By David Combest
February 26, 2014
In 1987, Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven released his dark satire “RoboCop” that would go on to live in American pop culture and become an example of one of the few times satire is done right.
“RoboCop” dealt with themes such as media, gentrification, authoritarianism, privatization, corporate and governmental corruption and capitalism. “RoboCop” took on this wide range of themes, and through talented writing by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, “RoboCop” became a hit. The performances of Peter Weller as Alex Murphy/Robocop, Nancy Allen and Kurtwood Smith as Murphy’s murderer were amazing and all excellently done.
In 2011, it was announced that Brazilian film director Jose Padilha (“Elite Squad”) would be in charge of directing the remake of “RoboCop,” which was just released on Feb. 12. The loose remake of “RoboCop” stars Joel Kinnanman (“Easy Money,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) as main character Alex Murphy.
The remake is different in many ways, one of the most notable being that Murphy does not die. In the original, he is killed violently and the scene is considered one of the most violent deaths in cinema history. His brain, along with a few organs, is put into a cyborg. Murphy’s face is transplanted from his corpse onto the machine, all memories are erased and his emotions are hidden until later in the film. In the remake, Murphy is badly hurt by a car bomb planted by a criminal, leaving his head and lungs with his left hand intact, along with his memories and emotions.
The story opens with the talk show “The Novak Element” as Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) raves about the police and military robots around the world as they keep the peace, a clear comparison to America’s use of drones across the globe.
While it is illegal to have droids in American airspace, to get around this, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) comes up with a plan to put a man inside a machine, thus finding a loophole through the Dreyfus Act, which outlaws the use of robots. Murphy’s wife, Clara, gives the okay for Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) to give her husband a new life under the supervision of OmniCorp after she is told he will be deaf and blind with the loss of his leg and arm.
To his horror, Murphy wakes up as RoboCop three months later with only his head, lungs and left hand from his original body (perhaps a nod to the original when Weller’s hand is blown off). Convinced by his family to stay alive, RoboCop is ready to hit the streets to fight criminals and even OmniCorp itself.
Joel Kinnanman gives an excellent performance as RoboCop and Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman show off their well-established acting skills, making it a great joy to see all three perform their art.
However, the film itself never leaves the shadow of the original film.
Kinnaman’s “RoboCop” is more of a man with a mechanical body than Weller’s cold machine with glimpses of being human. This doesn’t add much to the theme of identity when the character never even loses it. In addition, the themes of greed and capitalism are highlighted, but not as sharply as the original.
The remake is better done than some would expect but it does not break new ground like the original. The new version is meant to be darker and more realistic, but even that fails when compared to the original.
Overall, the movie was good and had it not been a remake of a cult classic, it would last in the arena of American pop culture. The ‘87 version will dominate and for good reason: it’s amazing.
The end result is a fun action movie, but it didn’t have the one thing the original had: soul.