In 1987, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven released a sci-fi action film that was to become his breakthrough film in the USA. The film became known for its excessive swearing, violence and some memorable catchphrases. Now – 27 years later – Hollywood are remaking yet another 80’s classic for the younger generation.
RoboCop is set in 2028, where robots made by multinational conglomerate Omnicorp are being used by the military to aid patrolling overseas. In a bid to allow robots to patrol within the US, Omnicorp boss Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides to create a law enforcement robot that combines man and machine. Along with scientist Dr Norton (Gary Oldman), they select Detroit policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who was murdered by a local arms dealer. As Murphy struggles to adapt to his new body, he soon realises that there is more to Omnicorp that meets the eye.
What RoboCop essentially is is a remake of an incredibly violent film, and the controversial shift to a 12A rating means that faithful fans of the 1987 version will expect a tamer version of this action-packed thriller. The shock factor from the first film is gone from this reboot and therefore, makes it less memorable in comparison and the weird gung-ho patriotism personified by TV host Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson) throughout the film is practically hammered down your throat, but his lengthy monologues do provide some much-needed comic relief.
The humane side of the whole story really makes an impact in the reboot, thanks to Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon/Norton, who manages to resist the allure of politics and money promoted by Keaton’s smarmy Sellars and Jay Baruchel’s waffling marketeer. Norton also plays an integral part in bringing a modern yet realistic approach to the robotics process; his conscience in manipulating Murphy’s capabilities and emotions serve as continual trial and error, which – when compared to the ‘don’t screw with us’ attitude of the 1987 version – shows that there is more to this project that putting someone in clunky armour and programming some directives.
In addition to this, the decision to maintain Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) in the story, as well as change his police partner from Anne to Jack Lewis (now played Michael K Williams), also brings a new and different dynamic to the character. Lewis is no longer the main link to Murphy’s past; there are now additional ties to his former life and along with the fact that his face is now fully shown (until his vizor comes down and he has to take down the bad guys) serves as a reminder that not only is he still a man, but also a friend, father and husband.
For a project that has enlisted two relative newcomers as their screenwriter and director, Joshua Zetumer and Brazilian director José Padilha respectively have made sure that certain aspects are enjoyable. Zetumer includes enough quotable nods to the original to satisfy even the most skeptic of fans, while Padilha has certainly grasped the hang of special effects and action sequences. But the question of whether his big move into English-speaking cinema can duplicate the success of Verhoeven and break a new market with something different is hard to determine.
Well-paced, cleverly drawn out though lacking in places, RoboCop will please those who aren’t into the heavy stuff. But where’s the fun in that?
RoboCop is out in UK cinemas on Friday 7th February.
Director: José Padilha
Writers: Joshua Zetumer (screenplay), Edward Neumeier, 1 more credit »
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Douglas Urbanski, Abbie Cornish
Runtime: 118 min