The first Robocop was released in July of 1987 and was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also did Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man. His movies are ultra-violent, and on the surface, insanely dumb action movies. However, if you look a little deeper, there is usually some level of campy satire thinly veiled. The first one was set in future Detroit, which is on the verge of financial ruin and rampant crime (this was in 1987, before Detroit went through that -- eerie).
The mayor signs a deal with Omni Consumer Products to allow them to run the police force – and build a high-end residential area called “Delta City” that they can run as a practically independent city-state (like ‘Elysium’, just in downtown Detroit). The cops threaten to strike, but OCP offers them support – first in the form of the ED-209. The failed demo of the ED-209 in the boardroom remains one of my favorite scenes in movie history.
OCP president Dick Jones (played masterfully by Ronny Cox) gets upset, but OCP Chairman, played by Dan O’Herlihy gives designer Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) the go-ahead to create his cybernetic option, RoboCop. They need a cop to put in the suit, so OCP shifts officers to more dangerous areas, setting up officer Alex Murphy to be killed while on patrol with his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). They are chasing a ruthless gang run by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, yes, that Kurtwood Smith). Once Murphy is dead, Morton turns him into Robocop, and while he singlehandedly removes crime from Detroit, he has to follow three guidelines: Serve the public trust, Protect the innocent, and Uphold the law.
Morton gains praise for the success of the project, which upsets Dick Jones, who hires Boddicker to kill Morton. Lewis realizes that Robocop is Murphy, and Robocop slowly starts to realize who he was. He goes back to his house to find that his wife and son moved, thinking him dead. Robocop tracks down Boddicker and arrests him, attempts to go after Jones, but has an ED-209 sent after him, which is defeated by stairs - seriously. Lewis helps him escape, Boddicker and crew come after them. Lewis gets injured, but survives, and Robocop heads after Jones, who made sure there was a programming code to prevent RoboCop from killing an OCP executive. Robocop shows his confession to the rest of the board, the president of the company promptly fires him, and Robocop is able to kill him.
The movie was widely regarded as one of the best of that year, and has a huge cult following. Of all the over-the-top action movies of the 80s, this one had the right understory to be rebooted now. The debate of automating law enforcement and war is very current as more and more drones are being used in different areas of life (Amazon wants to send you stuff with drones). Incidentally – the other over-the-top action movie with a theme that needs to be re-done is Running Man, based solely on the ‘reality-TV’ commentary.
This version of Robocop is similar, with some major differences. Omnicorp is supplying the military with automated robots and ED-209s (they look basically the same as the 1987 ones), which are successfully helping the army in the middle east. In order to up their profitability, the company wants to put automated law-enforcement devices on domestic soil. There is a law in place preventing using robots as police, but the company decides to put a man inside a machine, thereby skirting the law, but still accomplishing their goal. Omnicorp boss Sellars commissions Dr. Norton to find a subject. Meanwile, Alex Murphy is a Detroit cop doing his job, tracking down a crime boss with his partner, and then getting blown up. Conveniently, his wife is coerced by Omnicorp to sign off to put Murphy in a machine. He then has to clean up the streets of Detroit, all while trying to still be himself, go back to his wife and son, and deal with Omnicorp fiddling with his memories and personality.
No one in this version gets melted by toxic ooze, which is one of my most vivid memories of the original, but it’s still pretty good. It doesn’t have the sense of camp and fun that the first one managed to work in while dealing with fairly serious subject matter. This movie takes itself more seriously, and is a straightforward action movie. This is Brazilian director Jose Padhila’s first American action flick, though he has made several Brazilian action movies prior to this. He does a good job, the movie is fast paced, and the action is great, but so are the performances that string it together. Also – once of the best ideas ever, Sam Jackson talking head bits to tie it together.
- Joel Kinnaman is a Swedish actor, who has been on The Killing, and does a really convincing American accent. He’s great in this, tender and human when necessary, and menacing and robotic when necessary. Since the family was pretty removed in the original, Peter Weller never had to do a ton of acting while in the suit, but Kinnaman does a great job of showing the anguish that Murphy feels when going back to his family, and especially when seeing what has become of his body for the first time. The updated suit looks great - even though that red line on the visor is very Cylon-y.
- Gary Oldman is always fantastic, but is particularly great in this movie as Dr. Dennett Norton, the man who puts Murphy in the new body. He wants to do the right thing, but is held on a very short leash by Omnicorp. He tries to help Murphy find the balance between who he was and who he has become. And how is it that he looks like a different person in almost every movie – and is he reverse aging?
- It’s so fantastic to see Michael Keaton in this (in almost anything), and he does a spectacular job of being the profit-driven head of Omnicorp. I wasn’t sure anyone could compare to Cox’s job in the original, but Keaton is just so perfect as the guy you want to trust, but you know you cannot. His final turn during the climax where he finally stops hiding his true personality is great.
- Abbie Cornish plays Clara Murphy, who – against her better judgement – lets Omnicorp ‘save’ her husband. She doesn’t have a lot to do, but she does get a couple of key scenes where she gets to get really justifiably angry at Omnicorp and Sellars.
- Jackie Earle Haley plays Rick Mattox, who seems to be Sellars’s boots-on-the-ground and military trainer/contact. He’s at no point convinced that Murphy is still Murphy, and will only refer to him as an ‘it’. He does get some great lines, but remains an ass through the whole movie, which makes you really happy when he gets what’s coming to him. Spoiler alert, he gets what’s coming to him.
- Jay Baruchel plays the Omnicorp marketing whiz Tom, and he’s wonderfully disconnected from reality as he only thinks in profit for the company. Baruchel is entertaining in just about everything (see She’s Out Of My League if you haven’t), and brings some of the only comedic moments to this.
- Micheal K. Williams plays Murphy’s partner who helps try to keep him grounded once he’s merged with the machine. This guy has been good in a lot of things for a long time, so I am really happy to start seeing him in bigger movies.
- Marianne Jean-Baptist plays the police chief of Detroit – who signs off on the Robocop project and hopes to clean up Detroit.
- Patrick Garrow plays Antoine Vallon, who is not the pawn that Kurtwood Smith’s Boddicker was, but he’s still just the bad guy that Murphy and his partner are after when Murphy gets exploded. There’s no connection between him and Omnicorp, at least none that I noticed…
- Just for fun – they shot this in Canada, and if you’re a fan of SyFy’s Lost Girl (you should be, if you’re not), K.C. Collins plays another cop in the Detroit precinct who, with his partner, clashes with Murphy and his partner.
- Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, a Bill O’Reilly type pundit who has his own show. Clips of the show pop up during the entire movie, and help to move the narrative along. It’s a brilliant idea, it helps clarify the story and push the audience’s opinion one way or the other. It’s the perfect role for Jackson, and really is just allowing him to be himself in a small way. At least there was no shark to attack him after he gives the pump-up America speech!
It’s a straightforward action movie, it’s well put together, and everyone in it does a great job. It is glaringly a PG13 movie as opposed to the hard R of the original. I hope they franchise it – and because they made a mention at the end of this one that Omnicorp’s parent company was very disappointed in Sellars’s performance, I couldn’t help but wish for a post-credit sequence in which Ronny Cox, seated at a boardroom table, told Jay Baruchel how disappointed he was in Sellars. Oh well, maybe in the next one?
8 out of 10 – Gained points for Baruchel – I just want that dude in more stuff. Lost points for the suit – it looked cool, but Robocop is not sneaking up on anyone "clank...clank...clank". Gained points for Keaton being awesome. Lost points for Haley being a dick to robots, but gained points for Robocop getting to taze him. Gained points for Sam Jackson being Sam Jackson.
Bonus Video 1: Why, oh why, would you ever confuse Sam Jackson with Laurence Fishburne? And God help you if you ever do it to Sam Jackson!
Bonus Video 2: She’s Out of My League, Baruchel in a truly funny romcom.
Bonus Video 3: The Running Man – one of the two times I think a reboot is in order. (Forbidden Planet is the other one).
Bonus Video 4: SDCC 2013 RoboCop Panel