A Bewilderingly Bad Michael Keaton Remake Is Dominating Streaming

Michael Keaton starred in this bewildering remake in the middle of his 2010s comeback, which just makes it weirder.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

michael keaton

The career revitalization of Michael Keaton in the early 2010s was one of the more unexpected and delightful things to happen to Hollywood in a long time. While Michael Keaton had never exactly stopped working, he had noticeably been scaled down from “leading man” to “character actor” and sometimes “voice actor” in the years since his 1990s heyday. The sudden explosion of fantastic roles for Michael Keaton in the 2010s fully highlighted his underrated range. From the stern comedic relief of his role as a police captain moonlighting as a Home Depot manager in The Other Guys to his Academy Award-nominated lead role in the divisive Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) to his paternally sinister Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, there was suddenly a whole lot of Michael Keaton back at full strength. And then there was 2014’s RoboCop, the bewilderingly misguided remake of the 1987 classic science fiction action satire. Currently, RoboCop 2014 is in the top ten most watched films on Amazon Prime Video. 

RoboCop stars Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellars, the CEO of OmniCorp, the kind of vast, multi-tentacled megacorporation often found in dystopian science fiction or real life. OmniCorp is shown to dominate global “peacekeeping” in non-American nations via heavily armed robotic drones, like the ED-209. However, just like in the original film, such walking weapons are prone to malfunction and overkill; this does not particularly bother Michael Keaton, except that it makes it more difficult to try to get a contract to domestically deploy their drones. After a well-publicized, gory incident leads to Congress banning domestic drone peacekeepers in the United States, Michael Keaton tasks Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, reusing his Dark Knight American accent) to find a way around it. The solution, as you might guess: a cyborg robotic cop, or “RoboCop”. 

In this remake, Joel Kinnaman takes over for Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, a Detroit police detective (promoted up from officer, for no apparent reason). As in the original, Murphy is horribly, seemingly fatally injured by a group of vicious criminals. He falls into Michael Keaton’s program, is rebuilt as an unstoppable cyborg, and takes down the evil megacorporation, regaining his humanity in the process. End film, presumably to be followed by a sequel. 

Before we get into what is wrong with RoboCop 2014, let’s not pretend this is nothing of worth. Michael Keaton plays the banality of evil as only he could; his OmniCorp CEO is less a cackling villain than a pragmatic executive who sees the world in terms of calculated moves. Compared to Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones from the original, he is practically cinema verite. Joel Kinnaman (pre-Suicide Squad) does his best in taking over an iconic role, but the movie requires little of him other than periodic shock at his new existence as a living weapon or flat blankness as OmniCorp suppresses his emotions in order to control him. And without a question, this RoboCop looks cool: he is sleek, shadowy, and moves like a jungle cat with a glowing red visor. 

But therein is the root of the problem with this particular Michael Keaton remake. While the heavy stomp and thick armor plating of the Peter Weller version of Robocop are at least in part due to the limitations of practical special effects of the time, it was also a pointed commentary on the inefficiencies of the American auto industry, not coincidentally traditionally centered around Detroit. In RoboCop 2014, Joel Kinnaman is sleek because it looks cool. That’s all.

michael keaton

The original film was directed by Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; it is as much of a work of satire of action films and the changing business landscape of the 1980s as it is an action movie. RoboCop 2014 has something to say about how evil corporations and amoral executives like Michael Keaton will stop at nothing in order to expand their power (including working hand in hand with the media, epitomized by a pundit played by Samuel L. Jackson), but that’s pretty much all they have. RoboCop 2014 shows these people are morally bankrupt. RoboCop 1987 showed that and pointed out how they are also clownish buffoons who get in each others’ ways as much as the hero. 

It is very telling that the group of criminals led by Kurtwood Smith is one of the most distinctive parts of the 1987 film and ultimately deeply connected to OmniCorp, while the ones in RoboCop 2014 are generic bad guys with no real ties to Michael Keaton. RoboCop 1987 was an action movie that combined satire, gallows humor, and genuine pathos to make a classic. This movie is just an action movie lucky enough to feature Michael Keaton.