Movie Review: RoboCop

A cop gets so badly hurt that it almost requires his whole body to get replaced by cyborg parts — no, this isn’t 1987 again, but the remake of the cult sci-fi movie RoboCop. The movie’s been modernised and made relevant for today’s age, but is the new RoboCop able to stand on its own two legs?

The evil corporation in charge is now OmniCorp, who wants to bring its robot drones — used in Iran — to police the streets of the US. Public and governmental resistance is high, but when a cop, Alex Murphy (The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman), is badly hurt in an attempt on his life, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) seizes the opportunity and calls upon scientist Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to create a part-man-part-robot law enforcement officer: RoboCop. Samuel L Jackson, as talk-show host Patrick Novak, almost steals the show just by acting as a parody of himself.

As remakes go, this new RoboCop has done just enough to reimagine itself for a new generation. The fear of robot drones monitoring our every move is particularly relevant, as is the likely impending use of cybernetic implants on humans. Both are shown to be horrific in some way — drones, with no capacity for empathy, execute on sight, while a shocking scene of body horror — which might just outdo the original — questions how far we want implants to go. The costume — sleeker, stealthier — isn’t as much as of a problem as some have made it out to be.

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What elevates the movie from the usual action-drudgery is the quality of the acting: Oldman continues to impress with the best of his Commissioner Gordon skills from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, while Keaton is deliciously evil, almost like an dastardly Bruce Wayne. Kinnaman, in the few moments that he’s out of the mask, does a sterling job.

Brazilian director Jose Padilha’s handheld action-camerawork keeps the action snappy, but there’s nothing to really get the adrenaline pumping. It’s really the execution of the rather intense plot, and how the movie allows for time to breath with moments of levity that makes it work — a scene in China is particularly hilarious yet appropriate for this time and age. All this adds to what is a surprisingly pleasing remake.

Fans of director Paul Verhoeven’s original will also have some moments to smile at — from the theme song, to quotes, to the design of some of the drones, the remake harkens back to the original while generally being respectful.

However, the original’s anti-capitalist message takes on new dimensions, for the new RoboCop doesn’t just take aim at organised crime, but also at the media, at Republican fear-mongerers and at the drone presence in the Middle East. While the 1987’s RoboCop wasn’t exactly subtle in its philosophies, here it is almost a little clumsy. Those who have watched the original will know the movie ends — except this time the idea that Murphy’s humanity triumphs is hammered home.

The remake lacks Verhoeven’s satirical slant, and is less edgy than the original. They’re not the same animal: With a PG-13 rating, think of this RoboCop as the friendlier, less-serious version, which is all about the triumph of the human spirit. It’s almost like comparing the old and new RoboCop costumes, one all rough around the edges, the other all about being sleek and modern.

(PG 13, 118 min)

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