For every revitalized franchise like ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Batman’ or fresh take on a classic, like ‘Ocean’s 11’ or John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ there are dozens of failed attempts at remakes and reboots. Updating or expanding upon movies that worked just fine the first time around is a risky proposition. A failed remake does a disservice to an idea that could actually benefit from another shot. At worst, it alienates fans who lovingly remember the original. In most cases it’s just an unfair and overwhelming challenge to live up to.
Unfortunately, this remake of Paul Verhoeven’s over-the-top and ultra-violent 1987 ‘Robocop’ fails to outshine its source material. The original is just more entertaining, fun and slyly subversive then this sleek, shiny and over explained attempt.
Robocop (aka Detroit policeman Alex Murphy) is played by Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, best known in America from AMC’s ‘The Killing.’ Critically injured by a gun runner he was pursing, Murphy is turned into a man-machine by OmniCorp, a Blackwater/Halliburton-esque company. Run by a scheming, shrewd and ultimately unethical CEO (Michael Keaton), OmniCorp is bent on expanding their robot security contracts for domestic use in America. Robocop is envisioned as a tool to assure a wary American public that there is conscience behind this proposed new police force, rather then unfeeling machines.
This version tirelessly explores the science behind Robocop, expanding the role of his creator, now played by Gary Oldman. The original, starring Peter Weller, quickly runs though Murphy’s initial murder, rebirth, and return to the force. Pieces of his past quickly come together and Robocop reengages in the pursuit of his murderer, unforgettably played by a cartoonishly diabolical Kurtwood Smith. That quest inevitably leads Robocop on a course to confront his corrupt creators.
The themes of corporate greed, media manipulation and societal decay were certainly at the heart of the original, but the journey Robocop went on to rediscover his past and reclaim the man within the machine is really what gave the film a heart amidst the violence, black humor and typical Verhoeven exaggeration. In this version, Robocop’s memories and family are kept intact with relative ease, which takes a lot out of the character’s arc.
The original also benefitted from some truly despicable and scenery crewing villains…and let’s be honest, Michael Keaton is hard to hate no matter how heartless he and his cronies are depicted. It feels like Robocop lacks any real adversity. The fight/combat scenes play out in typical modern videogame fashion- nothing remarkable. Overall this new Robocop behaves more like Ironman then the remains of mangled beat cop with an identity crisis.