I was going to write this review as part of my movie showdown but wanted to treat this remake as fairly as possible and judge it on it’s own means.
How does the remake measure up? Better than expected for an average movie.
Robocop (2014) tells the story of Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit cop, loving father and husband to his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish). When he’s critically injured in the line of duty, Omnicorp uses the opportunity to further their political cause and positioning by turning Murphy into Robocop – part man, part machine who will defend the city of Detroit and hopefully lead a successful programme that will have a Robocop in every city. But what they didn’t imagine or comprehend is Alex Murphy is very much alive and overrides the system to solve his own murder.
“The human element will always be present! Compassion, fear, instinct, they will always interfere with the system!” – Dr. Dennett Norton
Even though this is not a movie showdown review, my mind can’t help but drift back to the original. Robocop was part of my childhood. I’ve seen that film more times than I can remember. So it was a natural feeling of disappointment when Hollywood announced they were remaking this film. I’m beginning to wonder whether there should be a “no remake” clause in film contracts because of the frequent announcements. Robocop is just one of those films where it shouldn’t be tampered with.
The remake does ring in the changes. Alex Murphy isn’t an officer who’s transferred to the Detroit Police Department. He’s a detective, a street cop who has been partnered with Lewis (Michael K. Williams) for a good length of time. When Murphy is transformed as Robocop, he’s aware of the transformation.
For me that is the biggest hurdle of the film. Call me a purist but what made the original so special is that Robocop starts off as a machine. Alex is simply an empty vessel who follows command prompt protocols installed as his software. During his patrols and an encounter with Lewis (his former partner), Robocop starts to have flashbacks to his old life, something that OCP failed to anticipate. Further revelations allows Alex Murphy to manifest and reborn and the human element about justice comes back into focus, as demonstrated in one kick ass moment. In the 2014 version, Alex being aware of his abilities and transformation ruins that illusion. The way I see it, there is no incentive for what Alex Murphy is doing. Sure the duality between man and machine is still present but it feels a little pointless if half the job is already done as soon as he wakes up. It robs you of that opportunity of growth that was ever present in the original.
Robocop’s reveal is pretty much straightforward. There are no scenes where you see glimpses of the machine as the OCP workers build and test, creating suspense until the final moment of reveal. It’s now replaced with the reveal of what Omnicorp (operated by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman)) had to get rid of from Alex to make him “functional”. In terms of body parts, let’s just say it’s a lot! It’s an interesting take, concentrating more on the human and emotional aspect like a soldier coming back from battle with artificial limbs rather than the machine. Most likely it was done for creative reasons to make it stand out from the original. From then on, it’s a case of Dr. Norton working under pressure from Omnicorp owner, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) to ensure that Alex/Robocop is ready for action, whilst at the same time making sure Alex stays in touch with his human emotions – something that Gary Oldman does brilliantly and one of the reasons why I kept on watching this film.
“I don’t care how sophisticated these machines are Mr. Sellers. A machine doesn’t know what it feels like to be human. It can’t understand the value of human life, why should it be allowed to take one?” – Senator Hubert Dreyfuss
After a relatively slow start, the film does pick up a bit. Robocop with his “tactical” black suit and motorcycle is deployed on the streets, ready to battle crime. However, despite the aesthetic changes, ultimately the plot is let down by a few factors.
The film makes a drastic change by refocusing Alex’s relationship from Lewis in the original film to his wife and son. Honestly, it’s a hit and miss. With “Lewis” now a guy, the only major female role is given to Alex’s wife, Clara. To cut the long story short, Clara basically cries and moans throughout the film, doing her best Harrison Ford impression from Air Force One:
“Where is my husband?”
“Why can’t I see my husband?”
“Get off my plane!” – sorry wrong movie…
Honey – you sold your husband’s body to a corporation! What did you expect? Yes there’s a sense of manipulation from Omnicorp but her craving to go back to “normality” seemed a little deluded, considering what Alex had become and what that would mean for the family unit. It just didn’t advance the subplot and the new Lewis hardly gets any screen time of worth to make an impact. I don’t mind that Lewis is now a guy but the remake rips away a credible female performance from Nancy Allen and replaced it with inferior versions.
Robocop (2014) also lacks a clear and distinct villain. Again it’s another disconnect in the plot, emphasising more on Omnicorp’s marketing strategy on Robocop which felt opportunistic rather than some callous and scheming business plan to ensure the programme succeeded. So in the end, you have about three so-called villains who are weak and easily disposed off when it came down to their final moments. ED 209 does feature but even that was more of a “wink wink” moment than a major threat. Because of this, Robocop is never truly tested.
“Has the congress gone pro-crime?” – Pat Novak
The major problem with Robocop (2014) is that it doesn’t feel relevant. Sure he has a new look with a sleek design, an updated heads up display, entire police records uploaded to his brain and can “Superman jump” into the action (not a fan of that upgrade). Yet despite the modernistic feel, something is definitely lacking.
The original was a symbol of the 80s. It represented consumerism and capitalism that was vibrant and excessive during that decade. Corporations and not governments had the influence. Every news report was a witty satirical look at the world and politics. The only hint we have of that in the remake is Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Pat Novak, spinning the news in a Fox News kind of way. Even though we get the message, the words and the overall feel of the film felt empty, like watching an episode of The Simpsons and realising they’re referencing a joke rather than making one. Concepts are introduced but are never explored or developed. There’s conflict in the shape of Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) who conveys a different viewpoint from a political stance. But in the end it doesn’t amount to anything other than to fill up screen time in a toned down sci-fi environment. It’s a massive departure from the outrageous violence and the themes that were introduced from the original.
Are there any positives? Of course there are. I think once you accept that the remake in no shape or form can live up to the original then Robocop (2014) is not a bad effort. It’s certainly better than the Total Recall remake which was horrible in EVERY way imaginable. Joel Kinnaman surprisingly delivers a good emotional performance as Alex Murphy and Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson are always worth their merit in gold.
Despite the disconnected plot points and the jarring soundtrack that constantly takes you out of the moment, Robocop (2014) can be an ok watch, especially if you have two hours to kill. If it didn’t have the “Robocop” tag plastered all over it, it might have helped it. The comparisons are inevitable but the remake is no masterpiece. As long as you’re not expecting that, then you should be fine.
Me buying this on blu-ray? Nah…wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.