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Review: ROBOCOP

“But I was curious to see what they’d do with a remake” is a phrase you need to immediately remove from your vocabulary. We have now suffered through a decade-long creativity crisis in Hollywood, and I can think of maybe one or two remakes that were worthwhile, or at least managed to transcend the very genre’s implicit dispensability. And that’s if I count The Departed amongst the remake cycle. I know I’m flogging a long-long-dead horse, but the remake cycle of the ’00s and ’10s is tiresome, and the bare-faced exploitation of nostalgia reveals a both a horrific cynicism on the part of major Hollywood studios, and a severe lack of film education in the general filmgoing public.

So now we have a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 satire RoboCop to contend with, now directed by Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha (the Elite Squad movies), and that it can – for certain sections – be considered merely passably entertaining isn’t enough to justify its existence. Remember how you forgot about the Total Recall remake? Even though it is perhaps the vastly superior film, this version of RoboCop is destined for the same AverageFest purgatory in just a few months time.

RoboCop face-off

The original RoboCop was a satire of Reagan-era corporate worship, and how privatization of everything can lead to rampant crime, a sleeping media-distracted populace, and an essential denial of humanity, smothered under blatant layers of corporate greed. The faceless yuppies of the original have now been compiled into Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) a clear analogue for Steve Jobs, this generation’s go-to figure for corporate evil (Steve Jobs was also the evil corporate tackling dummy in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2). The crass, catchphrase-spouting future TV has become an angry, slick talking head punditry show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson. And the original’s old-world Euro-trash satire and extreme violence have been thrown away wholesale, the filmmakers forgetting to trade them in for anything at all. It’s rated PG-13, which should say a lot, compared to the very, very hard “R” the original received.

This RoboCop, despite some dalliances with ultra-creepy body horror, seems simultaneously scattered and usual. The plot meanders from act to act, opening holes it never thinks to close, not ever really building momentum. The thematic platitudes are obvious and ham-fisted, and the anti-corporate message seems but one element of a story that also involves medical ethics, notions of free will, a crime wave we never really witness, and wartime politics only tantalizingly hinted at in a brief Iranian-set prologue that is never referred to later in the flick.

RoboCop Haley

A cop named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is exploded by a bad guy. Sellars, trying to sell his crime-fighting robots to America (the last anti-robot nation in the world), decides to make Murphy’s body into a cyborg with a human brain. Murphy did lose some limbs in the explosion, but when you see the extent of his robotification, you’ll be simultaneously shocked and perhaps a little baffled. The Frankensteinian scenes of medical transformation (at the hands of a worrisome Gary Oldman) do at the very least have a sickly ring of genuine horror, and I enjoyed them. The following crime plot, however, is not as interesting, and never rally collects into the horrific twist you keep longing for. It chugs along in a pretty rote fashion, never daring to break its PG-13 mold, and give us something truly tragic, truly horrifying, or truly satirical.

What’s more, the anti-corporate message rings hollow, especially seeing as how remakes tend to focus on the blind business of the day rather than any sort of actual new explorations of previously dear material.

I can declare that the film has a solid aesthetic, some interesting ideas (I like that RoboCop had to be built in China for use in Detroit), and some fine acting – I was especially fond of Jackie Earle Haley as the anti-cyborg robot expert. But overall, the film deflates, unable to capture any sort of subversive naughtiness, fun violence, or even distinguishable action sequences. RoboCop is just sort of limp, middle-of-the-road, dollar bin fodder.

A note to 15-year-old boys everywhere: find the original and watch it. Sneak it into the house when your parents aren’t looking. You’ll discover one of the finer sci-fi films of the 1980s, and one of the most violent. Don’t even do it to compare it to this remake. Just watch a good movie. It’s easier than you think.

Rating: 2.5 Burritos
2.5 burritos

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15 comments

  • I have not been to the cinema since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 1, I decide to break this vacant period with the new Rodocop… my mistake! It was just so dull, I almost fell asleep 3 times during the film, the story lacked any direction, couldn’t make up it’s mind as to who the villain was, all of whom were just a bunch of losers, the action, what little there was, was just completely ruin by the shaky cam so you couldn’t actually see what was going on, no visible signs of blood, the only bit of gore (if you can call it that), was the scene where Robo was disassembled, the only reason this film got the PG-13/12A rating, just highlighted what a shambles this movie was and is! AND WHAT THE HELL WAS THE POINT OF THAT HUMAN HAND??? Seriously, what was the point of it?

    Gary’s performance was the only thing good in the film, but the one good bit of praise I can give it, was that it wasn’t as bad as the Total Recall remake and that is me being very generous!

  • I also tell people to see the original. Whether you want to see this version or not. Like telling people to see the first three Star Wars. It seems Un-American, if you haven’t.

    Anyway, I didn’t expect much from this reboot. But it did satisfy my need to see robots ‘shootin stuff.’

  • At 37 I’m more than used to having things from my childhood become something far worse than they deserve. That said, after watching this version of Robocop I actually like this far more than the first attempt. The main reason for this is simple: THIS is the type of movie I wanted Robocop to be when I initially watched it. Sure when you’re young you love all the crap the original Robocop has, however I never found it held my attention…and despite it being in my movie collection, I’d rather re-watch this newer version because it’s more fun to watch.

    I know many people will disagree and that is fine, I just find the original Robocop flick to be one of those better remembered than revisited…it does not hold up well, despite what those above me say. Again, I think nostalgia will forever cloud minds of people who should be better at assessing new things…I’m just glad this didn’t turn out like the Transformers movies and the first G.I. Joe flick.

    Next up, what happens to my beloved Turtles…

  • The movie was great! I loved the deep and well thought out story. They did a good job of accurately portraying how people would react to such a thing. And the psyche of Murphy as he sees what was left of his body. Great movie! If you liked the DREDD re-make you’ll like this one as well. Don’t let “the birds” tell you otherwise.

  • I think you are missing the point, the violence in the original was as much an anti-Hollywood statement as anything. Looking at it’s peers and contemporaries it was a poke at the violent nature of film. The “fun” of the ultra-violence of the original was as much a condemnation of the viewer as the other film makers. Film is very much a reflection of it’s time and this was a very interesting reflection of the current state of cinema and information (the “Hard Copy” parodies of the original replaced with a Bill O’reilly Fox News counter part).

    What this review really seems to miss is the original (while a nice nostalgia piece) would be incapable of coming out today because the types of issues that were central to the plot simply do not exist, juxtaposing the core concept (the “robocop”) against contemporary issues opens up an avenue for interesting exploration of facts like The Patriot Act, Drone warfare and it’s gradual inclusion in domestic security forces, and the concept of liberty and freedom not just at the macro state level but at the person level of being.

    I just watched it today, it wasn’t awesome but it’s a damn sight better than many films and to discount remakes and to say they are a modern conceit is just downright revisionist in nature. Rio Lobo, Three Men and a Baby, Cape Fear, The Birdcage, The Thing, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Heaven Can Wait, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Twelve Monkeys, The Magnificent Seven, Scarface, Pale Rider, 3:10 to Yuma, The Fly, Nosferatu, Casino Royale, and A Fistful of Dollars are ALL remakes. Some of those are film classics. To discount remakes as being “lazy” is selling the medium short. Stories are told and retold, modified and reshaped (the Grimm Fairy Tales have dozens of variations of stories that were molded in to a single narrative for clarity by the brothers). Why should film be any different?

  • I saw the original film when it first came out and I was ten or eleven years old: I was completely blown away. It is still one of my all-time favourite movies, and I second Witney’s recommendation that kids today that haven’t seen it just go watch it IMMEDIATELY.

    Sure, the effects have aged, and it’s clearly a product of the eighties. But even after so many viewings, I’m STILL horrified when Murphy meets Clarence Boddicker that first time, I STILL get a thrill when Robocop turns up at the police precinct for the first time to the awe of the officers there, and I STILL get goosebumps at that very last verbal exchange at the end of the film and the credits roll to Basil Padouris’s strident theme. It’s a sudden (but perfect) ending that immediately made me wish for a sequel at the time. It’s just a shame that none of its successors did the original justice.