The original Robocop presented audiences with a bleak futuristic Detroit. Violent crime was normal and division between the haves and the have-nots was stark. In this vision of the future, morality was cut and dried and you could tell the villains from the heroes easily by their actions. It didn’t matter whether they wore a designer suit or gang colors, evil stood out clearly.
This Robocop eschews the easy division of good and evil and dwells on the shades of grey that exist around all the decisions that we have to make.
The year is 2028. The world exists in a strange state of peace maintained by America’s drone armies. These robots patrol the streets of once hostile nations such as Afghanistan keeping out military at a safe distance. There are still suicide bombers but their hope is to now just die on camera. The only place that this peace is not really maintained is at home as there is a law preventing robots from patrolling the streets in America.
Alex Murphy is a good cop in the corrupt police department of Detroit. He and his partner struggle to put the largest arms dealer in the city out of business but are unable to succeed as they are continually set up to fail. It is the one close call that forces the arms dealer’s hand. He takes out a hit that ends up putting Murphy in the sites of OCP’s new program to put a man in the machine.
Where the original focused on over-the-top action and violence, this Robocop is more focused on the characters. outside of Murphy, all the rest of the major characters wrestle with big issues. Murphy’s wife must decide whether it is worth giving her husband over to this corporation to save what is left of him. Dr. Norton is faced with decision after decision in regards to how to treat Murphy throughout the process of creating a humanized robot. Murphy becomes a pawn in the machinations of Dr. Norton and Sellars with his family being the collateral damage in this subtle dance.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t violent set pieces in this movie. In the original, there was the feeling that you couldn’t go more than ten minutes without a gun battle. In this rendition, the violence serves to underscore the moral dilemmas that are playing out. The one that stands out the most to me is the final test combat. The initial tests had shown that Robocop hesitated when faced with decision points which could prove fatal according to the parameters by which drones are judged. We see Dr. Norton go in and supplant the brains ability to make judgment calls when the visor is down. The combat between Murphy and a small army of drones is a decisive victory for robocop and it is still horrific in that he is a man that doesn’t know that he has been stripped of free will.
Over all, I enjoyed Robocop. Instead of a popcorn movie that is all flash, it gives you something more. It deals with what it means to be human, disabled, and the moral choices that we make every day that can easily lead down a slippery slope. An unexpected gem among the dross that is the movie menu in February.