Joel Kinnaman in a scene from "RoboCop."
The reboot of RoboCop uses the basic blueprint from the 1987 movie starring Peter Weller. It’s been modified and updated to create a sleeker design, but it is not as intellectually cutting-edge.
Big business has become the new go-to villains now that the Russians aren’t as scary, making the film less of a cautionary tale about how machines are taking over our lives and more focused on the evils of corporate America.
Just like the original, the new RoboCop focuses on Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a first-rate cop who becomes the target of one of the top criminals in near-future Detroit. An explosive attack leaves Murphy with little more than his brain and right hand worth saving. Fortunately for him, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) has been trying to come up with a way to get the public and politicians to get on board with his new robot peacekeepers.
The chief complaint is that robots are too analytical in their thinking. That’s when Sellars comes up with the plan to have his chief robot expert, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), put the few remaining parts of Murphy into a robot body to create the perfect union of a machine’s abilities with a human’s thinking.
In the original film, Murphy’s past was a blank, returning in only spits and spurts of images. His emotional struggles came out of trying to recapture the world that helped define his humanity. The new Murphy remembers his family and his struggle is more of how to be a husband and father when most of your body has a limited warranty.
Because the new RoboCop has more memory of past life, the performance by Kinnaman has more emotional impact than Weller’s work. But Weller sold the idea of a manbot far more convincingly because he wasn’t saddled with sentimental situations.
Both films offer plenty of action, with the new version having a slight edge just because of the technology that’s available to create massive battle sequences. What the new RoboCop loses in its message, it makes up with first-rate fights.
The least interesting part of the new RoboCop are segments that feature Samuel L. Jackson as the host of a TV news program. The over-the-top rants by Jackson do little to advance the plot or make any serious commentary on the movie’s deeper message.
The new RoboCop shows we have the technology to build a sleeker, faster, and more powerful version of the original film. But it comes at a price — the new movie isn’t as crisp when it comes to its political and social messages.
If you are looking for action, the new version is perfect for you. If you want a RoboCop with more depth, stick with the original on DVD.