It’s tough when you almost immediately feel conflicted about liking an out-and-out remake these days. Barring those who get openly excited for said projects, to openly admire the tarnishing of a previously established cinematic legacy is a hard thing to stand by. In the case of RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s singular brand of hyperviolent sci-fi absurdity ran rampant throughout the original film, so much so that nightmares could conceivably spawn from his vision. From Alex Murphy’s graphic death to the literal explosion of a toxic waste-coated lackey, the remake’s PG-13 rating felt intent on pissing on its source inspiration’s legacy from the moment its conception was announced.
In an unnecessary but admirable turn of events, the remake’s attempt to rewrite the titular mostly-robotic protagonist’s inception is something worthy of praise, an explanatory exposition-heavy initial two-thirds bordering on boring as politics are emphasized over the borderline exploitative original film. While obviously similar thematically, the 2014 reboot isn’t nearly as much fun as heavy-handed stabs at believable practical robot applications are frequently tackled. Put plainly, it’s timely in a way that aptly brands the film as a literal update, even if no one in particular was waiting with bated breath for the production in the first place.
Harkening back to the unsettling Detroit-infused grimness smattering Verhoeven’s brainchild, Padilha’s take also scores points for pulling the reins on vulgarity in favor of a considerable amount of violence for its rating and serviceable – if few-and-far-between – action set pieces. Charismatic supporting characters also frequently engage, Keaton and Oldman especially, and it goes without saying that Kinnaman is laudably and surprisingly up to the task of portraying the titular tortured cyborg. In fact, it’s Mrs. Murphy (Abbie Cornish) and her son’s involvement that feels cloying, contrived and half-baked, her involvement ringing more grating than it should be as emotional weight takes a backseat to her whining. In a film that practically shouts “Cyborgs have feelings too!”, it’s easier to sympathize with Detective Murphy over his more family-driven impetuses.
While obviously unnecessary, RoboCop earns its right to exist as above-average mediocrity permeates the proceedings, the film admirably departing from its 1987 source inspiration to timely if varying degrees of success. It’s well-acted, suitably emotional almost everywhere it counts and intermittently enthralling, however a lot of it tends to fall flat as you’d expect it to. I’ve seen worse in the realm of the reboot trend – I’m looking at you, Total Recall – but the film as a whole is more or less a partial waste of valuable studio assets given the general reception of its existence.