Truthfully, how much further can Hollywood damage Robocop? I think the hoopla surrounding the Robocop remake was very over the top, if only because Hollywood neutered Robocop years ago. “Robocop” was about a man brutally shot to death whose corpse was resurrected in a metallic casing that allowed him to shoot rapists in the nuts. By the time “Robocop 3” ended, he was a mascot with a cartoon, appearing on lunch boxes, and a PG-13 television series. So truth be told, José Padilha‘s remake doesn’t damage the character any further. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s better than “Robocop 3.”
This new version may be PG-13, but it is definitely more adult than the Robocop we last saw bonding with little kids, fighting robot ninjas, and flying with rocket packs through the city. 2014’s “Robocop” tries to be as adult and mature as humanly possible, well within the confines of the PG-13 rating. This new “Robocop” is redesigned to be much more in the vein of Iron Man, with a suit that looks less like a mobile respirator, and more like Alex Murphy is perpetually stuck in the suit and can’t get out. Gone are the Christ allegories, gone are the jabs at consumerism, and gone is the gruesome death of Murphy in exchange for a very sanitary scene of a car explosion that renders him near death.
Granted, there are instances when Padilha opts for gruesome scenes, but he’s less about the grue and gore and more about the impact of said scenes. In one moment, Oldman’s character reveals to Alex how truly irreparable his body has become. The elements that truly bring down “Robocop” (beyond the watered down violence), is that the writers somehow feel the need to focus on Robocop and his relationship with his wife. In the original series, Murphy was cursed with memories of his past life that wouldn’t allow him to move on. Here, not only does he seem to have a relationship with his wife, but she constantly interferes in everything he does.
It’s ridiculous that a committee convinces her to sign off on turning Alex in to a war machine without emotions, and then spends most of the movie whimpering to him “Alex! I’m losing you! Please come back!” If you cared so much, why not just let him die as he should have? There’s even a goofy scene where Robocop is allowed to sit and talk with his family, and catches up with his son about a baseball game. Oh the melodrama. The movie doesn’t pound home the satire as the original film did, but it certainly has some great moments depicting a world that’s much more linked to our current government and “war on terror.”
Samuel L. Jackson even plays an obvious caricature of Bill O’Reilly who supports Robocop’s efforts, and antagonizes the government, which ultimately leads to the idea of transforming hard working military veterans in to drones that can operate without defiance. Joel Kinnaman gives a very good performance that, while it doesn’t compare to Peter Weller’s portrayal, really lends the new Alex Murphy an empathy and tortured existence that allows you to root for him. Kinnaman looks great in the suit, and really seems to try to win over audiences as the new tragic hero of the series.
With much more violence, tweaking on the narrative, and a bolder satire on the government and the war on terror, I dare say “Robocop” would have been a great remake. On its own, it’s just a watchable science fiction film about a robotic cop that I doubt will garner a sequel any time soon. I’d be shocked if it did. It has all the ideas present, and seems to really strive to sneak in commentary about military industrial complex and the war on terror, but it’s barely able to stack up to Verhoeven’s original, when all is said and done. It’s far from the worst remake ever conceived, and won’t even rank in my worst films of 2014, but it certainly will not change the minds of Robocop loyalists.