Not only is the original “Robocop” film a touchstone of 1980s action cinema, it is also a slyly subversive work of corporate satire that arguably resonates even more today than it did upon its release. Luckily, the people behind the new remake seemed to realize that they wouldn’t be able to recapture lightning in a bottle, and instead reconfigured familiar elements to fit an entirely new setup that would stand apart from the original. Unluckily, the intriguing new setup became beholden to a mediocre and uninspired execution.
The basic story points remain the same: cop gets severely injured in a gangland revenge, corporation working with the military creates new cybernetic technology, and cop and technology are fused to create Robocop. But where the remake differs is how it uses the original’s satirical jabs as a jumping off point for updated social commentary.
The dangers of drone warfare are the primary focus here, with an overzealous media conglomerate working as propaganda (i.e. a Fox News stand-in). But there’s also police corruption, humanity vs. machinery, and a whole slew of other points and plot threads vying for attention. Normally ambition is to be commended, especially when many films don’t even try, however when it’s conceived in such a jumbled and plodding fashion, that isn’t the case.
But the real fatal flaw of this “Robocop” is the lack of an emotional connection, much of which is attributed to the lead performance of Joel Kinnaman (he of AMC’s now-cancelled “The Killing”). There’s never a point where the audience is able to endear to Kinnaman as Alex Murphy prior to turning metal, and any chemistry with his onscreen wife (played by Abbie Cornish) is nonexistent.
Cornish and costar Gary Oldman, playing the sympathetic scientist behind Murphy’s recovery, are able to project genuine emotion even as they fight against being in a film as cold as this one. An early scene in which the totality of Murphy’s condition is revealed to him is the lone exception to this, which provides a poignant shock that is surprisingly graphic for the PG-13 rating.
Unfortunately the film can’t sustain that interest, as it gets lost in a sea of underdeveloped subplots. Even Michael Keaton’s always-watchable eccentricity can’t make up for a slate of weak villains, and as a result the film often feels like a robot itself shifting from scene to scene. So stop comparing this “Robocop” to the original as the reason for its faults. The new film gives plenty of reason on it’s own.