It is hard to be excited about Hollywood remakes today, considering one-third of the movies churned out in a year are a reboot or a reimagining of something 10-20 years old. There is, however, a difference between a remake and a reimagining. Remakes involve taking a concept that was very much part of its own time and putting that concept in a modern background. Remakes have been done right (the 1986 remake of “The Fly” is one of the best examples), and yet it has been done very wrong (the infamous 1998 shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho”). A reimagining is more like taking the concept, stripping it down and starting from scratch.
2014’s “RoboCop” is like a brand new, shiny, well-oiled machine fresh off the assembly line. However, it lacks the subtle humor of its predecessor.
The original version featured Peter Weller as Officer Alex J. Murphy, a police officer transferred to crime-ridden, run-down Detroit of the near future. Murphy is brutally killed (or overkilled, if you have seen the movie) by a gang of drug dealing, psychopathic actors (led by Kurtwood Smith, soon to be known as Red of TV’s “That 70’s Show”), but is picked up by OmniCorp, a cybernetic/military company that runs Detroit from behind closed doors. They decide to turn Murphy into the first human cyborg police officer, erasing his memories so that he only remembers his new training. When he discovers the gang who murdered him was employed by one the executives of OmniCorp, he plans to bring down the corporation before he gets shut down by his makers.
Operating on an estimated $13 million budget, the “RoboCop” of 1987 seemed like the most expensive B-movie ever made. The special effects (including noticeable animation, blood-red corn syrup and high-explosions) look cheap in retrospect but were probably as state-of-the-art as the producers could afford.
Weller is exceptionally robotic with quick one-liners (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”) and movement that surely mirrored a certain dance move with a name similar to the film title. What made the film stand out the most, besides being as ridiculous as it was fun, was the subtle jabs at the direction of society. Like another film about a half-man half-machine that came before, (“The Terminator”), “RoboCop” was a look at the negatives of technological integration disguised as an 80s action classic.
In the new movie, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman of TV’s “The Killing”) is one of the most efficient detectives in Detroit, 2028. Murphy has been working undercover to crack down on a drug ring in Detroit, but he keeps running into roadblocks (like corrupt colleagues in the police force). When Murphy gets too close to a possible bust, he gets nearly blown to bits by a car bomb.
OmniCorp, a powerful multi-national company that deals in both cybernetic prosthetics for amputees and military enforcement overseas, recovers him in hopes to “put a man inside of a machine” for the people of America to deem a hero. Robot enforcers are legal in every country except America, and OmniCorp head honcho Raymond Sellars (an exceptionally hammy Michael Keaton) wants that to change with the hero RoboCop. Monitored by Dr. Dennett Norton (Oscar nominee Gary Oldman), Murphy learns to deal with his new metal body while still trying to hold on to his soul.
The 2014 version of “RoboCop” works on an estimated $100 million budget, so this is clearly no B-movie fodder. The special effects work very well with the well-paced action, from the opening scene in an overseas war zone, to a warehouse shootout, to a face-off with two-legged AT-AT rip-offs. Kinnaman is a great choice for a fresh RoboCop because he is relatively unknown to moviegoers, but has a great tough guy persona.
Kinnaman is probably used to police work (as evidenced by his TV gig), but when goes mechanical it is even more interesting to see him wrestle with the machine that is now part of him. In fact, this is something the original never touched on; what happens to the man when he becomes part machine? The original just presented RoboCop in all of his imposing glory, but never delved into what happened to the life of Officer Murphy after RoboCop took over. In the new version, we see Murphy’s wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) in tears with her husband since her husband is now a cyborg.
The bottom line is that, although their protagonist is the same, both versions of “RoboCop” are pretty different from one another. The “RoboCop” of 1987 was a freewheeling bonanza of 80s excess. Today, “RoboCop” is now a fresh, clean, tight and controlled piece of modern action cinema. While the 1987 film was about the fear of technology overrunning human life, the 2014 version has humans both accepting robotics as a helping hand, but rejecting it as a shield all-together.
Aside from brief intermissions of a right wing political show (hilariously hosted by a hotheaded Samuel L. Jackson), “RoboCop” does not really have a lot of silent jabs at society like the 1987 version had. It attempts to play politics, but it does not go too deep for the average moviegoer to have to scratch their heads.