Robocop (2014, 1 hr 57 mins)
I find a lot of remakes, or the rumours of them, unsettling. With the exception of a few, like We Are What We Are, Let The Right One In, and Tron, all of which kept the essence of the original films and were either visually appealing or well acted, I often wonder what the point is. I see remakes as cash grabs for Hollywood executives wanting to capitalize on the new wave of movie-going youth who are always looking for bigger and better, or to bank on the English version of foreign films since, as rumour has it, they think the general public don’t like subtitles. Meanwhile, the original films also make money due to curiosity and comparison, so I guess everyone is happy because money trumps an original idea any day.
I wanted to check out the new V.I.P. theatre that opened nearby, and the only film of interest was the Robocop remake. After making the above comments, I have to say I actually liked the reboot. I watched the original Robocop recently, and remembered why I loved it. Director Paul Verhoeven found a good balance of action, camp and heart in the 1987 classic sci-fi action film that made Peter Weller a fan favourite. Peppered with catch phrases like, “I’ll buy that for a dollar!”, “Your move, creep!”, and cheesy commercials for games like Nuke ‘Em, the original Robocop was an ’80’s tongue in cheek look at the near future that can’t be reproduced. The focus on Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) as she tries to connect with her refurbished ex-partner Murphy, as well as his quest for retribution and justice for his assailants melded well with the corrupt bureaucracy of big business.
The 2014 version was a more straight-laced story. This time, Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) gets too close to a gun running operation with police ties. He is blown up and left for dead by these criminals, and with the blessing of his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish), is chosen as a guinea pig for a new prototype robot. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of technology giant OmniCorp, is behind this initiative and bent on winning over the U.S. public by humanizing robots already in use for peace keeping efforts overseas. When Murphy comes back as Robocop, he struggles with what he has become, the loss of his life as he knew it and his estrangement from his family.
This version is a sleeker, more emotional take on the original, and focuses on morality and Murphy’s struggle with his humanity. The seamless special effects made up for the lack of campy goodness, and the cast made watching worthwhile. Keaton really does a bad guy well. His portrayal of Sellars illustrated the heartless side of progress, and Gary Oldman was great as Robocop’s creator, the conflicted Dr. Dennett Norton who battled with his duty and his conscience. Michael K. Williams as Murphy’s partner Jack Lewis was also a great choice. I love him as Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire, and he does a stand up job here too. Joel Kinnaman was a decent leading man, exhibiting the right amount of weary cop on the beat and a machine with waning humanity.
The sleek glass settings of the offices, labs and landscape paid homage to the original film, while still giving us a believable vision of a near future. I also liked the modern take on Robocop’s suit and the addition of his high-tech motorcycle. The gun battles and training scenes were good, but reminded me of those shooter video games which lacked originality. They also butchered the “I’ll buy that for a dollar!” line, and while the news show “The Novak Element” worked well for the story, I am a little over Samuel L. Jackson who played the show’s host, Pat Novak. I will probably be hunted down for saying that, but so be it. Don’t get me wrong, I like him, but try as he might, the old Tarantino tough guy trickles out here and there. Too bad he was typecast so much. The only time I thought he stepped out of the “tough guy” box was in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Unbreakable.
To sum it up, both films do the dirty corporation story well. Both do the tragic half-human half robot well. Both have a great supporting cast, but the original resonates with a nostalgia that is hard to rival. While I enjoyed Robocop 2014 and found it visually stylish and generally entertaining, it still bothers me that this remake trend hasn’t slowed down. The only positive outcome of this is that perhaps the industry will pay attention to director José Padilha’s keen eye and finance one of his own projects. Until then, I guess I just have to get with the times and embrace the newer, shinier versions of classic films, and forget about original movies and ideas from fresh new talent.