Remakes. They’re all the rage now. Because new ideas that are also good are seemingly few and far in between. So people take something beloved and update it. As of yesterday, we can go see the updated and re-imagined version of Robocop. The question lingering in everyone’s head: Is the remake hit or miss? Find out in our review of the 2014-version of Robocop!
By the way, if you want the spoiler-free “Is it good?”-question answered, scroll to the last paragraph. The whole thing is not laden with spoilers, but it does give away some things that occur in the movie. So, really, if you’re just wondering if you will have your childhood memories of Robocop wrecked by going to see this, the bottom of this article is where you’ll find out.
You know the story, if you’ve seen the original version: Policeman Alex Murphy is working in Detroit in the near future. It’s a hellhole. Crime is everywhere and even the cops are in on it. Murphy is one of the last honest policemen in the city and he pays dearly for it. He barely survives an assassination attempt at the cost of, well, his body. But Murphy is given a second shot at his killers and at dispensing justice because they rebuild him as a mesh of man and machine. Alex Murphy died in that assassination. In his place is now Robocop.
As a part man, part machine, Murphy wages a different sort of battle. The battle of who’s in control: Man or machine? And this is where the reboot takes a different approach by the sheer evolution of technology. Whereas in the original Robocop was more of a machine for the most part of the movie, rediscovering his humanity over the course of the movie and has to come to terms with basically being a human face slapped haphazardly onto a metal shell, it’s very obvious that the updated Murphy is human. This may be because we’re used to much more intelligent machines these days. Our mobile phones skim our mails to see if we’ve missed any appointments to day, crossreference the meeting points we will be at with the weather forecast, the traffic report and – if we ask it nicely – the price of the coffee in a café nearby and its rating by users. If we look back at the 1980s, technology was completely different. Cassette tapes were new and touchscreens only existed in the fantasy of science-fiction authors.
In this movie, technology is ever-present. There’s a person with a phone in practically every scene. Technology is part of what makes it so impressive and somewhat scary. Alex Murphy has direct and unrestricted access to CCTV cameras all over Detroit. He constantly scans people’s retinas and cross-references them with criminal databases. Should Murphy look for someone, he simply calls up the criminal record, cross-references it with phone book records, CCTV footage, known associates, their addresses and so on. He even triangulates mobile phones on the fly. Imagine that for a second. So this is the Robocop we’re dealing with. No longer a clunky toaster that is basically indestructible and discovers that he’s human, but some sort of all-seeing enforcer who is also bulletproof, never really sleeps and has a badass bike that he commandeers with superhuman accuracy.
But it’s also this aspect of the updated Robocop that causes the creators a lot of trouble. In a world where prosthetics are more and more sophisticated, going as far as to give the users back a sense of feeling, in the 1980s, this just wasn’t on the map. So Robocop in the 80s moved rather clunkily, slowly and you could hear servos whizzing and whirring with every move. The servos were kept in place. Every move the updated Robocop makes is audible. But he moves smoothly for the most part, jumps, runs and dodges bullets with expert accuracy and his Heads-up-display even gives him the best trajectory to jump onto targets.
Then the problems come in. Remember the scene from the original movie where Robocop enters his old police precinct for the first time after becoming a man/machine. The scene where both his former co-workers and the audience see Murphy walk into the place, brightly lit, stomping towards the camera. And just as he is about to hit the camera, he makes a sudden turn to the left and stomps off. They kept that scene. But it makes no sense for the updated Murphy to stomp around.
Funnily enough, they took the one graceful thing away that the clunky Robocop of the 1980s did: The twirling of the Auto-9, his gun. You see, in the old movie, it was a way for Murphy to demonstrate to his son that he was human and that he was really who he claims to be. In this one, it’s not only stated right from the get-go that Alex Murphy is Robocop, but he’s also retained his human face. So the twirling of the Auto-9 got omitted.
What they did really well, though, was explain away why Robocop was now suddenly jet black. You know how some executive for the movie probably thought that it was a cool idea to have Robocop be jet black and that it would resonate well with target audiences? That’s the exact same reason given in this movie. Nice bit of humour there. They even show the old Robocop design a number of times on the screen. So they definitely have not forgotten where they came from and they do it justice. Because, look, Robocop is as much a hero as he is a product. It really depends on who you ask. To the people of Detroid, he’s the hero who brings the law back into town. To the people at OCP – which did not get renamed Omnicorp in this one; just wait for it – he’s something they want to sell. He’s a product that must look appealing.
The biggest homage to the source comes in form of the music, though. Surely you remember the late Basil Pouleouris’ great score? No? Have a listen, then. Don’t worry, you can read on, the image on screen never changes.
This is the sound of Robocop. Big, bombastic, epic. They kept that melody in it. And it’s awesome.
What’s less awesome is the sentence that has somewhat become Robocop’s catchphrase. It’s the sentence I’ve used in the title and it’s “Dead or alive: You’re coming with me.” In the original, this is what it sounded like:
It’s that slight robotic twinge in the voice that makes it so menacing. That’s completely absent and the sentence is more whispered than spoken. Too bad.
What the movie also does, well, both right and wrong is the handling of the plot. It seems like they didn’t quite know where to go with it. In the first one, it was pretty clear: Over the course of the movie, Robocop becomes more man than machine and finally regains his humanity at the end of the film. This time around, Murphy’s humanity is established pretty early on. There’s some sort of AI-override thing that goes into effect when Murphy engages in battle, but that’s handwaved away. Corrupt cops? You get those. Then they exit stage left. Murphy rekindles his relationship with his family? Not really. Besides, let’s be honest, how can he?
The movie is also quite gruesome. It’s not too bloody or gory. But there’s a scene where they show what’s left of Murphy after his assassination. It’s not much. And this has been established in the 80s, as well. Basically, all that’s left of Murphy is his brain, his lungs and his left arm. That’s all there is. He’s not a man in a suit. This time around, they took even more of Murphy away. He’s brain, face, lungs and his right hand. Of course, this is shown in its full glory. And it’s pretty disturbing. And it makes the horror of having a man turned into a machine tangible, real and every bit as horrifying as it deserves to be.
All in all, the rebooted Robocop is a pretty good movie. It’s not excellent. It won’t win any awards or will be fondly remembered by critics. It’s also not a stupid action movie. It does provoke some thought here and there. The question of what makes a human truly human is sort of hinted at but audiences are left to their own devices to ponder this question… or not. The way news media tell and spin stories is pretty blatantly demonstrated, but fun due to the performance of Samuel L. Jackson. Other than that, the acting is decent, but nothing extraordinary. But it’s a solid movie, good entertainment, thrilling action and it does respect its source while updating it in a not so drastic way.