"They want a product with a conscious. Something that knows what it feels like to be human. We gonna put a man inside a machine."
You don't necessarily have to be from the 80's to have heard about the cult classic and ultra-violent RoboCop which served as a witty and funny satire of its time. As with most remakes I always go into them with very low expectations, so when I heard Brazilian director, Jose Padilha (known in South America for his successful film Elite Squad and its sequel) was working on a reboot of the franchise I wasn't very excited. Despite not loving this remake, I was surprised that this film took such a different approach from the original and stood out on its own. Fans of the original might be disappointed that this isn't a fun action film. Padilha has made an ambitious film that differs greatly from the original one by focusing on modern political themes and powerful corporate agendas. It also humanizes the main character and tries to explore his emotions as he has to learn to deal with his new robotic self. There are some very important scenes Joel Kinnaman shares with Gary Oldman as Padilha plays on the dynamics between them and raises various ethical questions along the way. Oldman's character struggles with how much freedom he should give to his creation while being pushed by Corporate greed to deliver a product. Padilha does explore these political and social issues pretty well, while dealing with other concepts such as the illusion of free will and media bias (which we see through Jackson's character). Where this film failed for me however was in the action sequences which at times felt like a video game. Many scenes felt like I was watching my friends play Call of Duty, and I felt detached. So I can see why this film might upset fans because it isn't an action packed film, but more of a sci-fi exploration of modern political and social fears. It isn't groundbreaking, but Robocop stands on its own apart from the original as a somewhat different film.
Joshua Zetumer adapted the screenplay for this remake and he did a decent job at modernizing several of the issues the story presents. It's clearly more character driven than the original, but lacks that witty and sharp humor that made the original such a beloved classic. The film opens in 2028 as we listen to a news report from Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson) setting up the stage. He's a pro-robot TV host that is trying to convince Americans to embrace robot technology like the rest of the world has. OmniCorp is the multinational corporation that runs this robot technology that has functioned as the military force keeping peace across the globe. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is the billionaire running OmniCorp that realizes that if he's going to change American public opinion about robots he is going to need to present a more human one. OmniCorp finds the opportunity they were looking for when a Detroit cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured after trying to bring down a couple of corrupt cops and a big local dealer. Sellars convinces Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), a pioneer in robotic prosthetics, to save Alex and turn him into a part-robot, part-man police officer. With Alex's wife, Clara's (Abbie Cornish) permission they save his life, but they plan to keep him doped so he will follow their orders. However Alex proves to be stronger than they expected and he sets out to find justice against those that tried to murder him.
This new RoboCop turns out to be a very different movie than the original taking itself too seriously and trying to raise important ethical questions along the way. This isn't something we were expecting as viewers from a RoboCop film, but somehow Padilha manages to make it enjoyable in a very different way. I liked the way how the true villains of the film were not the criminals on the street, but the corporate giants who were trying to force their agenda. That is why the film focuses much more on those characters than the ones we usually expect, which in this case would be the criminals Alex was pursuing first. RoboCop has many flaws and is overly ambitious lacking the humor and poignant satire from the original, but it works if judged on its own without having to compare the two films. I barely recommend this one so go see it at your own risk.