have been cast for his pouty lips that show through under the helmet, rather than for his skill as an actor, and he becomes a conduit for the action, rather than a fully rounded character.
In comparison to the original, Robocop is a completely different film; we spend a lot of time with Murphy and his family so we learn what he has lost when he is swept away, we learn about the doctor, the process and the reason for creating the Robocop programme to begin with, and we see Murphy slowly lose his humanity. The loss of humanity is interesting, but it doesn’t sit all that well with the allegory of sending Officer Murphy on a Christ-like path; die, resurrect and save humanity (in this case, Detroit).
In terms of pacing, the film is a mess; so long is spent creating the suit that the man inside it becomes unimportant; by the time Murphy returns home, it feels like a cinematic eternity has passed. The visual effects, however, are incredibly well done, and the scenes where we finally see the sacrifice that Murphy has made are truly gruesome. Sadly though, the gory gunfights of the original are gone, and the political motivation for creating the drone and Robocop systems feel more than a little preachy. Setting the original in an unrecognisable future worked for the film, this world is too familiar for Robocop to truly be fantasy, and this takes the shine off the surface a little.
In all, Robocop is another sanitised remake of a messy, gory and over the top 80s classic. That said, there are some interesting ideas in here and, even though Kinnaman and Cornish suffer greatly, Oldman and Keaton ably carry the film. The visual effects are great, as are many of the combat scenes; it’s just a shame that in trying to make a clever sci-fi thriller, the creators of this remake have all but washed all trace of the original Robocop story away. There is fun to be had with Robocop, but it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve seen this story before, and not in the original.