Robot drones are no longer a figment of science fiction, which gives the new version of “RoboCop” a chance to update the shadowy reflection of what our future might become as portrayed by the 1980s action classic original.
The story might not be as compelling or action-fueled as the “RoboCop” directed by Paul Verhoeven in 1987, but the updated version's dystopian vision is torn from the headlines of the War on Terror, challenging viewers with tough questions about drones, surveillance versus civil liberties and technology versus guerrilla war in the Middle East.
The movie opens with a TV host playing cheerleader for weapons maker OmniCorp, and its ambitions to sell robot drones. The pundit played expertly by Samuel L. Jackson showcases robots occupying the capital city of Iran as part of “Operation Freedom,” and asks why these weapons would not be useful for U.S. law enforcement.
That chilling opening about a destructive future war with Iran echoes the cynical news cast snippets from the original RoboCop movies about rampant drug addiction, unchecked corporate excess and violence in countries around the world. Those concerns loomed large for Americans in the '80s before the end of the Cold War and the downfall of Colombian drug cartels. Verhoeven showed other dystopian visions of the future his films “Total Recall” and “Starship Troopers.”
The future is getting closer as Google is buying up firms that design robots. The government is planning regulation to allow robot drones to fly over U.S. skies, but it is going to miss the 2015 deadline it originally predicted because of privacy concerns. Civil liberties worries about robot police officers as walking weapons with surveillance cameras drive the storyline in RoboCop, to the angst of multinational conglomerate OmniCorp.
Those snippets of the future make the new “RoboCop” good science fiction as social commentary, rather than the simple story of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy being transformed into cyborg, struggling to retain his humanity and family. The action scenes in the ‘80s films were more campy and violent, but also more exciting. The new RoboCop is still a fun movie for kids and teenagers, and good science fiction shows us the world we might become.