As campy as Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop is by today’s standards, it still stands as one of the most memorable sci-fi action films of the
decade. Its satirical edge still provides endless amusement with its portrayal of corporate greed and privatization gone mad.
Director José Padilha’s remake fares better than the last attempt at a Verhoeven revival (Len Wiseman’s mind-numbing Total Recall), but it’s
still a shadow of the original and an almost completely forgettable film on its own.
Like the original, the remake opens with a TV segment to establish the near future setting of Detroit. This is one of several sequences that
find Samuel L. Jackson as an extremely biased political commentator. These are good for a few laughs thanks to Jackson’s energy and the
attempts to recreate the political allusions of the original, but aren’t especially well-integrated into the whole.
This version showcases an obvious play on the current debate over military drone usage. These themes are never explored on more than
a superficial level, however.
Faring better is the addition of Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennet Norton. Norton designs the Robocop technology, and his ethical struggle with the
military application of his work is the film’s greatest attribute. Norton constantly wrestles with the demands of Omnicorp entrepreneur
Raymond Sellers (A nice return for actor Michael Keaton) and his own conscience over the life of his human test subject. Oldman is very
good and provides a sense of humanity lacking in the film’s lead performance.
Joel Kinnaman turns out be a poor replacement for Peter Weller as Detroit cop Alex Murphy. Murphy suffers fourth degree burns
(whatever that means) in an explosion, and his consciousness is transferred into the frame of Robocop.
Kinnaman is given every opportunity to humanize this character. The screenplay makes Murphy aware of his humanity immediately
following his ‘rebirth’ and puts a far greater emphasis on his wife and son.
Weller createda more endearing character with far less. Kinnaman is miscast here, unable to provide the emotion the screenplay strives
for, and unconvincing as an unstoppable force.
His slightly juvenile personality doesn’t make Murphy a likable character in the slightest.
There are even a few moments where Robocop takes sadistic pleasure in hurting his enemies, even unnecessarily using a Taser on a jerky
military opponent during a training exercise.
I understand trying to create a more humanized character, but it also ruins the empowering strength of Robocop being a relentless,
incorruptible law enforcement machine.
The film is also lacking a truly evil antagonist. Kurtwood Smith's Clarence Boddicker in the original is one of the most underrated villains in
film history. That film even had two great villains when you count Ronny Cox as corporate shark Dick Jones. This remake doesn't even
attempt to match it.
Padilha’s direction is fairly standard; with typically bombastic action sequences that fail to thrill or adequately portray the heroism of the
Despite its toned-down PG-13 violence, Padilha does manage to create a fairly horrifying reveal of Murphy’s destroyed body as little more
than a sack of organs and a brain. It’s a disturbing and effective bit of imagery.
The production values are sound, even if the film doesn’t excel in any one particular department.
One barb is Pedro Bromfman’s atrocious score, which exclusively consists of irritating thumps, bumps, and other electronic noises.
Perhaps even worse is that he butchers the late great Basil Poledouris’ original theme over the film’s main title. I wouldn’t be surprised if
some of those thumps and bumps were the sound of Poledouris rolling over in his grave.
Robocop desperately tries to modernize the franchise through frantic action, dissonant music, and elevated drama, but loses much of what
made the original so appealing in the process. The cheesy fun, hilarious satire,and heroic spirit is lost in an attempt to provide a more
realistic and action-driven affair.
It makes for a serviceable attempt at reviving a classic, but a mediocre, forgettable film nonetheless.
At one point, a character sums it up perfectly by lampooning TV comedian Bixby Snyder’s catch phrase from the original film, changing it to:
“I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar!”
I couldn’t agree more.
(out of four)
Directed by: José Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton,
Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams
Music by: Pedro Bromfman
Cinematography by: Lula Carvalho
Released: February 12, 2014; 108 Minutes