RoboCop serves up the same ingredients as the 1987 original, but delivers much less flavor. The film still tells the story of Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who gets badly hurt in pursuit of a major criminal and rebuilt as a man-machine hybrid by OmniCorp. But gone are the over-the-top violence and the bits of social satire. Gone are the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of the story. The film still makes an attempt at political commentary, but it’s far less cogent. The film rounds out all the edges that made the original so appealing, leaving us with nothing more than the story of a robot cop.
The film takes a longer time to get RoboCop out on the streets. The film establishes first that autonomous security robots are in wide use around the world. But in the United States, a popular federal law keeps them from being used. OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is lobbying to get the law repealed. Meanwhile, Alex Murphy is in pursuit of a criminal being protected by a pair of crooked detectives. He’s targeted for death, and ends up having his car blown up. OmniCorp makes a deal with Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) to save his life. In exchange, Murphy will become the public face of OmniCorp’s robot initiatives, proving to the people of the United States that machines aren’t that bad.
So much time is wasted on the process of developing RoboCop, on turning him into the machine we all recognize. It all feels pretty extraneous, especially since a lot of what’s mentioned in these scenes more or less doesn’t matter in the long. He is told that .50 caliber bullets can still do him harm, for example. This should matter later in the movie, but for all practical purposes, it just doesn’t. It’s all just window dressing in the end. And everything that’s explained about how his modified brain works is pretty much ignored as the film gets to the rest of the plot.
Looking past the limp plot, the film’s stabs at political commentary fall flat as well. In theory, this is a commentary on US foreign policy, particularly the drone program. Except the analogy doesn’t make any sense. The film wants us to side with RoboCop, of course, but he is closer to what drones are in the world than the autonomous robots that we’re supposed to be afraid of. Because drones aren’t autonomous: like RoboCop, there’s a human mind behind them. Whatever the case the film is supposed to be making doesn’t come across very well. The film doesn’t even make a very good case for RoboCop himself.
The actions scenes are okay, but they suffer from the lack of blood. It feels relatively sedate, with none of the real horror that the original was able to generate. Joel Kinnaman is fine in the lead role, displaying much of the same pent up frustration in his upper lip that Peter Weller delivered all those years ago. Michael Keaton is always kind of fun, and Gary Oldman will always liven up even the most underwritten roles. Abbie Cornish gets the short end of the stick in her role as Murphy’s wife. The character is just so ill defined that there’s nothing the actress can really do.
RoboCop is such a chore to sit through. It runs nearly twenty minutes longer than the original, yet somehow offers fewer pleasures. It just seems like the film was determined to suck all the joy out of the property, taking away all the tools that made the original such a memorable piece of work. Perhaps it is only appropriate that the film removes all humanity from the original, leaving nothing but a robotic husk. It’s just following its directives, the film unable to do anything unexpected.