It’s hard to think of any other movie in recent years, that has been on the receiving end of such hate before even a single frame had been shot.
Ever since it was announced that Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop was set for a modern remake, fans everywhere have been vocal in their displeasure at such a notion.
While I can appreciate their concerns, I also remember Robocop 2 and admittedly, after subjecting myself to around 30 minutes of it, I decided not to bother with the rest of Robocop 3.
Thing is, I genuinely believe that remakes are not a bad thing. They are not a sign that Hollywood is running out of ideas.
If we’re gonna go down that road, then it could be argued that Hollywood actually ran out of ideas a long time ago. I recall my dad telling me my granddad’s reaction to the first remake of The Bounty. He believed the silent version was better because they really had to act in that one.
So with the likes of The Departed, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing and Zack Snyders take on the seminal Dawn of the Dead, I approached RoboCop with an open mind.
From the offset, it is clear that the social commentary that was so prevalent in the original film has been replaced with political debate. Where as 1987’s Robocop provided satire on the perils of capitalism, privatisation and corruption, the 2014 version focuses on the morality of using drones, both domestically and foreign war zones.
Samuel L. Jackson’s news presenter, Patrick “Pat” Novak kicks the proceedings off, with a report on drones being used in a war zone.
In a presentation not too far removed from the likes of Fox News, Pat argues that the US needs drones on it’s streets and that he is dead against the Dreyfuss Act, a law backed up by public opinion, preventing the use of OmniCorp’s products within the United States law enforcement.
With the Dreyfuss Act in place, OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars asks his marketing team to create a new law enforcement product by combining man and machine, a product that will win over public opinion.
Joel Kinnaman plays Alex Murphy, the doomed officer who ultimately ends up as RoboCop. Considering the weight on his shoulders with this role, it’s quite a commendable performance that ranges from confident, conflicted, angry and when required, robotically soulless.
The stand out performance in the film is without a doubt Gary Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton, the conflicted and compromised scientist who is tasked by Keaton’s Raymond Sellars with creating RoboCop. Initially presented as a good man, Norton is solely interested in improving the lives of amputees and as OmniCorp’s best scientist Sellars recruits Norton into the RoboCop program by dangling the carrot of infinite funding.
As Sellars makes demands for RoboCop to become more efficient, we see Alex Murphy slowly lose his emotions and gradually become more of a machine. It’s an interesting take on the story, that raises questions about the inhumanity of it all.
During all this, we see the effects of this on Murphy’s family, with his wife portrayed valiantly by Abie Cornish. Where Verhoeven’s film shied away from such matters, this version faces the subject full on. At times it does stray a bit too close to the old Hollywood cliches and while this presents a new angle to the story, it does drag on a little bit in places.
Jennifer Ehle and Jay Baruchel also offer solid support as Liz Kline and Tom Pope, the cold hearted duo who provide Sellars with PR and marketing advice.
Much has been said about the films 12A rating, with fears that the film had been watered down in an effort to attract the younger viewer. While the remake may lack the colossal and bloody punch that Verhoeven’s Robocop had in 1987, Padilha’s effort certainly makes up for it in drama and emotion.
And unlike the likes of Taken 2 and the recent Die Hards, I never found myself thinking “oh, that’s been cut there”. So ultimately, the lower age rating is not detrimental to the film.
The film is not all ernest, which is probably for the best. Jackie Earle Haley offers some minor comic relief as Rick Mattox – an OmniCorp military tactician that openly mocks Alex Murphy at every given opportunity and it’s clear that the filmmakers had a lot of fun choosing the tracks to accompany certain scenes (any film that features Focus by Hocus Pocus during a shoot out gets a nod in my book).
Visually, the film stands up well too. There are a few moments where the CGI looks a little shoddy, but for the most part it’s pretty convincing. The ED-209′s look every bit as menacing as they did back in 1987 and it’s nice to hear that the sound artists have retained that trademark roar.
What is interesting to see in this updated take is how RoboCop moves around when in combat. He is faster, leaner and precise, so it’s a great joy to watch him take out a warehouse of drones.
Unfortunately, the third act feels a little rushed and it all sadly stumbles into “generic action film mode”, with a few melodramatic performances to boot.
But the 90 previous minutes serve as an intelligent take on the established and much loved character, raising questions about science, morality and politics.
At the end of the day, Jose Padilha’s RoboCop is an admirable effort – while far from the perfect film, it makes a worthy attempt to set itself aside from its initial inspiration. After all, what is the point in doing a remake if you’re not going to change things a little.