In 1987, Paul Verhoeven’s futuristic crime thriller “RoboCop” made its mark with equal parts over-the-top violence and cynical, prescient satire. Now director Jose Padilha’s remake has updated the cybernetic cop’s story with references to the hot-button issue of drone warfare and the director’s own spin on the de rigueur gunfire and pyrotechnics (this time with a PG-13 rating instead of R). According to most film critics, however, the new “RoboCop” can’t match the visceral impact of the original.
The Times’ Betsy Sharkey writes, “In the 27 years since ‘RoboCop’ first rocked the movie world, much has happened and apparently the filmmakers behind this year’s remake didn’t get the memo. A straight-up old-school bot-man morph isn’t quite so spectacular with ‘Transformers,’ ‘Terminators,’ ‘Avatar’ and all-things Xbox over-populating the action landscape.”
The new “Robocop,” Sharkey adds, “isn’t going for the biting satire of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, or its extreme violence. The sci-fi side hasn’t evolved much. And the thrill? Well, most of the thrill is gone." That said, the reboot does have some things going for it, Sharkey says, including solid performances by leading man Joel Kinnaman and supporting players Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Abbie Cornish.
USA Today’s Claudia Puig bemoans the new film’s “bland story, murky cinematography and frenetic special effects,” adding, “The 1987 original was a smart satire of American culture. Though this ‘Robo’ reboot resonates to some degree with its depiction of military drone strikes, the film sidesteps deeper questions about the intersection of technology, law enforcement and politics." The film opens promisingly, Puig says, “But too soon, any sense of fun gives way to mind-numbing explosions.”
In a more positive review, Manohla Dargis of the New York Times calls the film “a nicely cast, respectable remake,” one that “also mixes in tears with the bullets." Of Brazilian director Padilha, Dargis writes, “he handles the smaller-scale action scenes in ‘RoboCop’ competently, if unremarkably, and the closer he gets to the actors, the better.” The larger-scale scenes, however, are “bludgeoning” and “enervating.”
The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr says that although the original film “was plenty ahead of its time,” the remake “is content to just be of its time.” For the most part, it’s “rehashed business as usual: An acceptable, muscle-bound B-movie whose handful of fresh plot twists are drowned out by gunfire and dull action choreography. It has a great supporting cast, a flavorless lead actor, and some notions about free will that aren’t nearly as original or well-developed as screenwriter Joshua Zetumer thinks. But the film doesn’t embarrass itself or dishonor its predecessor.”
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post writes, “the ‘RoboCop’ of today manages to meet expectations without exceeding them.” The film follows “the most recognizable contours” of the original while “dispensing with the most hard-edged violence and gore." Kinnaman plays his role “with convincing melancholy and conviction,” and the supporting cast “conveys both the gravitas and parodic humor that intertwine through ‘RoboCop’s’ singular DNA.”
But, she says, “For all its playfulness, the new ‘RoboCop’ can’t help but lack the novelty of the original’s jolting mixture of dumb-smart irony and visceral pulp.”
The new “RoboCop” does have its supporters, though, including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who offers a rave. He writes, “‘RoboCop’ is no canned remake of the 1987 action film. It’s a reimagining that responds to everything that has changed in American life over the past 27 years, addressing new threats and exploiting new anxieties. It’s not a somber movie, but it’s dead serious in its intent, using fantasy to present audiences with a cautionary glimpse of where modern life may be heading.”