Remaking a classic is a thankless, some would say pointless task: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the production team who ever thought this reboot of Paul Verhoeven’s still-flawless 1987 action movie was a good idea. But, to give director José Padilha and his scriptwriters their due, the new version goes out of its way to distance itself from the original. Junking Verhoeven’s sledgehammer satire and outrageous ultraviolence in favor of real-world politics and PG-13 thrills, this is a slicker, shinier, admittedly inferior affair. But with a strong cast, a roaring pace and at least one genuinely unforgettable scene, it’s by no means a write-off.
Joel Kinnaman is all cheekbones and chin as Alex Murphy, the straight-arrow police officer whose fatal wounding in the line of duty makes him a perfect fit for tech baron Michael Keaton and scientist Gary Oldman’s latest attempt to create the perfect cybernetic law enforcer. But when Murphy wakes up in a lab stripped of all but his most vital organs, he—along with his adoring wife, played by Abbie Cornish—begins to question how much of the man is left inside this steel shell.
The film’s most notable weaknesses are its action sequences, too frenetic and shaky to hold attention. The climax is particularly poor, involving a lot of running, shouting and blasting, then it’s over. But RoboCop makes up for this deficiency in other areas. Its dedication to touching on tough questions —about will and self-determination, drone warfare and necessary force, the power of the media over public opinion—is admirable, and the script has a certain blunt wit. As for that one great scene: If you’ve ever felt sickened by those medical-health warnings on cigarette packs, hold on to your lunch.
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