After one release-date shift and no end of internet finger-wagging, Jose Padilha’s RoboCop remake finally hit theaters last month with an emphatic “eh.” It certainly wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and it actually had some genuinely effective elements — the reveal of what’s actually left of Murphy was a beautiful bit of body horror — but Robo’s shiny upgrade wasn’t enough to lure in throngs of American moviegoers, bringing in only $57 million against its $100 million production budget domestically. For all my qualms about the remake, however, I have no doubt that this is a flick that’s going to do well and find a larger audience on home video. If you skipped it in theaters, mark your calendar: RoboCop will be serving the public trust on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 9. It’ll also be available for digital download the week before, on June 2.
Warning: There is much NSFW language and dick-shooting in the video below.
Sometimes in life, we avoid doing the things we need to do, whether it’s because there’s pain involved, or because we’re being held up at gunpoint by Clarence Boddicker and his gang. In any case, I’m taking the bullet for not getting around to watching the fan film Our RoboCop Remake until recently, because despite the nearly universal acclaim for it spread across the rest of the Internet, I’d just seen José Padilha’s reboot and I wasn’t ready to see what anyone else had to say about RoboCop‘s legacy. This, of course, was the biggest mistake I could have made, as this is one of the funniest and most inventive things I’ve seen online. I’d kick myself, but there’s a short-circuit in the wiring going from my brain to my legs.
A year ago, the conversations were heating up around here over the pros and cons of bringing RoboCop back to life in a modern reboot of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 action classic. The voices were so loud for both sides, it seemed like a draw. Not that any of us could have stopped it anyway, as José Padilha’s take on the half-man/half-machine hit theaters last month. It probably surprises no one that audience reactions to the flick were also pretty polarized, with some loving the drone-on-RoboCop action and lack of camp value, while others thought it was meandering and without a proper focus on a villain or conflict. Well, I hope you guys are ready to dredge up all those feelings again, as the remake is inching its way towards a $200 million worldwide box office, which is usually the time when sequel talks start echoing off the graffiti-scrawled walls of the Internet.
SPOILERS FOR ROBOCOP BELOW
Now that Jose Padilha’s RoboCop remake is in theaters, our worst fears are now behind us. The movie is not terrible, but it’s not good either. While that seems like faint praise, there are a few notable things about the new remake that’s different from the original 1987 film, namely when it comes to the Cronenberg-esque mad-scientist freak-show midway through the movie.
In 1987, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven blew the doors, roofs, and walls off of American theaters with the abundantly violent and excessive RoboCop, a film that spawned lacking sequels, both live-action and cartoon series, video games, comic books, and more. This past weekend saw the marginal earnings of José Padilha’s reboot for the vastly more mature audiences of 2014. Asking whether the original or the remake is a better movie may seem ludicrous to some, and they’d be right. But join us anyway as we stand these films metallic gray back to tactically black back to see which rises higher. Details of the new film are discussed but no major spoilers are given.
Leading Man: Peter Weller vs. Joel Kinnaman
Considering I didn’t see Buckaroo Banzai until years later, RoboCop was my first introduction to Weller, who was still an up-and-coming actor when he first got his limbs blown to pieces. When we see him as Alex Murphy, he’s a wryly jovial guy who likes getting the job done, but it’s when the visor drops that Weller can get emotional. It sounds backwards, sure, but when his flashbacks first start affecting him inside the police station, his agonizing bottom-half facial expressions are arguably the most emotionally charged bit of acting in either film. His transformation from cyborg back to mentally competent human is memorable, even when his helmet is removed and his human face still retains an eerie robotic blankness.
Kinnaman, meanwhile, has proven himself a reliably serious actor in the series The Killing and in films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But as Alex Murphy, Kinnaman lacks all charisma, approaching the role much more realistically. He is (technically) a man who starts out understanding his body is mostly made of mechanical parts, so he spends a lot of the film depressed, stressed, and embarrassed. A nuanced take on the character, sure, but RoboCop is supposed to be a no-bullshit hardass, not a schmo with an inferiority complex.
Winner: Peter Weller
If the reboot’s story didn’t fuck with the character arc by forcing Kinnaman to go from cocky cop to damaged goods and then to personality-free RoboCop, he might have taken it, but Weller reigns supreme.
Here’s the thing about the new RoboCop remake: more than a rehash of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, this film is a retelling of RoboCop via a device used in another Verhoeven joint, Starship Troopers. Samuel L. Jackson pops up throughout as ultra-conservative talk show host Pat Novak. His broadcasts punctuate the narrative like the “Would You Like To Know More” segments in Troopers, and they function the same way. Director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) tries for the same effect, but, like with the rest of the film, misses the mark.
Novak argues in favor squads of armed drones patrolling the streets in what amounts to a militarized fascism, much like the government in Troopers mimics that of Nazi Germany. The thing is, RoboCop doesn’t go far enough in that direction; super timid, it never pushes into the extremes that it needs to in order to get this point across. You know that there are people in the theaters nodding along, going, “the man has a point,” totally missing what the film is trying to get at.