On its own, the Hollywood Robocop remake is probably a pretty passable Superhero action movie for the video game generation. For any preconceived notions about what a movie called Robocop would be, it might even exceed some expectations. There are concepts there that take it a few notches above other, more brainless, shoot-em-ups. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t on its own, and has a predecessor to which it must be inevitably compared.
That it should be judged on its own merits is a valid argument, but if a remake is to be made, there should be some real reasons for it. Those reasons must stem from an evaluation of the original material, followed by a thoughtful reinterpretation from another angle, another perspective, perhaps another time and cultural environment. Of course, the real reasons producers have for remakes is to capitalize on brand recognition, but director Jose Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer clearly attempted to create something beyond a simple money maker.
The story is simple enough. It’s the near future of 2028 in Detroit. Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), hot on the trail of a drug kingpin, is the victim of a car bomb that leaves him at death’s door. That makes him the perfect candidate for the technology innovation corporation OCP’s efforts to create a human-machine hybrid officer, which will fulfill a loophole in a new law forbidding a robot police force. Physically, Officer Murphy is nearly completely replaced by a robotic body, with the human part of him displaying varying levels of control over the course of the film as he cleans up the streets of Detroit. Caught in the middle are Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David, who just want him back in their lives.
There are obvious higher questions of human emotional complexity vs. cold mechanical efficiency, but there are also timely ties to controversial drone warfare, foreign policy, humanity’s reliance on technology, and corporate manipulation, as well as more personal matters of family ties vs. the duties of public service. There were clearly some attempts at story and subtext here, but the execution rendered them all muted at best.
The main problem is the lack of personalities in the characters. This is one area where a comparison to the original hurts this film, but the problem would exist even without doing that. Peter Weller’s Murphy in Verhoeven’s original film was a charming, likeable character whose downfall was so painful to witness that rooting for him becomes almost visceral in nature. Kinnaman displays little beyond macho monosyllabism in the crucial moments we are introduced to him. Only Oldman’s Dr. Norton and Cornish’s Clara seem to have anything resembling human depth. Robocop seems not to be the star in his own movie.
Also missing are any real villains to pit the protagonist against. The drug kingpin Murphy chases at the beginning may as well not exist, Michael Keaton’s OCP CEO manages to irritate, rather than cause righteous ire, and Jackie Earle Haley is comic relief at best. Any antagonism is oddly vague and underwhelming, with little significance or release when obstacles are overcome. This is also a very violent film with a PG-13 rating. Because of this, any actual consequences to that violence are completely disregarded. Consequences don’t have to be awash in blood and guts, but when characters disappear left and right in a chaotic string of smoke and shaky cam, it is impossible for that violence to leave any impression. The action is obnoxiously shaky and messy, with some scenes absolutely feeling like the audience is watching someone play Call of Duty on screen. The best action happens when Robocop is on his motorcycle—all other action scenes are an incomprehensible mess.
Without a true character to root for or even against, any intended subtext remains underdeveloped and trivial. It is also interesting to note that today’s reality with drone warfare, amputee prosthetics that react to the power of thought, and other innovations render the over-the-top satirical nature of the original film a little too literal here, and less interesting as a result. It will have its fans, and on the scale between worthy remake and worthless waste, Robocop probably lands somewhere squarely in the middle. That about sums it up: it is so-so.
Happily, a cadre of filmmakers decided to make their own Robocop remake—aptly titled “Our Robocop Remake.” Rather than try a serious adaptation, they went for the ultimate fun factor, taking over-the-top scenes from the original and turning the dial to 11. This can be witnessed over at www.ourrobocopremake.com, but San Diego folks will have a chance to see it on the big screen at the end of this month, thanks to The Film Geeks, of which I am a part! It will be a FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE basis, and we will have SPECIAL GUESTS in attendance! I know I would buy that for a dollar, but you won’t have to because this will be absolutely FREE OF CHARGE! See details below!
Robocop (unfortunately rated PG-13 for inconsequential, boring violence) opens widely on Friday, February 11, 2014.
Our Robocop Remake (stickin’ it to the MPAA!) will screen ONE NIGHT ONLY in San Diego at the Digital Gym Cinema on 2921 El Cajon Blvd. This is a secret screening. To find out more, message us at www.facebook.com/TheFilmGeeks! Because of limited seating, again, this is FIRST COME FIRST SERVE!