The best science fiction is the kind that uses the settings to make comments about our society today, making us think. When Paul Verhoeven gave us RoboCop in 1987, it was a commentary on the rapidly rising role of technology in the world along with the increasing spread of urban crime. The idea that a mortally wounded cop (Peter Weller) was involuntarily turned into a cyborg and sent out to clean up the city was riveting. The performance, blood, and violence made the film an interesting statement and the beginning of a franchise that got watered down in lesser hands.
MGM saw the moribund property as a chance to make some fresh cash with a reboot because everything else has been dusted off and for the most part done pretty well. But did Brazilian director José Padilha have something to say or was he brought in for stylish mayhem? Apparently he did, working with screenwriter Joshua Zetumer, building on the original script by Edward Neumaier and Michael Miner. Omnicorp, a subsidiary of OmniConsumer Products (OCP), is a next generation supplier of military weapons in the form of humanoid ED-209 and EM-208 mechanized warriors at a time global tensions mean a steady supply of soldiers is required.
OCP CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to sell a domestic version of his machines but is thwarted by Senator Hubert Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) and his just passed Act outlawing such domestic police. Undaunted, Sellars finds a loophole in the law and orders man put inside one of the machines, something general counsel Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and marketing chief Tom Pope (Jay Baruchel) endorse. He instructs Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to take his prosthetics research to the next level and the scientist screens candidates until he settles on Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Welcome, RoboCop 2.0.
Partnered with Lewis (Michael K. Williams), he takes on the underworld in the form of Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) while risking his humanity as his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan) grow increasingly distant. Meantime, one battle is overt, while the covert story is machine versus corporation over Free Will. OCP has intentionally “dumbed down” Murphy, hoping he would merely follow orders after being trained by Rick Mattox (Jackie Early Haley) but Murphy is his own man and not the “Tin Man” Mattox insists on calling him.
Things blow up just fine and the human conflicts sometimes take a backseat to the PG-13 violence (a crass commercial move that robbed the film) but this is better than we feared when the collective consciousness said, “We don’t’ need a RoboCop reboot.” Yes, its’ commentary is not as sharp as Verhoeven’s original nor is the action any better despite enhanced special effects or the presence of Samuel L. Jackson. And maybe we don’t but what we got is a cut above and well worth a look. Padilha’s American debut is done with affectionate nods to the original film while still having its own voice.
The film, now out on home video as a Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy combo pack form MGM Home Entertainment, has an excellent video transfer with sharp colors. The audio is a notch below this but the overall 5.1 lossless DTS-HD MA sound mix is fine.
The Blu-pray comes with a standard assortment of unremarkable special features including Deleted Scenes (3:59), 10 Omnicorp Product Announcements (3:27); RoboCop: Engineered for the 21st Century (The Illusion of Free Will: A New Vision, 7:46; To Serve and Protect: RoboCop’s New Weapons, 6:05, The RoboCop Suit: Form and Function, 14:54); and, two theatrical trailers.