Brian: “Robocop” didn’t need to be remade. I know it, you know it, the American people know it. It joins the ranks of countless good-to-great movies that get hollowed out and retrofitted with granite countertops and period-inaccurate lighting every year, all so the risk-averse old white men of Hollywood can continue to not worry too much about whether or not they’ll still be really, really rich when they retire.
I was particularly against this remake, as the 1987 original was the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle magic that only the delightful European weirdo Paul Verhoeven can pull off. Preposterously violent, yet with a wounded heart, it told a story of lost identity amid giant robots and corrupt corporate assholes, and all of it shot through with darkly hilarious and eerily prescient commentary on the emptiness at the core of our national soul and the privatization of American life.
Greg: In some ways, I think of the original “Robocop” as the predecessor to another extremely violent, extremely subversive film “Starship Troopers.” What makes both work for me is that they play well on both sides of the aisle. The original “Robocop” is an amazing and iconic action film, giving the “HELL YEAH!” contingent something to cheer for, while subversively showing others how misguided those views are.
I agree that “Robocop” didn’t need to be remade, though I will be honest that I was intrigued when I saw that Joel Kinnaman (who was excellent on the slow-paced mystery show “The Killing”) would take over the lead role.
Brian: So what the hell was director José Padilha gonna do to top the original, or at least match it? To his credit, he did try. Really, really hard. He put together a stellar supporting cast: Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jackie Earle Haley(!), and oh, why not just toss in Samuel L. Jackson while we’re at it?
He also did a lot of trying where theme is concerned. Far more than just the obvious struggle of a man struggling to maintain what humanity he has left, Padilha tries to touch on American imperialism, drone warfare, corporate control of public life, and probably at least one reference to twerking. But for all his consciousness of these threads, Padilha forgets the reason people go to movies, to begin with. People like storytelling, and despite the entire film being named after him, we end up not spending all that much time with Robocop when he’s not shooting other robots or tazing (not killing!) countless extras in the name of maintaining a PG-13 rating (another huge mistake).
I mean, look: is the movie called “Robocop”? It is, right? So why are we spending so goddamn much time in meetings about OCP’s corporate strategy?
Greg: Well, it’s that PG-13 rating, for one thing. I think Padilha went in slightly neutered. He was told to make a movie they could sell to a younger audience, which not only strips away some of the old ultra-violence but also means they wanted something with a faster pace.
Brian: I do need to give Padilha credit for trying to do something new with this remake. He makes a concerted effort to reimagine the film, and maybe that’s what’s so frustrating about it. You can see shades of what could’ve been if he’d been able to focus on one or two aspects of the story, instead of trying to do 5 things in 2 things’ worth of time.
Greg: There’s a story there. And in a director’s cut, maybe there’s even a better movie there. As you pointed out to me, the evolution of machine to man is such a shortcut. Even the main villain seemed pasted on. I think we both wanted to see something more compelling. In some ways, I feel like this was supposed to be a “Batman Begins” for Robocop, given the extensive time spent on choosing Alex, rebuilding him, training him, etc.
The visuals were good, though some of the action becomes so rapid-fire that it just becomes a blur. But it is lacking that (cold, dark) heart of the first film.
Brian: I agree. Everything looks pretty incredible, and let me once again give Padilha credit for one truly disturbing scene that they probably just could not have pulled off in 1987. Trying to get Murphy to comprehend his new cyborg body, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) removes Robocop’s non-organic body parts, leaving him just a few chunks north of a head in a jar. He rolls a mirror in front of Murphy, who can’t look at himself. Padilha leaves some long moments of quiet horror on Murphy’s part, mixed in with Norton silently second-guessing his decision, and the whole scene is tense and troubling in a way that’s more truly compelling than the rest of the film put together.
Greg: I didn’t HATE this movie. I wouldn’t even say I disliked it, necessarily. But it was a trifle. An occasionally too-loud trifle that had a few crowd-pleasing moments and needed a whole lot more story to live up to the original’s pedigree.
Brian: Sadly, “Robocop” just ends up being kind of overlong and boring, scattershot and sprinkled with frustrating wasted potential. We give “Robocop” two-and-a-half homicidal Red Foremans.
“Robocop” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality, and some drug material.