Some parts missing…
In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, film studios like remakes because of the in-built audience they expect to attract thanks to ‘brand recognition’. However, there’s also an inherent problem with retooling a ‘classic’ – get it wrong and people will hate you for it. So which side of the fence does this re-assembled techno nightmare land on?
Well, for a remake, there’s not actually that much salvaged from Paul Verhoeven’s original. Robocop wears the same original suit, briefly. He is heralded by the same rousing music, as he walks with the same dense, thudding steps and swivel noise. He’s part of a product line that includes the same enormous trigger-happy ED209 ’bots, although more humanoid defenders have also been added.
Gone are the backstabbing corporate opportunists of the original, the shock and awe violence and the media skewering news blips (replaced by Samuel L Jackman’s slick TV host, a digital American flag waving patriotically behind him). Some of the political bite has also been lost because faceless conglomerate OCP doesn’t own the police anymore. Yet the biggest change is in the villain. Clarence Boddicker really put the bad into bad guy – killing cops was his calling card to strike fear into anyone that got in his way. When the reboot’s bad guy discusses the option of offing Murphy, he initially turns it down because killing a cop will bring too much heat down on him. That’s your 12A rating talking right there.
Based on those omissions, this 2014 reboot must be pants, right? Wrong. There’s plenty to like in director Jose Padhilla’s update as long as you’re willing to accept that this is a very different film. The CGI droids have benefited from all the hard work films like Star Wars and TV’s Battlestar Galactica have invested in the technology. The fact that Murphy escapes death delivers an emotional punch the moment he wakes up, given that he knows who he is and what’s happened to him from the off. And the way the redesigned suit is introduced will make sense to anyone who’s ever been exposed to the thoughts of a marketing department (Jay Baruchel’s character in particular is eerily familiar and well observed).
The director also shoots the home environments using close-up, handheld work, giving it an indie feel. That allows Joe Kinnaman to bring a kind of Tom Hanks everyman charm to the cop who cops a face full of explosion, although he obviously benefits from more family time than Peter Weller ever got.
The film also doesn’t kill its audience with callbacks to the original, limiting them to the occasional piece of dialogue (“I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar”) or cameo (personally, we’d have given Peter Weller a much larger role, like James Garner got in Maverick, as he’d have made a much better bad guy than Patrick Garrow’s disappointing mobster).
Gary Oldman’s a smart choice as the doctor who can rebuild Murphy, while even the frequently shouty Jackson manages to rein it in – for the most part – to make his media commentator credible.
The Wizard Of Oz character Tin Man is referenced through the film, which is a mistake: if anything, it’s got a little much heart. Fans of the original will miss the cold, machine-like ultra-violence that made it so shocking and so rewindable. For an action flick, this update doesn’t feel very action packed. For example, a scene lit entirely using the muzzle flashes from gunfire should be a highlight – think the opening beats of Equilibrium – but fails to even raise the audience’s pulse.
So while the “$2.6bn man” is unlikely to live up to that figure at the box office, thanks to the bits that have been unbolted from him, at least there’s enough good work here to keep audiences entertained.
Robocop is in UK cinemas now and opens in the US on 12 February 2014.