Movie review: Does ‘RoboCop’ successfully reboot 1980s classic?

By Ashley Bergner
Box Office Buzz

808573 KS_New_robocopNot as good as it could have been, but not as bad as it could have been, either — that seems to be the critical consensus on the new “RoboCop” film. It’s currently sitting at about 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics evenly split on whether it should be classified as “fresh” or “rotten.” It’s always risky to reboot a well-loved classic — does the new “RoboCop” manage to pull it off?

The remake, which is directed by José Padilha, plays the concept straighter than the original film, which is known for its hyper-violence and black comedy. Joel Kinnaman (perhaps best known for his role on the TV series “The Killing”) plays Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop who’s trying to fight corruption. His crusade for justice earns him several powerful, dangerous enemies, and he barely survives a car bomb meant to silence him.

With little hope for Murphy’s survival, Murphy’s wife agrees to allow multinational conglomerate OmniCorp to perform a risky and controversial procedure on her husband: turning him into a half-human, half-robot police officer. Murphy struggles to adapt to his new life, especially as he tries to come to accept the reality he is now part machine. He also discovers OmniCorp’s motives might not be as altruistic as they’d like the public to believe, and the existence of “RoboCop” inflames a national debate about the use of drones in law enforcement.

One of the things I liked best about this film was the way it dealt with the topic of drones in the military and law enforcement — a topic that becomes ever more relevant as technology advances. It’s certainly not a black and white issue. Robots and drones could save the lives of soldiers and law enforcement officers by putting machines into hostile situations. Machines don’t act out of prejudice or anger; however, they also lack compassion and empathy, which human responders have. Humans can process nuances in a situation that couldn’t be calculated by a robot. Would we really be safer by putting dispassionate machines on the streets?

There’s also the question of how ethical it is to combine humans and machines. In one heart-breaking scene, we see just how little really is left of the human Alex Murphy, and it’s disturbing how easy it is for OmniCorp techs to manipulate Murphy’s thoughts and actions, even though he still believes he is acting out of free will. Robot officers might be immune to bribery, but they can be controlled far more easily than humans can.

I would have liked to see Padilha devote more time to developing the character Alex Murphy before placing him inside the machine. Seeing more of him before he became RoboCop could help audiences to make a deeper emotional connection to the character and make the loss of his humanity that much more heart-wrenching. I also would have liked to see more of RoboCop working as a police officer on the streets of Detroit, and more about how Murphy’s transformation into RoboCop affects his friend and partner on the police force, Jack Lewis. The film has a relatively brief runtime for its genre, and an extra half hour or so may have allowed Padilha to flesh out some of the underdeveloped parts of the movie.

Still, the film is certainly stronger than another recent sci-fi remake, “Total Recall,” and there are good performances from Gary Oldman as a conflicted scientist and Samuel L. Jackson as an over-the-top commentator who’s trying to persuade the public that robotic law enforcement officers are good for the country.

So, what do you think? Did you see the “RoboCop” remake? Do you think it was a successful reboot?

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