Despite the overwhelming skepticism echoing from fans and critics alike regarding the quality of a RoboCop revamp, director José Padilha truly struck gold with his reinterpretation of this sci-fi classic. Combining bursts of adrenaline-pumping action with a campy B-movie feel, Padilha’s work manages to thoroughly and consistently keep his audience invested while paying homage to the original source material.
Set in the not-too-distant future of 2028, multinational conglomerate OmniCorp lies at the heart of the military’s “robot soldier” technology and is pushing for the sale and distribution of its product on American soil. With its initial pitch met with overwhelming opposition from the public, the company shifts its marketing gears under the impression that some sort of “fusion” of man and machine would be easier for the public to rally behind.
Enter archetypal protagonist and supercop Alex Murphy. Insert “vague motivations to uncover departmental corruption,” throw in a “suspicious near-death experience prior to mechanical transformation,” suspend all beliefs regarding the feasible extent of surgical human reconstruction and voilà: A new RoboCop is born.
If you haven’t picked up on it already, the plot of this movie is not one of its highlights. It is very much a formulaic, “paint-by-number” action flick that does pretty much everything you’d expect it to do.
The ensemble only supports this theme of generality, with characters so extremely one-dimensional, they’re virtually caricatures: a stock action hero with an immovable moral fiber; a loving family complete with attractive housewife and doe-eyed kid; a couple of rogue cops who clearly play for the other side; an earnest, well-intentioned scientist and a slimeball CEO trying to push his product; an exuberant television personality with a clear right-wing agenda; and a handful of other minor characters who more or less fall victim to the same sort of personality extremity.
The remainder of the film’s overall plot could basically be boiled down to RoboCop discovering evil entity, finding quickest route to said entity and systematically annihilating evil entity in the most badass way possible.
Granted, there are a few thought-provoking moments sprinkled in here and there, such as in the beginning of the film, when OmniCorp’s deployment of robotic soldier units in the Middle East are shown to be somewhat “effective” at upholding the safety of the local citizens at the expense of their personal freedom and privacy – though that efficacy is debatable based on the events that follow shortly after.
Another moment is when Murphy’s human flaws – his doubts, fears and emotions – start to clash with his robotic efficiency and cause the overseeing scientist to alter his cognitive chemistry, removing more and more aspects of his humanity and effectively making him less like a man who looks like a machine and more like a machine that looks like a man. But overall, RoboCop asks relatively little of its audience other than to sit back and simply enjoy the ride.
Despite these criticisms, however, RoboCop ultimately succeeds as a cinematic venture because it is completely aware of its type and is proud. Action sequences are often completely nonsensical yet entertaining to watch. Characters left and right throw out punch lines of The Terminator-esque corniness. And RoboCop’s design color is literally changed from the classic silver to black on a whim because the CEO wants something more “tactical.” I’m not kidding.
This film comes off as one that just wants to have fun and fulfills that objective spectacularly, treating its audience to some well-deserved spectacle. Though it throws in a few character developments that never quite resolve and wraps everything up a bit abruptly, RoboCop’s brand of loud, in-your-face action lends itself quite well to the contemporary, sci-fi action genre.