Robocop is another failed remake attempt in a long line of failed remake attempts that audiences have seen Hollywood pump out over the past several years. Instead of developing fresh ideas, studios are taking the easy way out by choosing popular movies from the past and trying to re-hash them for current audiences. The problem is that the remakes are never as good as the originals, especially when the originals are great films.
That’s not to say that 2014 Robocop just retells the same story that 1987 Robocop did. In fact, as far as remakes go, this reboot changes up quite a bit about the plot, the characters, and even some of the main underlying themes that made the original film so popular. Unfortunately, this turns out to be one of the biggest downfalls of Robocop.
This Robocop takes place in the year 2028. Robotics-builder OmniCorp has cornered the world market on militarized combat robot models with one exception – the United States. It seems that American citizens don’t trust the safety of their families to a robot that can’t think or feel like a human would. OmniCorp’s CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), decides that remedy for this is to find a way to put a man inside a machine. If a robot could have the efficiency of a machine and the emotional palette of a person, then everybody would win. After Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is brutally attacked and mutilated by an organized crime boss, Sellars gets his chance and “Robocop” is born. Murphy’s ravaged body is pieced together with state-of-the-art technology (from lead scientist Gary Oldman) to create a hybrid man/machine – with Murphy’s mind calling the shots, but OminCorp’s technology pulling the strings. While Murphy’s personality remains the same (he still remembers who he is and the family that he left behind), there are times that he doesn’t seem like a person at all. As OmniCorp tries to put a Robocop on every American street corner, Murphy struggles to reconcile his new robotic identity with the family that still sees him as their husband and father.
Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer takes a wild departure from the story of the original Robocop with his reboot. In the original 1987 film, Murphy’s brain was so badly injured that when he transformed into Robocop, all of his past memories became nothing more than flashes that interrupted his programming. In the reboot, Murphy is still fully conscious and remembers his past life with his family. In the original film, Robocop’s primary motivation in the movie was to take his vengeance on the evil criminal that killed him. Sure, he wanted to learn more about his former life, but Robocop never tried to reconcile with his family. Instead, he fully committed to the job of cleaning up the streets of Detroit and taking down OmniCorp. These differences lead the rebooted Robocop down a long and winding path full of contrived emotions, silly moments, and an inconsistent tone that never quite figures out what it wants to be.
1987’s Robocop was notorious for the exaggerated amounts of violence that it portrayed. In fact, the gore level on that film was an 11 (out of 10) with scenes of characters having limbs shot off, being dumped into vats of toxic acid, and with a body count that approaches the hundreds. The rebooted Robocop is very tame by comparison. Preferring to keep a PG-13 rating, 2014’s Robocop has none of the extravagant violence that was such a big part of the original film’s style (and almost all Paul Verhoeven action flicks). Here, director Jose Padilha cuts away from the gore, giving us a neutered entry into a film series often noted for its over-the-top violence.
Nothing really works with the updated Robocop. Though it sports a cast full of talented actors (Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Sam Jackson to name a few), the story never allows these actors to make the characters their own. Instead, we are left with a watered-down version of Alex Murphy, a villain that isn’t scary (Keaton has nothing on the original’s Dick Jones – played with evil glee by Ronny Cox), and a story that doesn’t keep our interest. About the only smart decision these filmmakers made was to keep the original theme song intact – something that gives the film a much-needed injection of nostalgia.
Avoid Robocop at all costs. The only people that should see this movie are die-hard fans of the entire franchise. If you don’t fit into that category, save yourself some time (and disappointment) and just go rent the original Robocop again. You can thank me later…
Robocop is rated PG-13 and is 102 minutes long.