Reboots, remakes, recycling old ideas for cash, however you want to put it, Hollywood loves bringing back movies from yesteryear and milking a familiar cash cow. The latest character to get the treatment is Robocop. There was collective sigh asking “why” when the remake was first announced, followed by constant interest. Leaked photos of the new look Robo followed, accompanied with details about plot and on-set action. Forums were alight. The reason: Robocop does deserve a successful franchise. We never complain when Batman gets reshaped, next time around the Dark Knight’s absence will amount to only several years, and Robocop is an identifiable legend too.
That reasoning aside, some people are opposed a new flick because of the old classic line: It won’t be as good as the original. More often than not that statement is true for all remakes/reboots/reimaginings. The new Total Recall made me want to dream it away, and that movie was the tip of the rehash iceberg. So going into the new Robocop one should make peace with the idea that it won’t be as good as Paul Verhoeven’s original (but can’t be any worse than Robocop 3). After this has been accepted then we can judge why this is so in a more positive light.
First off a look at the age rating shows the studio’s intentions, dropping the 18 cert for a wider audience was a financial choice. In itself this needn’t be to the movie’s detriment, intelligent films don’t need blood and guts. So while there’ll be nobody asking, “Does it hurt? Does it hurt?” the sad truth is it starts to hurt the movie in unseen ways. If after stripping away the graphic violence you reveal a product posing less IQ than the predecessor, problems arise. Of course these are hidden by modern polish but the transition from the original’s dystopia to the new franchise’s gloss makes you wonder where the soul is. Remaining positive, I’d say there is one there, but it’s less certain than the classic.
It’s simple to say what doesn’t work. Without giving any plot away it lacks the satire of the Verhoeven’s, yet somehow tries to address this with Samuel L. Jackson’s character. This amounts to a bad impersonation, like watching Elvis live one night then visiting a bad karaoke the next. By trying to pay homage to the original it losses the point on why it worked first time around. The ideas around capitalism, distraction, greed from the first were natural political observations of the time – still valid now. Padilha, director of the remake, has his own points to raise and should have stuck firmly to them. By trying to absorb the sense of the original his head is nodding everywhere but finding a message nowhere. Because of this the humanity of Murphy is lost, which is a sin considering this version has Joel Kinnaman more man than machine (psychologically) after his accident, whereas Peter Weller’s Robocop undertook a journey to regain his human side.
Where it lacks the grit and realism of the first it does come across as a complete and well-thought-out film. In many ways we’ve surpassed the fictional technology presented first time around and yet this movie still feels fresh, even incorporating new ideas to aid our hero. After a viewing nobody could claim it’s been cobbled together for a quick buck; they do care about this brand. They’ve just dumbed it down for the masses, even the fourth directive now comes as a visual aid.
If sequels appear they may find the comparisons to the 1984 movie cease and the groundwork laid here will start to pay off. The only welcoming leftover at that point would be the theme music, which I was happy to hear after all these years. With a production budget of $100M already surpassed by box office totals of $146M it’s possible we’ll get those sequels. With Gary Oldman attached they stand a good chance of success, both with his undeniable ability and his record of being the highest box-office earner in terms of franchises he’s connected to.
Overall you’ll come away from the 2014 Robocop thinking it’s actually okay, not as good as the original – but you already knew that. There’s no one asking Bobby if he can fly, no cool names like Clarence Boddicker, no acute observations on class warfare, media or consumerism, but it is a healthy new take that revives a franchise – something not many reboots can say.