This week, I went down to my local cinema to see what I assumed was the last nail in the coffin of 80’s action: the 2014 remake of Robocop.
Let me start off by giving a brief summary of my beef with all the 80’s remakes. Though I may bash the 80’s lot, I’m secretly a hypocrite. I unabashedly and unironically love 80’s cheese. There was something about the era that’s been lacking a lot in the modern remakes. The 1980’s knew how silly it was, and it’s reflected in a lot of the Hollywood blockbusters of the era–they never took themselves too seriously. This is the problem, I think, with a lot of the modern remakes: everything has to be dark and gritty. And it’s fouled up a lot of those semi-classic movies: Arthur, Day of the Dead, Transformers, Fame, Footloose, Red Dawn, Friday the 13th, The Karate Kid, The Thing (yes, I’m counting the pseudo-prequel as a remake), and then they had to take Robocop.
The original and remake follow roughly the same plot: Honest, hardworking cop and family man Alex Murphy is mutilated and left for dead by a criminal. In the original it was a plethora of gunshot wounds (which mimic the crucifixion of Christ, a metaphor that carries throughout the movie), where in the remake it’s a car-bomb.
Robocop is one of my favorite films, it blends 80’s action, drama, humor, philosophical issues, and very poignant satire, without those conflicting or diminishing the other, plus it has Red Forman from That 70’s Show (Kurtwood Smith) deliver this classic line
The remake was actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be. It kept a lot of the satire–even updating it to make it still very relevant–and the action was decent, but it lacked the same heart that made the original such a lasting piece of popular culture. Allow me to elaborate.
In the original, the scene where a betrayed and badly-damaged Robocop takes off his visor and reveals what’s left of his human face is a very emotional and poignant scene. It’s a triumphant moment where he reclaims his humanity. In the remake, the visor just flips up and down at convenience. It really kind of loses the emotional impact of Murphy’s development and diminishes the transformation.
I am very glad that they managed to keep the satirical elements in the movie. They actually updated and changed it to keep it fresh and relevant. In the original, it was 80’s excess and greed; in the remake, it’s changed to the war on terror, drone warfare, and political pundits. Samuel L. Jackson does a splendid job as Pat Novak, a Bill O’ Reilly/Fox News expy. One of the biggest changes is that while the original kept its satire subtle, the remake beats you over the head with it. You can also see this in Murphy’s relationship with his family after becoming Robocop. In the original, it was hinted at, lightly addressed, and then moved on. You got the point and it said what it needed to say. The remake, on the other hand, turns it into a significant part of the movie and shoves it down your throat; it’s a little aggravating some times, and tends to slow down the film. And I think weakens it a little bit–mainly due to Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s Wife, Clara. It’s always an issue where the human shows less emotion than Robocop.
Michael Keaton also did a pretty good job as the slimy, corrupt head of OmniCorp (called Omni Consumer Products in the original). He’s a satisfying villain (much better than Jackie Earle Haley’s at least, who barely gets any screen time), but he doesn’t stack up against Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) or Dick Jones. Gary Oldman is by far the most interesting and dynamic character in the film. He plays Dr. Norton, Robocop’s creator. Unlike the Original’s Bob Morton (yes, the similarity does not go unnoticed), Norton actually reflects and struggles with his actions and their outcomes. He comes off a lot like Oppenheimer throughout the film.
Believe it or not, I’m okay with the way that the actual robot part of the suit is handled. It’s sleeker, faster, and it makes sense with our future robotics. There’s a lot of things added that would actually make sense for a robotic police officer, and believe it or not, Joel Kinnaman does a good job as Murphy. He brings across Murphy’s pain and internal struggle reasonably well, and I’m actually delightfully surprised.
One of the biggest problems I have with the remake is its tameness. Now, obviously this comes with the territory of a PG-13 rating (the original just barely managed an R). But the 1980s version was unapologetic and uncompromising in its depiction of a desolate and decayed Detroit. In the remake, Detroit actually seems like quite a lovely place to live- which brings in to question the need for such an advanced police officer. Obviously the action is severely toned down in this as well. The original is known for it’s brutality, which is a major part of the film. Verhoven is oftentimes excessive and over the top. Robocop is a murderer; he kills a ton of criminals without so much as due process. And it’s a point on Robocop as a machine rather than a human being. This Robocop’s a pretty nice guy instead of cold, unsympathetic steel–which also diminishes his transformation towards the end.
Overall, the movie is so-so and adequate, and a perfectly good way to spend two hours of your day. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but I would heavily recommend the original over the remake. In some ways it’s refreshing and holds up to the original, but overall just can’t seem to serve as its equal.
Be sure to check out my science column: Trope-ic Thunder
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