Totally not as awful as I expected, which they should put on the poster.

I’ve never seen the original, but this on its own is a solid effort. It opens in the near future with a perspective on imperialism and media — drones “keeping the peace” in Iran while a jingoistic Samuel L. Jackson reports on a Fox News-style show in a CNN-style studio full of gaudy holograms. As the RoboCop story develops, there are compelling observations of interactions with technology, the narrowing line between man and machine.

One of my favorite scenes is of a man with prosthetic robo-hands re-learning how to play the guitar; you could make a whole movie about that rehabilitation facility, though of course no studio is going to spend all that money on a movie about robo-prosthetics that don’t blow stuff up real good.

The ideas here about man vs. machine — precision vs. judgment, expedience vs. conscience, control vs. cooperation — are actually quite interesting, and Gary Oldman probably has the film’s best role as a conflicted scientist.

Of course, there are the usual pitfalls. The underdeveloped wife and child characters, who are basically meat props to motivate the hero’s heroism. The mustache-twirling villains who have no point of view other than to be dastardly. The whole thing becomes a rote shoot-em-up by the end, and if you’re going to cast good actors like Jay Baruchel and Jennifer Ehle you should give them something more substantial to do, but for the most part the writing puts crapshows like Elysium and Pacific Rim to shame.

I don’t have to exercise my brain every time I go to the movies, but it’s nice to be credited with having one.