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.
The new RoboCop remake will hit theaters next week. The film was originally supposed to be released back in August 2013, but Sony decided to push the release date of Neill Blompkamp’s Elysium from March to August 2013 to capitalize on a bigger box office. In turn, Sony then moved RoboCop from August to February 2014. When the project was announced back in 2011, fans of RoboCop were worried that a Hollywood remake would merely be a watered-down version of the ultra-violent original from director Paul Verhoeven. Hollywood has a bad track record with lukewarm remakes of popular genre movies such as Total Recall, Straw Dogs, and The Thing, but now that Sony has screened the film early, it seems that film critics are divided on the new remake from Brazilian director José Padilha.
According to a few early reviews such as Guy Lodge from Variety, the remake goes in a different direction than the original and is a surprising upgrade from the original’s sequels.
Shifting the prime target of its satire from corporate greed to post-9/11 jingoism, this well-cast, smarter-than-expected remake repairs much of the damage done to the iron-fisted lawman’s reputation by meat-headed sequels and spinoffs; it’s a less playful enterprise than the original, but meets the era’s darker demands for action reboots with machine-tooled efficiency and a hint of soul.
Jose Padilha’s remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 tech-noir classic RoboCop is almost here. Next week we’ll learn whether or not this worth our time, or a huge waste and another toothless remake of a movie we love. With the release date fast approaching we’re getting a rush of new RoboCop propaganda, including two new behind the scenes featurettes that dig into the technical and ethical ideas from the new film, and a video that catalogs all the faults and flaws of the original outing.
Yahoo debuted this two part look at the technology of RoboCop called “Man and Machine.” As with most looks behind the curtain, these videos are a mixture of footage from the movie and interviews with key members of the cast and crew. In addition to Padilha, you hear from stars Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, and Jackie Earle Haley, as well as various producers and off-camera players.