A slew of 1980s remakes are getting thrown at us right now. For example, Endless Love and About Last Night both got re-dos, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Also released on that day of candy and heart-shaped cards: a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 ultra-violent satiric masterpiece, RoboCop.
The idea to reboot RoboCop has been around for years. The last RoboCop film, the remarkably awful RoboCop 3, came out more than 20 years ago. At one point, director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) was attached, and that gave geeks and fanboys a reason to rejoice. Alas, Aronofsky dropped out to make Black Swan instead. A chance for legendary coolness was squandered.
In stepped Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad), who received a mandate to produce a PG-13 RoboCop (as opposed to the hard-R original), so that more money could be made. After a tumultuous production, we have the result.
And that result? It’s not that bad … not bad at all.
Padilha and writer Joshua Zetumer wisely go for something very different this time out. The new RoboCop is still subversive, and a bit satirical when it comes to its presentation of the media. Conversely, this one has a little more heart and emotion than the nasty original. Normally, I’d cry foul at this sort of thing, but a strong cast and a visually sound presentation result in a movie that is at least worth watching, even if it pales in comparison to Verhoeven’s insane incarnation.
Joel Kinnaman steps into the role of Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop in the year 2028 who gets himself blown up after causing too much trouble for a criminal kingpin. Murphy, with the permission of his wife (Abbie Cornish), has his life saved by being placed into an armored endoskeleton—with the purpose of making him a law-enforcement superhero.
In the original, Murphy (well played by Peter Weller) started his crusade while not really knowing who he was, or having any memories. He eventually figured out his identity and solved his own murder. The new film drastically diverts here, having its Murphy freak out upon waking up as a robot—fully cognizant of his identity. It’s only when his emotional stability comes into question that his doctor (Gary Oldman) decides to mess with his brain and shoot him full of dopamine, turning him into a robot zombie.
I heard about this twist in advance, and I didn’t like the idea. However, the plot change is handled well. Murphy’s wife and kid play a bigger part in this story, and that turns out to be fine.
This is still, very much, a RoboCop movie, even with more emotion and less violence. Michael Keaton represents the evil corporation that creates RoboCop; his Raymond Sellars is evil in a more understated way than Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones from the ’87 film—but he’s just as sinister. Michael K. Williams essentially takes over the role of the loyal partner, played by Nancy Allen in the original.
Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak!) gets one of his funniest roles ever as a militaristic policeman, while Samuel L. Jackson gets to scream as a sensationalistic talk-show host. I guess Jackson is essentially taking over the role played by Leeza Gibbons in the original.
The movie also contains some clever winks to the original, including an army of ED-209s (the cumbersome war machine that fell down the stairs, squealing, in the original), and a nod to the first RoboCop suit.
This film is rewritten in a way that won’t piss off the original’s legions of fans. Still, if a hundred years from now, anybody is watching RoboCop movies, the Verhoeven film will still be the one most in favor. The new one amounts to a decent-enough curio, but it’s not a classic.
RoboCop is playing at theaters across the valley.