Count me among those who were damn near horrified to learn a remake of Robocop, the classic 1987 film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, was in the works.
There were those that managed to temper their negative feelings a bit after the remake’s cast was announced. You had Micheal Keaton. You had Gary Oldman. You even had Samuel L. Jackson! Big name actors and an interesting bunch. Then it was announced that Jose Padilha would direct.this remake. While not a huge name in America, he had directed some fine works in his native Brazil and those in the know felt that, at the very least, he was an intriguing choice for this remake.
So some fans had their fingers crossed and hoped for the best. Eventually, the film was released.
I think its fair to say that the general reaction to the 2014 version of RoboCop was something along the lines of “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been”, which is as backhanded a complement as you can probably get. Looking at the hard numbers, Rotten Tomatoes has the film scoring a mediocre 49% positive among audiences and a not all that much better 55% positive among critics (In comparison, the original Robocop scored a far more impressive 88% positive among critics and an 83% positive among audiences).
For my part, I wasn’t exactly dying to see the film. Even after learning who was in it and who directed it (I remain unfamiliar with all his previous works), I was certain whatever was produced wouldn’t hold a candle to the original. Yet when the opportunity presented itself to see RoboCop 2014, I gave it try. As best I could I put my mind in neutral. I didn’t expect much, but was hoping for the best.
So…was the film better than I thought?
In a word, no.
I didn’t like the film. I didn’t like it much at all. Yet before I go into what went wrong, I need to give the creators behind this movie credit as it certainly appeared they took the time to try to come up with a new, somewhat unique, and interesting “take” on the whole RoboCop concept.
The movie begins with U.S. armed forces in some unnamed Arabian country. Over there the U.S. is using robots to “protect” the peace, a not so subtle jab at the current drone wars, only these forces are actually patrolling the ground (and obviously making the locals very nervous). The company behind the robots, OmniCorp, wants to increase their profits by expanding the robot program into the United States as an aid to fighting crime. But while we can use terrifying robots “over there”, politicians are far less inclined to allow their use within U.S. soil.
The company, headed by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) figures out an end around to the politicians: It will create a man/machine hybrid and hopefully its success will allow them to convince the politicians to fully implement their profitable robotic forces on our soil.
All they need to do is find a police officer severely injured enough to put these robotic parts on what remains of his person.
Enter Alex Murphy (a very bland Joel Kinnaman) who is the proverbial “honest” cop in a den of dishonesty. He is pursuing illegal gun sellers who are apparently getting their weapons from the police themselves. His investigation creates too many waves and Murphy is dispatched with a car bomb.
Now severely injured, our two stories intersect as OmniCorp deems the fallen officer prime material for their RoboCop program.
And off we go.
Again, I like the fact that the creators of this film decided to use current events to fashion their movie’s concept. I also like the fact that when RoboCop is created, they question just how far a human being can be cut down and “augmented” with artificial components before he is no longer a human. These prove to be surprisingly weighty issues…but unfortunately tackling interesting concepts alone does not a good movie make.
The original RoboCop also dealt to some degree with the issues of man and machine interaction. Unlike this remake, it gleefully presented itself as an ultraviolent comic book (I say that in the best way). We had high level emotions and strong action sequences. We had suspense, we had humor. Like it or not, the original RoboCop moved.
Something that, unfortunately, cannot be said of the remake.
The first major mistake the film makes, ironically enough, goes back to its biggest strength. The movie winds up wallowing a little too much in the questions of what makes a man and at what point is he a machine. Worse, we’re given no strong villains for RoboCop to fight against. Sure, we know two of his fellow officers are corrupt, but they’re for the most part in the background doing very little. The head gun seller and man who was behind Murphy’s near death is also presented in only a couple of scenes and never merits much thought before he’s dispatched. There are two other villains who appear later in the film, but one is meant to be a total surprise so we can’t root against the character and cheer her fall. The final villain reveals his villainy only in the film’s last ten or so minutes, also making that character someone hard to root against.
What we’re left with is a film that Rottten Tomatoes’ score hits perfectly. RoboCop 2014 is certainly not a terrible film, but neither is it particularly good. In the end, it winds up being little more than mediocre. And that winds up frustrating you all the more. With a little more effort, RoboCop 2014 might have been memorable in its own way.