It would be easy to assume that this week’s “Robocop” reboot is just mindless trash eager to make a buck off of people’s fading memories of the original 1987 film of the same name. Heading into a theater to watch an early screening, my hopes for the next two hours were minimal at best.
To my surprise, the new movie is not only action-packed fun like the original (though considerably less graphic), but is actually smart as well - packed with moral, ethical and philosophical quandaries that will keep audiences talking on the way home after they’ve experienced the initial rush of great fun in the theater. Everything from the issues of using drones and robots for national security, to issues of artificial life support and how far to push it, are addressed.
Add in a thoughtful exploration of free will and the conscience, and what truly defines a human life – the body, the mind or the spirit – and you’ve got a film that stands out from the pack and one whose director must have really put some thought into it. And indeed, the new “Robocop” is directed by the acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker Luis Padhila, who has built a decade-long career prior to this American debut on crafting films that explore violence and its consequences, such as the highly acclaimed documentary “Bus 174” about a Brazilian hostage crisis that went seriously awry.
The story centers on a by-the-books cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) in 2028 Detroit. While in pursuit of an illegal gun-running gang, he is nearly killed by an explosion outside his house and winds up on life support. At the same time, a major industrialist named Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) has invented robots and drones that he hopes can take over security and national defense from humans.
Sellars’ idea is a noble one: humans will never have to risk their lives in combat or police work again. But the American public is overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, fearing that robots won’t know how to assess complex situations or will be susceptible to programming by evildoers. To sell the idea, he needs a sympathetic and controllable robot, and realizes the answer might come by testing Alex Murphy out as a hybrid of man and machine.
The problem is, this opens all sorts of questions aside from the aforementioned ones: is it fair to keep a man alive whose only genuinely functioning body parts are his face, brain, heart, lungs and one hand? And what makes a man truly a man?
The original film was packed with lurid action and profanity, but had an interesting premise lurking beneath its R-rated surface. The irony is that our present reality – both in terms of what year we’re in, and the technology we have as a society – has practically caught up to the first film. Yet as loaded with questions as this film is, what’s truly remarkable is that it doesn’t force any of its answers down viewers’ throats, and leaves people with the excitement of thinking and arguing its points for themselves.
And in a refreshing change from most movie reboots, where the new films are dumber than the originals, the new “Robocop” is actually a better and much smarter film than its predecessor. Padhila’s not exaggerating about the immense depth of his new film, which in a refreshing twist from the first film, has limited foul language and frequent yet non-graphic violence, making it a terrific film for teens and adults. It also has an ace cast with Joel Kinnaman of AMC’s “The Killing” as the Robocop, and Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Abbie Cornish in support, in addition to Padhila’s crisp direction and its stunning script by Joshua Zetumer.
Combining exciting action with a thrilling level of debatable issues, the new “Robocop” is a winner on all fronts.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.