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.