Print Edition: February 26, 2014
Robocop is by no means one of the best remakes in recent years, but it still attempts to put a decent spin on the 1987 original. What some remakes fail to do is add something new that differentiates themselves from the original while sticking to a similar path. Robocop succeeds with this right off the bat by opening the movie with The Novak Element featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a Glenn Beck-esque opinionated political analyst whose extreme views and propaganda-like presence are reminiscent of the “Would You Like To Know More” segments from Starship Troopers.
Director José Padilha does pay his respects to the original’s director (Paul Verhoeven). While he drifts off the original’s tracks from time to time, he still attempts to convey the same experience despite being held back by a PG-13 rating. Padilha knows how to create tension in a story (in acclaimed films like Elite Squad and Bus 174), which works to his advantage in this film. Two aspects he alters for dramatic purposes are the relationships between the protagonist (Alex Murphy) and his wife, and with the billion-dollar company who created him (Omnicorp). His apprehension at seeing his family in his new form is a welcome change from the original, which didn’t really feature this. Omnicorp also has a new face for the most part as a company whose intentions are self-serving but which still helps Murphy. That is, until the final climax when all this goes out the window.
After the conclusion, I was left feeling like Omnicorp was run by something resembling the three stooges. Jay Baruchel is the single-minded head of marketing, Jennifer Elhe is the self-absorbed PR manager, and Michael Keaton is the smooth-talking genius CEO. The chemistry between them is somewhat flat, but they do show a more “human” side than the board members from the original. They are using Murphy for financial gain but they still care somewhat for his well-being.
Gary Oldman’s performance as Murphy’s doctor also pushes this human aspect. The doctor-patient relationship adds more of a personal connection to these characters and to the emotional focus of the film. It all runs as smoothly as it can until the finale when the web of corruption and conspiracy following Murphy’s accident becomes abundantly clear, though it doesn’t really have any reason for existing. It also features possibly the worst use of a classic line (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”) imaginable.
I would almost be able to forgive this if there was a flurry of intense action sequences, but in truth, there are only a few. The conflict between Murphy and the major gangs in Detroit is also resolved surprisingly quickly. Unlike the first one, Murphy’s revenge is concluded barely halfway through the film, which leads to a rather sloppy ending.
The original Robocop and Padilha’s remake are different, but so alike at times that this film didn’t need to be made. If it wanted to stand on its own, it shouldn’t have used aspects of easily corrupted police officers or media exploitation.
Robocop spends most of its time attempting to remake the character and trying to re-create the world Robocop is based in. None of this changes how this was already done, in a way that was actually new, 27 years ago.