America's robotic drones are patrolling the war zones of the world, keeping the peace—albeit violently at times.
No, it's not the present day Pakistan, it's the year 2028. The sophisticated drones' sole manufacturer is OmniCorp, whose president, Raymond Sellars, insists they make better "peacekeepers" than human beings ever have. He's proud of the fact that his company's drones and robots never get angry. Or tired. Or act out of prejudice. They simply do what they're programmed to do … with ruthless, unblinking, unthinking efficiency.
Still, despite the constant urging of rabidly frothing advocates like right wing firebrand and news show host Pat Novak, a majority of the American people remain leery of domestically deploying OmniCorp's robots in their own country's crime-riddled urban areas. So much so that a law has been passed forbidding drones' usage on U.S. soil.
What OmniCorp needs, Sellars tells his team, is a human/robot hybrid—a man inside one of their meticulously engineered machines. That would both circumvent the legal hurdles and capture the country's imagination.
Enter Detroit undercover detective Alex Murphy.
Murphy believes corruption in the Detroit police force is putting high-powered guns in the hands of notorious drug kingpin Antoine Vallon. And Murphy and his partner, Jack Louis, are close to uncovering the under-the-table deal when the pair gets pinned down in a firefight with Vallon's goons. Louis ends up wounded and in the hospital.
And that makes him the lucky one.
Vallon and the corrupt officers supplying said weaponry know they have to take out Alex before he uncovers their alliance. So they rig Alex's car with a bomb to kill him. The blast claims Alex's arm and leg. The doctors and scientists claim quite a bit of what's left when they merge him with OmniCorp's machinery.
You knew that was going to happen, right?
Alex is, unsurprisingly, horrified to discover what he's become. "I want to die," he tells Dr. Dennett Norton, the man at the helm of his robotic resurrection. Norton eventually convinces him that he's got something to live for, not least of which is "a wife who loves you."
But it's not easy being RoboCop. Alex's young son, David, is terrified of him. And then there are those memories of the explosion that nearly killed him. So Alex becomes increasingly erratic. Unreliable. Decidedly un-robot-like. Slowly but surely Dr. Norton and his team are "forced" to iron out almost all that remains of Alex's wrinkled humanity, turning him into the emotionless, expressionless, crime-fighting automaton Sellars wants.
Somewhere inside the coils of cybernetically enhanced circuitry that he's become, though, the remnants of Alex Murphy's personality begin to reassert themselves in ways Dr. Norton can't explain or control. It's a lethal conundrum for both those who tried to kill Alex and those seeking to profit from him.
Alex's wife, Clara, is forced to make a horrible choice: preserve what remains of her husband in a radically different form or let him die. Obviously, she chooses to "save" him, but that salvation (physically speaking) comes freighted with titanium-encased baggage. And that makes Alex's new existence a difficult one for Clara to accept, though she never gives up on him and is determined to make their marriage work. "We're going to get through this, baby," she tells him. "We're going to make it like it was." In similar familial territory, both Alex and Clara are committed to their son, David, and to helping him try to cope with what's happened to his father. And Alex eventually manages to override the programming that's turning him into a automaton and reconnects with his wife and son.
For his part, Dr. Norton isn't at all comfortable with how his boss, Raymond Sellars, wants to use Alex as a political, financial and technological pawn. As Sellars' greed leads to ever-more nefarious choices, Norton increasingly turns to trying to protect Alex instead of terminating him.
Alex, of course, was—and still is—a good, loyal police officer. And it almost goes without saying that RoboCop is a force to be reckoned with on the streets as he hunts down and apprehends Detroit's criminals. Along the way, his old partner, Jack Louis, sacrificially puts himself in harm's way (again) to help Alex get the bad guys.
There's one would-be sex scene that gets interrupted: Alex and Clara embrace and kiss, her top comes off, and the camera shows her in bra and pants. Women's outfits show cleavage. Robotic X-ray scans of several Iraqi women reveal the indistinct outlines of their bodies underneath clothing.
A group of suicide bombers in Tehran blow themselves and several others to pieces. Then the adolescent son of one bomber follows his dad with a knife, and is brutally gunned down by a drone.
Alex and Jack's gun battle with Vallon's thugs claims six lives. Shortly thereafter, Alex's car explodes, sending him flying. (We see the explosion over and over again.) Alex is shown in the hospital, minus his left arm and leg. Later, when his armor encasing is removed, we see that he's been reduced to little more than a face, a brain, lungs, a heart and one hand.
Once he's unleashed on the streets of Detroit, RoboCop wastes no time going after thugs, sometimes shooting them (when they threaten violence), sometimes Tasering them, sometimes forcibly detaining them. He steps on one assailant's hand, crushing it until he gets the information he wants. He kills a corrupt police officer who draws a gun on him, and shoots another (apparently out of spite) even though the man isn't directly threatening him. He almost shoots a third officer, putting a gun to her head.
A culminating shootout with Vallon's gang leaves at least 30 dead in a scene that often feels like a video game as we watch via RoboCop's internal screen on which he designates targets. Men are killed by bullets, grenades and explosions in the battle. And Alex's pursuit of Raymond Sellars himself invites attacks from giant, two-legged drones. The combat leaves Alex badly injured/damaged, and he has to shoot off one of his robotic arms after being pinned by one of the machines. Police officers and Sellars' henchmen also get mowed down. Alex eventually kills Sellars by shooting him—in front of Clara and David.
A training simulation prompts RoboCop to wipe out about 40 robots, then shoot digitally rendered human assailants who've taken a woman and her son hostage.
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen s-words. One bleeped pairing of "mother" with the f-word (on a live television show). Jesus' name is nuked four times; God's is abused at least three times, once paired with "d‑‑n." "H‑‑‑" gets hollered out 10 times, along with a handful of uses each of "a‑‑," "a‑‑hole," "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n." "Holy crap" crops up twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several scenes show characters drinking alcohol (whiskey, wine), and Clara hands Alex a beer after a particularly stressful day at work. We see a massive, warehouse-like drug operation in which workers prepare and package drugs in plastic-wrapped bricks.
Other Negative Elements
Someone uses the racially charged phrase "off the reservation." RoboCop threatens someone with a 50,000 volt stun gun, describing the voiding effect it will have on his bodily functions. He frequently rides his custom motorcycle recklessly through traffic.
Hollywood's wave of '80s nostalgia has apparently yet to crest, with RoboCop becoming the latest cinematic property from that decade to get a 21st-century remake (following Footloose, The Karate Kid, Red Dawn and Total Recall, among others).
Director Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film—which was rated R for graphic violence, harsh profanity, cocaine use and an attempted rape—has in the decades since its release increasingly been interpreted as a hard-core sci-fi shoot-'em-up satirizing hyper-violent American culture. The latest RoboCop shoots for something similar, fancying itself a social commentary flick posing hard questions about American military might and the ethics of robotic drone usage overseas.
But the film's news personality and occasional narrator, Pat Novak (who's portrayed with rabidly unhinged, conservatives-gone-wild glee by Samuel L. Jackson), is so ridiculously one-dimensional that it's difficult to engage seriously with the ethical questions the frantic flick ostensibly wants viewers to grapple with. On that topic, Huffington Post reviewer Mike Ryan writes, "[The rebooted RoboCop] actually does have some interesting statements to be make on the subject of drone warfare. Well, sort of. At least it pretends like it has some interesting things to say about drone warfare before it becomes Just Another Action Movie. Whatever."
That's Just About Right.
Said action dukes it out with some positive themes centered on family, loyalty and determination (not to mention self-determination). But it joins forces with less than admirable moments of breezy retribution as RoboCop takes justice into his own well-armed hands, even killing to settle the score. Result: an occasionally sentimental, mostly forgettable PG-13 actioner featuring yet another dude in nearly invincible armor (paging Tony Stark) unleashing lots and lots and lots of bullets and brutality.
The new RoboCop's violence and other content concerns may be dialed down a bit compared to the original. But that relatively positive divergence shouldn't be confused with any sort of energetic endorsement. Not to mention that this generic CGI spectacle isn't a film that anyone's likely to be deconstructing for its cultural impact 25 years from now.