So, here we go again: yet another Hollywood remake. This time around it’s a take on the Paul Verhoeven-directed RoboCop, a 1987 look at a dystopian future where Alex Murphy, a cop on death’s door, is reborn inside the suit of a cyborg and quickly begins to clear Detroit’s streets of crime. The original was a wicked mix of satire and black humour and straight from its release it was considered something of a classic.
So, the obvious first question, what’s the point of this remake? Well, the basic plot is similar (and updated to 2028, making it now-ish rather than futuristic) but there are many changes. Here, your basic gun-wielding cyborgs are already up and gunning, keeping the terrorised residents of Tehran in their place. Why, asks an extreme right-wing TV presenter (a very hammy Samuel L Jackson), can these robots not be making the streets of the USA safe?
Unlike in the previous RoboCop, the latest Alex Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman, who was great in the US TV version of The Killing) is fully cognitive when he wakes up post-op, and opts to die rather than become half-man, half-machine. But he has no choice; he's now more of a product than a person. He’s also got a wife (Abbie Cornish) and child, giving this version the pull of family to contend with, especially after Murphy’s emotions are neutralised for gun-toting efficiency.
As a matter of course, things don’t go to plan and the second-half of the film is largely a series of shoot-outs that should keep the young ‘uns happy (we’re talking bang-bang dead rather than splatter mode here). While the anti-fascist, anti-corporate message is there from the start, viewers anticipating a graphically violent film will be disappointed. So, no fun if you're a gore-hungry right-winger.
As for the acting, Gary Oldman (as robot boffin Dr Dennett Norton) is in fine form as usual, while Kinnaman and Jackson put in solid shifts and it all glides along smoothly, doing a neat balancing act between ‘message’ and (relatively) family-friendly mayhem.
This is a fine calling-card for the impressive Brazilian director José Padilha (Bus 174) in his first foray into Hollywood, but if you’re old enough to remember the original RoboCop, chances are you’ll still prefer it.