RoboCop, directed by José Padilha, written by Joshua Zetumer (credit to Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner for the 1987 screenplay). Starring Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy), Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy), Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), Michael K. Williams (Jack Lewis), Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak).
The latest in Hollywood's long line of reboots and sequels is RoboCop, inspired by—but not in continuity with—the 1987 original. The new film promised to retain the mindset of the previous franchise while using modern filming techniques and updating the script to deal with today's technological, sociological, and political issues.
Director José Padilha has stated that making this movie was one of the worst experiences of his life, and that for every ten ideas he had, the studio executives would cut nine of them. In productions like that, the need to trim down the movie's running time to fit in more screenings results in bad editing that sacrifices plot and character development, leaving it on the cutting room floor. Such a film usually ends up a total mess, which something like RoboCop can't survive.
Remaking a movie is difficult because fans of the other films, who should theoretically be your biggest supporters, turn out to be some of your biggest critics, displeased that you didn't simply replicate what they loved from before. Casual moviegoers may not pay attention at all, or they may listen to this negative press and opt not to think for themselves.
So with people hating on the idea of a black-suited RoboCop, a director expressing his frustration with the movie, and fans going in with a predetermined notion that it's going to spit in the face of what they were fond of, this movie couldn't possibly work... could it? It's time for another REVIEWPOINT as we break down the film's hits and misses.
As always, let's start with the bad news first.
1. THE LEWIS SWITCH AND CHIEF KAREN DEAN
I really liked that Murphy's partner in the original series was Anne Lewis, as opposed to Jack Lewis, as the character becomes in this film. There were only four real female characters in this film: Murphy's wife Clara, Omnicorp bitch (unofficial job description) Liz Kline, Dr. Norton's assistant Jae Kim, and police chief Karen Dean. They compensated by including elements of the Anne Lewis character in both Jack Lewis and Clara Murphy, and then attempted to circumvent the "what, no female cops?" issue by making the chief of police a woman rather than a man, but by the time the film was over, it didn't quite settle in with me 100%.
In all fairness, I think if Anne Lewis and Clara Murphy had been the two primary people backing up Alex Murphy with Jae Kim and Dr. Norton, it might have felt a little odd, as though the film were trying to beat into our heads that three of the main four women in the film were trustworthy and that the men were evil (Sellars, Antoine Vallon, the male chief of police—basically, everyone else in the film). So with that in mind, this is somewhat forgivable because it tries to balance things out by diversifying as much as possible within reason, and not just for the sake of it. Still, I couldn't help feeling that I was missing out on a new Anne Lewis as the film went along. Since Alex's wife has been named both Ellen and Nancy in the past, instead of going with Clara, I would have named her Anne just to help guide that home a bit more. If there's a sequel, I'd also like to see Warren Reed appointed as the new head of police.
2. NOT AS FUNNY
This is both a blessing and a curse. One of the primary issues people are having with the film is that they are looking at the old ones through rose-colored lenses. They're comparing this one to the old series without the proper perspective in mind. Instead of looking at it and comparing the two as potential equals and then balancing out the formula of positives and negatives, they're just remembering what they liked that was entertaining the first trip around and saying that this one is too serious and stuck in a bleak, bland modern style.
That being said, there is SOME truth to it. The film does take itself much more seriously than the others did, and that can be tough for audiences to swallow. The villains in the original series were so over the top and ridiculous as to make it fun to watch them get blown to pieces. The villains here, though, are more complex and flawed in different ways instead of just being batshit loons with heavy artillery. When they're given their comeuppance, there isn't as much of a fun element to it, but more of a satisfying sense of justice.
3. ALEX MURPHY RETAINS HIS IDENTITY
Like the previous two points, this one has some justification and isn't a total failure, but it still needs to be said. A major plot point in the series has always been Murphy losing his humanity and struggling to get it back. In this film, I didn't feel he was in danger of losing his identity to the machine. In fact, I felt like the RoboCop persona was not something that Alex Murphy had become—a façade of a past life lost to his new true identity of a machine—but rather, a superhero codename in the spirit of Tony Stark adopting the title of the armored Iron Man. We weren't watching RoboCop do things and slowly work his way back to being Alex Murphy 2.0, we were watching Alex Murphy ease into the role of RoboCop.
4. MOTORCYCLE VS BLACK CAR
This is a minor one, but as cool as the motorcycle was, I sort of missed the all-black car from the original films.
5. DETROIT VS. DELTA CITY
Having this film be set in Detroit was a given, but it never felt quite as bad as the Delta City counterpart from the original films. Sure, Detroit is filled with crime, but the original series made it seem like you couldn't step outside for a second if you wanted to stay safe. Here things are toned down considerably, and it loses a lot of the impact. Delta City felt like an unavoidable abyss. Detroit in this film felt like an inconvenience.
6. OCP'S LESS OBSTRUCTIVE INFLUENCE
Perhaps the reason for the lack of a Delta City inspiration was how toned-down OCP was in general. This reboot focuses on the weapons division and its ties to the military (and to a lesser degree, Norton's research in the medical field), with no real emphasis on the idea of the all-inclusive monopoly of Omni Consumer Products. OCP seemed to have their fingers in every pie, and we see virtually none of that here.
I'm hoping that a sequel will deal with these plot elements a lot more. A resurgence of the Delta City plan with the "Old Man" from the previous RoboCop would be a good way to reintroduce this concept.
Sometimes people frown on this. In many instances you can't accomplish it without ruining the core idea because that idea revolves around a specific time frame. For example, Watchmen had to take place during the Cold War, or else it would have been even more ridiculous. (Side note: I didn't like that film.) RoboCop didn't have to be solely about the 1980s, and the creators found a way to reintroduce similar themes in a way that works with our current state of affairs.
The character of Pat Novak helped this point in particular, as he embodied the kind of self-righteous blowhard mentality that so many of the political pundits on television today represent. Everything from testing the approval ratings of the armor to the dangers of terrorism was factored in.
2. HOMAGES KEEPING THE SPIRIT
While they modernized things to work with the current environment, they didn't forget the roots. There are homages and references peppered throughout the film that will make RoboCop fans smile. Mattox saying "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar," including the original theme song instead of omitting it like many reboots and sequels do, and even something as simple as starting the film with a news report were all elements that I'm sure were premeditated and appreciated.
No more clunky ED-209. No more stiff RoboCop. This is completely believable and pretty badass. One scene that I thought did a good job of showing this off was the combat test. All throughout the film, though, the action was spot-on. Even something as simple as the mundane shootout involving Alex Murphy and Jack Lewis was entertaining, and it included nothing about RoboCop whatsoever.
4. THE CLASSIC ARMOR VS. BLACK ARMOR DEBATE
This could have been thrown into Hit #2, but it needed to be presented separately to specify just how distinct of a Hit that it truly is. The biggest complaint that I and many others had going into this movie was that it felt as though the redesign of the armor was a needless change. Clearly, the studios had gotten involved and meddled with their typical bullshit, saying that they would like to see RoboCop look more like a cross between Iron Man's armor and Christian Bale's Batman suit. We would just have to be okay with the in-movie justification that it was "more tactical" and accept that as a good enough excuse to make a change that obviously was handed down by the people selling toys and making posters. However, the final moments of the movie take away all of our fears and tell us to relax. The creators redeemed themselves by having Murphy revert back to the old design in a manner resembling the James Bond franchise's reversion to its roots in a lot of ways at the end of Skyfall (which almost made me squeal out loud in delight when I had seen M's office).
Yes, and not only for fans of the original series, but also for general action aficionados. Is it going to win an Oscar? No—probably not for anything, even special effects. But since when is that the only justification for seeing a movie? Sometimes you just need a cool action flick to watch as a fan, and this more than suffices. The Lego Movie was a disappointment for the child in me, but this wasn't. And just as little Tony Mango had a ball watching RoboCop 3 in theatres, if I were a kid now, I'd want to get a RoboCop toy after this for sure. If you go into this expecting it to be as over the top as the original and wanting that to be the case, then you're going to be disappointed, but if you have an open mind, you should enjoy yourself.
If you want to check out some more comic book film Reviewpoint articles: Man of Steel | Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox | The Wolverine | Kick-Ass 2 | Thor: The Dark World