I’m not one of those people that knee jerk reacts to the news of something being remade or rebooted with cries that Hollywood has run out of ideas. I don’t think there are any sacred cows in movies that you absolutely couldn’t remake as it’s not like a shitty remake suddenly causes all copies of the original film to suddenly disappear. So when I heard they were doing a remake of the classic Paul Verhoeven film Robocop, I didn’t dismiss it off hand and was tentatively on-board to see what they would do. Then I saw some of the trailers and stills from the movie and was almost immediately turned off. It seemed like the people making the film had entirely missed the point of the movie and were just turning out some generic action movie.
The marketing people behind this new Robocop should be fired. While the elements from the trailers are all in the film, without the context behind them, it makes the movie seem completely devoid of any depth. In actuality, the movie does what any good remake should do and take the themes and ideas of the original and update them to a more modern audience. Many people were turned off because “A Robocop movie without an R rating?” seems like you would just be watering down the message. Which, for the original, is true. The original was hyper graphic as a commentary on the American fetishization of violence in our media. The focus of the remake shifts away from that as a theme and so if they tried to cram in melting guys and flying body parts, it would feel forced and out of place with the rest of the film.
One of the most interesting shifts that takes place in the new Robocop is the focus on who the main villain is. The original focuses on the crime boss. Clarence Boddicker personally and maliciously kills Murphy in the original and has influence over the sleazy corporate guy as well. In the 80’s, the focus on drug dealers and gang members as bad guys was all over the place. In the remake, the main gang villain, Antoine Vallon, is mostly just the side character and the catalyst that lets OmniCorp remake Murphy. Nowadays, the real villain is the corporation and how it corrupts everything it gets its hands on. Even the well-meaning doctor that comes up with the ability to integrate man and machine allows himself to be swayed be the pressures of corporate greed.
The acting in this movie is actually top-notch all around. Gary Oldman plays the aforementioned doctor and has probably the greatest character arc in the movie (and if you’re going to give someone a big character arc, then giving it to Gary Oldman is probably the right call). We also get Samuel Jackson as a conservative media pundit giving a delightful performance showing the media manipulation of twisting ideas. Also, his character would be the spiritual replacement of Burgess Meredith’s character from the original as the 80s idea of media distraction was placation through selling sex and our current idea of media distraction has more to do with the sensationalizing through the 24 hour news cycle. Joel Kinnaman also does a good job of being able to switch between human with feelings and the emotionless controlled robot without it feeling strained.
With a larger focus on the stripping away of our freedom/free will, the Robocop remake actually ends up having just as much to say about our lives as the original did when it was made. The action sequences were fast paced and explosive, if not particularly graphic. There is a bit of a lull towards the middle as the revenge plot against Vallon falls a little flat since they never particularly built him up as a compelling villain. All that being said, I was extremely pleasantly surprised by this movie and give it a 4.5 out of 5. Between this and The Lego Movie, it’s been an oddly decent month for movie when February is generally a dumping ground.