The 1980s are popular again at the movies, especially when it comes to remakes. (This weekend alone, three of the four new wide releases are remakes of ‘80s movies.) After having exhausted the catalogue of ‘80s horror movies to remake a few years ago, studios have been shifting the focus to remaking ‘80s action movies, like Clash of the Titans or Red Dawn. Now comes RoboCop, a remake that manages to be close to the original’s quality while not being afraid to deviate from its origins.
The original RoboCop, released in 1987, was the breakthrough picture for director Paul Verhoeven, who would go on to make Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers in the ‘90s. Like most of his movies, RoboCop featured excessive violence that really pushed the R-rating for their day. The new version does dial down the extraneous blood and gore, but there are still a few scenes twisted and intense enough to push the boundaries of its tamer rating and give nightmares to the squeamish.
The story is mostly the same this time around. In the near-future, evil corporation OmniCorp manufactures robot soldiers for every country in the world except the U.S., where citizens are concerned about being policed by unfeeling machines. OmniCorp’s solution: building the brain and face of a human police officer into a robot suit. When police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly killed in a car bomb explosion, he becomes their test subject.
The rest of the movie toggles between an overt satire of the mass media/scare tactics and an action-packed origin story of the robotically enhanced hero. If anything, so much of this RoboCop is origin story, it feels more like a set-up to future movies than necessarily a complete movie of its own. The ending feels anticlimactic, in large part because it’s not preceded by a necessary amount of build-up.
One thing that can’t be faulted is the cast. Kinnaman, star of 2012’s Easy Money and AMC’s The Killing, is great as Murphy and RoboCop. He’s surrounded by heavy-hitters like Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Michael K. Williams, and Samuel L. Jackson. The great spread of talented actors allows the remake to be a more emotionally gratifying movie than Verhoeven’s original.
Plenty more remakes are on the way later this year, and the odds are most of them won’t be worth watching. RoboCop, though, is one of the few remakes that stand above the rest. It would be better with less setup and more payoff, but considering the track record for ‘80s remakes at this point, it’s good enough that RoboCop is good enough.