For those uninitiated, Robocop tells the story of a robotics corporation, OmniCorp, which has made its fortune installing law enforcement robots abroad. A pesky law won’t allow them to expand into the U.S., where the big money is, and so they decide to build a man/robot hybrid to convince America’s citizens and government that robotic policemen can be trusted. Their chosen guinea pig is Alex Murphy, a Detroit police officer who is traumatically wounded by a car bomb put in place by his gang-leader nemesis Antoine Vallone.
After Dr. Dennett Norton, the lead scientist at OmniCorp, creates a new robotic body for Alex, the film follows two story arcs: the typical action movie revenge plot whereby Alex takes on the man who disfigured him in a spectacular of gunfire and death, and the more nuanced plot that critiques OmniCorp’s ethics in attempting to turn Alex into the perfect cop by dampening his emotions and overriding his ability to make decisions, as well as the American media and political system. Interspersed throughout the film are scenes of the Pat Novak Show, a Fox News-esque program on which the host presents an angry, biased view of events, pressuring viewers to embrace robotic law enforcement.
The most interesting statement the film makes is its simultaneous condemnation of certain aspects of human nature, like the greed of OmniCorp and the utter corruption of those in places of authority, and celebration of humanity itself – the great triumph of the film is not when Alex shoots the men who have tried to kill him, but rather when his love for his family allows his human side to overpower the computer programs OmniCorp installed in his head. It’s a fascinating contradiction that Alex fights so hard to maintain his humanity when it is the avarice inherent in human nature that caused him to almost lose it to begin with. That being said, I’m not sure this complexity was intended.
Dr. Dennett Norton, played by the great Gary Oldman, was one of the more interesting characters in the film. Dennett begins as a doctor using robotics to help patients who have lost limbs, and gets drawn into the Robocop scheme despite ethical qualms after OmniCorp’s owner, Raymond Sellers, offers to fully fund his research indefinitely. Although Dennett is initially hesitant to use his technological expertise to create a weaponized man-robot hybrid, he soon becomes complicit in the scheme, only regaining his moral high ground near the end of the film when Sellers threatens to end Alex Murphy’s life. His ethical inconsistency adds an interesting human element to an otherwise predictable film.
Since this is a remake of a classic film, it’s worth comparing how the remake holds up to the original film. I saw the original Robocop with my dad when I was about ten, and honestly, I remember very little about it except that it was extremely violent and bloody. Knocked down to a PG-13 rating from the original’s R, I expected this version to be a watered down offering, but I think all but the most steadfast fans will be pleased. The creators crammed a lot of violence into the film, but it’s in the form of gunfights rather than gore. Still, in what seemed to be an homage to the original’s carnage, instead of showing tons of blood and guts when someone was killed, the film transferred gore to the realm of science, showing viewers the inside of Alex Murphy’s brain and his disembodied lungs. I think this new version will offer little to diehard fans of the 1987 film, but is an enjoyable ride for the casual viewer who remembers watching the original once or twice.
The film is entertaining enough, fun to watch even though there are essentially zero plot twists. It may have been better suited as a summer blockbuster rather than a mid-winter release, but this new interpretation won’t disappoint fans of action movies, and even offers a bit of social commentary to engage the minds of audience members who look for more than mindless entertainment when entering the theater.