The 1987 original Robocop is considered an action classic and I wholly agree. Director Paul Verhoeven used the movie as a metaphor for the times. He took what was happening in the 80’s “decade of excess” and pushed that idea forward in the not too distant future to see where society could possibly be headed. It also had his signature flare for the gory with the most liberal use of squirting blood packs ever seen to a boy of eight years old.
Somehow my mind made it through. I did not say it made it through undamaged.
Going into the remake, I was a bit torn. On the one hand, there was no possible way it could surpass the original and yet on the other hand, the movie had put together a damn good cast led by The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman and Jay Baruschel.
If you have seen the original, the premise is still the same; Alex Murphy, a Detroit police officer, is injured and the only viable option for him to continue living is to put him inside a machine created by Omnicorp (OCP) to patrol the streets but is ultimately used as a marketing tool.
The why’s and how’s of Robocop have changed. Murphy is injured in a car explosion by dirty cops and gun dealers instead of Kurtwood Smith and Co. gruesomely destroying his body with a shower of 12-gauge shells. Don’t freak out, the effect is still the same. For a PG-13 movie the violence is heavy at times but it can never match the levels of the 1987 version and there is a good reason for that.
Director Jose Padilha decided to take the majority of the runtime to discuss the issues that arise when a man is made to be more machine than flesh and blood. Where in the original, Murphy’s journey to robot cop is shown through a quick series of first-person shots of doctors and scientists working on him, this version takes almost 30 minutes to go in-depth showing Murphy’s first awakening as well as dealing mentally with the horrors that have happened to him.
Once Robocop hits the streets you are in the middle of an ethical argument between the head of Omnicorp, Raymond Sellers, and Congress who have enacted a law to ban the use of robots on the streets. He uses the creation of Robocop to circumvent the law and sway the American people to get the law repealed. As Murphy begins to go off the grid by wanting to see his family and search for his killers, OCP begins to take away more and more of the man and give control to the machine.
For those of you worried that the political and social satire would be lost in a story much more emotional than its source material; have no fear. Instead of interspersed news bits, car advertisements and TV programs that echoed the world in the 80’s, we get The Novak Element, hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), that uses the media to push the pro-OCP agenda and preys on America’s fears in the vein of The O’Reilly Factor, Sean Hannity and other talking heads. This was a good way of transferring the parody inside Verhoeven’s original to something that will connect with this time.
There were elements of the remake that did not connect including Murphy’s partner who retains the name of Lewis, but retains none of the qualities that made Nancy Allen so memorable. He seems like he was put there for the joke about Murphy’s armor being black and that’s it. Abby Cornish tries her best as Murphy’s wife but can come across as stiff especially when you have Joel Kinnaman knocking his performance out of the park. Jackie Earle Haley and Gary Oldman chew up all their scenery well and Michale Keaton is not too shabby as the head of Ominicorp but can never come close to being as big an asshole as Dick Jones.
At the end of all of this, the question still remains; is the 2014 version of Robocop better than the original?
But that is not a surprise. The surprising thing is that this Robocop is a well-paced action movie with more of a human element than the 1987 version ever thought about having. While it may be a remake, it can also be held on its own as a study of just because we can do something, does that mean we should? As we rely on technology more and more, is this the next step in our relationship with it? Definitely more heavy elements than I was expecting from a movie called Robocop.
I’d buy that for a dollar.
Leave a Reply