ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

In 2028, Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) has been trying to crack a case involving a local crime boss. Apparently sniffing around too much where his nose don’t belong, he’s critically injured by a carbomb planted by crooked cops working for the crime boss. His wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) is given news by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) that Alex will be paralyzed from the waist down, blind in one eye, deaf and also suffered from 4th degree burns. That’s if he survives. Not ready to let go of her husband, she gives the okay for Alex to be used in a scientific breakthrough about to be made.

That breakthrough is being funded by OmniCorp president Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), who has been trying to push legislation, which would allow robotic units to act as law enforcement, to get passed through Congress. Congress refuses to budge out of fear of letting a “conscience-less” machine enforce the law, but Sellars figures that if you can put a man into a machine, you get the efficiency and strength of that machine with the heart and conscience of a man. Can the two coincide though?

1987′s RoboCop starring Peter Weller and directed by Paul Verhoeven is a highly entertaining sci-fi/action classic that combined exciting action with witty satire. Following last year’s horrendous remake of another Paul Verhoeven cult classic, Total Recall, you wonder if it was even necessary to attempt to remake another film of his, especially the one that really put his name on the map in America. That said, as much as I’m sick of every single movie being remade today, it is what it is. This film does boast a very talented cast, so there were some things about 2014′s RoboCop to look forward to.

Is it perfect? Far from it. But was I entertained? Surprisingly, yes.

That’s not to say I was on the edge of my seat for the film’s entire 100 minutes. Unlike the original film, which moved at a steady pace, this film drags in spots. Plus, I’m just gonna get it out of my system. I hated the suit. It was awful and, no, it had nothing to do with the other complaints about how it’s black. There just wasn’t anything memorable about it like the one Weller had, which has become so iconic, even people that haven’t seen RoboCop know who it is when they see the suit.

Yeah, that one’s a nitpick and it’s not like I’m gonna drop it down to a “D” all ’cause of his suit. That issue is not even my primary criticism of the film, which is the non-existent villains. The ones that do show up, might as well be non-existent ’cause they’re bland and lifeless. We do get a final villain that emerges toward the end (to those that have seen the original, you should know who it is), but he really doesn’t emerge as the villain until near the end. In the original, Kurtwood Smith (best known as Red Forman in That ’70s Show) was a fantastic villain that was fun, devious and cutthroat. I’m not saying this film needed a villain like Kurtwood Smith’s or that it had to be exactly like the original. In fact, I’m gonna get to two aspects about this film that differentiated from the original that I liked. However, if you have villains in this film, give them some life. Here, they come off as more robotic than the title character.

Jackie Earle Haley, in particular, has done some great work before, but doesn’t really do much here. He does manage to squeeze in a throwaway nod to the original film (the “I’d buy that for a dollar!!!!” line), that doesn’t fit and just had me roll my eyes. It’s only one line, though, so whatever.

What does work is the cast. Granted, Joel Kinnaman is nothing more than okay as the film’s lead. Ironically, he seems to act more robotic as Alex Murphy than he does as RoboCop. The supporting cast backing him up, though, is great. Rarely do you see an A-list supporting cast showing up in remakes, especially the horror ones (which are the reason remakes justifiably get crapped on), but they manage to keep this film afloat.

Gary Oldman is really the standout here. This guy is like a chameleon with any role he gets. To go from Sid Vicious to Dracula to a corrupt cop to Beethoven to a Russian terrorist to Commissioner Gordon and now to the film’s “Doctor with a conscience” shows just how diverse of an actor he truly is. As Dr. Dennett Norton, Oldman’s character is the one that brings up the film’s primary questions of whether what he’s doing is ethical or is it possible to have the functions of a man (soul, heart, conscience, memory, emotion) coexist with the emotionless functions of a machine.

Abbie Cornish is also great as Alex’s wife Clara. Providing the film’s emotion, her character is the second aspect (along with Oldman’s Dr. Norton) that differentiates from the original that works. In the original, Murphy’s memory was wiped clean and the story was about him being reborn as a robot and essentially relearning how to be human. Here, it’s almost the opposite, where he still has a relationship with his wife and child (and, honestly, if I was married to Abbie Cornish, I’d have it no other way either).

Samuel L. Jackson provides some slight comic relief as a TV news commentator that backs the use of law enforcement robots. It’s Jackson in standard Samuel L. Jackson mode, screaming and hollering like he does so well. At least with what a PG-13 rating will allow, although, he does get a final rant at the end that got a good laugh out of me.

It seems like forever since I last saw Michael Keaton onscreen, but it was so good to see him again. He gets to have his fun, chewing the scenery a bit (in the role originally played by Ronny Cox), and the scenes between him and Oldman were easily the best moments of this film. That’s kinda a praise and criticism, though, when you think about it. Obviously, seeing two great actors of their caliber acting in a scene together is never a bad thing. However, when the action scenes in a – uh, let’s see – an action film aren’t the best aspects of the movie (that goes back to my point about the villains too), that does tell you something. It’s just the shaky-cam technique we’ve seen before a million times.

Paul Greengrass, it worked in The Bourne Ultimatum, but dammit, look what you created!

Is it as good as the original? Absolutely not, but that’s not the right question to ask. What should be asked is if it’s better than the crap-piles that are RoboCop 2 and 3. Well, that goes without saying. It lacks the dark, clever satire that made the original such a fun time and the generic villains don’t help matters any. All that considered, I still had a fairly entertaining time with this film, thanks largely to a very talented supporting cast (once Kinnaman becomes RoboCop, you can look over the fact that he’s being overshadowed by essentially everyone) and some well fleshed out characters. It’s far from perfect, but it’s still a serviceable remake of a great sci-fi classic. That’s a lot more than I can say for many, many, many other remakes.

I give RoboCop a B- (★★★).

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