What's the nature of human consciousness? What if, instead of determining our actions for ourselves, we merely feel like we decide what to do? If the U.S. has the power to micromanage the affairs of other nations, should it? Do the rights of the individual continue even if he's like four-fifths robotic?
All these questions and more fail to be answered—but are at least entertainingly presented—in Jose Padilha's remake of RoboCop. A remake of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven film, this time around the movie stars Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, Mr. Robocop himself.
Murphy and his partner Jack, played by Michael K. Williams, are maybe the only cops in the Detroit precinct who aren't on a criminal's payroll—a problem just as present in the film's 2028 setting as in 2014. But Murphy's determination to bring down a local crime boss leads him to be the target of an explosive attack, one that blows off a bunch of his limbs and burns his skin off and stuff (the movie alleges "fourth degree burns," which a quick Google search confirms are a real thing).
At the same time, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (played by Michael Keaton, who dresses about twenty years too young for the role) is facing roadblocks in Congress that'll prevent him from getting robots on the street to replace cops—and for Sellars, robots on the street means billions in his pockets. So Sellars and his OmniCorp buddies concoct a plan to merge the human and robot elements, thus circumventing the congressional ban on purely robotic police officers. Murphy is picked for the program, and the rest is history—well, 1989's 2028 history.
The good thing about RoboCop is that it totally exceeded my expectations while I was watching it. It's actually a pretty rigorously engaging movie-watching experience. It's interesting and exciting without relying on too many plot clichés (though storytelling clichés abound). For instance, at no point does the film feel like a re-hash of 2008's Iron Man, despite how many notes Iron Man took from the 1989 RoboCop.
So the movie isn't predictable—a striking contrast with 2013's deeply mediocre remake of Total Recall, which took the original movie and recast it in the mold of a boring old Modern Action Thriller. It spends considerable time developing the relationship between Murphy and his family, as well as chronicling his own psychological distress; for the first third of the movie, I was incredulously hopeful that this could be good, personal, introspective sci-fi in the same way District 9 was.
But right around the middle third of the movie, disaster strikes, not with a bang but a whimper. RoboCop is a deeply confused movie, in which are embedded the seeds of maybe three of four much better movies. On the one hand, the opening fifteen minutes of the film show off a dystopian-like world in which modern U.S. drone protocol has been extended to combat robots on the ground with fingerprint scanning technology, all in the interest of "keeping the peace"—the kind of moving, searing critique Verhoeven embedded into RoboCop and Starship Troopers.