It seems as though Hollywood has two distinct schools of thought when it comes to the topic of remakes; you either simply shoot the same movie with the added upgrades of technology and movie magic, creating a slick re-envisioning of an old movie, or you take the bits from the source material that you really like and you create an exquisite corpse of a movie, culled from an amalgamation of old tropes and new ideas, resulting in a movie all its own. Arguments can be made for either side as to which one deserves the most merit, but, in a time when the re-make game is at a high point in what the viewing audience is willing to accept, it is possible to both recreate a movie while being sensitive to its source material (as well as its established fan base) while still making a completely new film that is captivating and compelling in its own right.
Robocop is just that; a movie that stays faithful to its 1987 predecessor while taking enough risks to remain thought provoking and entertaining. It’s a perfect meld of old and new, coming together in a unique way and bringing out something that feels current and in this moment.
Alex Murphy is a detective on the mean streets of Detroit. He and his partner are hard on the trail of cracking a case of gun trafficking that seems to lead to police corruption and involvement in nefarious goings-on with the local bad guys. As they get further into the investigation, things go wrong. Alex’s partner gets shot in the line of duty, but survives. Murphy, on the other hand isn’t so lucky, as he becomes the victim of a bombing that leaves him severely banged up. He wakes up three months later to find that he’s been reconstructed and integrated into a robotic encasement. As he gets back on the trail of crime fighting, corporate entities and vestments become intertwined in the upholding of justice that he has sworn to do. Is Alex Murphy a part of a machine or is the machine a part of Alex Murphy?
Director José Padilha brings the Robocop mythos right into the new millennium with this update, taking a movie that was previously a statement on ultra violence and corporate maneuvering in a dystopian, crime addled world and reimagining it with all of the bells and whistles of a modern day science fiction movie. The story benefits from a few subtle and nuanced layers addressing both the benefits and ills of technology and the people it serves/is served by. For all of the intellectual and philosophical quandaries in this movie, it never loses sight of the fact that, first and foremost, it is an action movie at its heart. Indeed, the action sequences are eye catching and bedazzling; lots of bullets fly everywhere, people are dodging and diving while Robocop is flying all over the place on his motorcycle. Its manic pace only adds to the authentic feel, and we are sucked into this miasma of blood and bullets. The other end of this movie’s spectrum is equally entertaining, with a strong supporting cast that includes the great Gary Oldman, amongst others. To be sure, this movie, for all of its shoot-em-up vocabulary, ends up being a very thought provoking and interesting modern day parable.
Although the 1987 original Robocop will always be a classic cop and robber flick with technological wonder, this updated version is a fair predecessor to the line. Its well shot and choreographed action sequences are tempered with good storytelling and fine performances to give us a movie that will not only engage the action fiend in all of us, but will also provoke thoughts on our place in a rapidly changing and technologically advancing world.
Robocop opens today in Philly area theaters.