RoboCop (1987) is a classic science fiction film, satirizing the consumerism and the sleazy corporate ethics of the Reagan-era. Wildly popular in its day, it spawned two sequels, a live-action television series, a mini-series, and several video games, comic books, cartoons and action figures. And countless rip-offs of which the most recent is Fox’s “Almost Human”.
Its rightful place in the pantheon of cinema history is undisputed, so naturally the announcement of a remake was inevitable in this age of mass recycling that Hollywood has created to maintain its meal ticket, and was met with outrage by RoboCop fans the world over. I, along with everyone else, assumed that the remake was going to suck based on announcement alone (despite the great cast that had been assembled, particularly Joel Kinnaman in the lead), but also in light of rumors that the director was clashing with the studio and being stifled creatively and because the release date had been pushed back.
However, when the lights came down and the film began I was pleasantly surprised. Thus, this list was born. These are the 6 reasons why the RoboCop remake doesn’t suck.
(Warning: Spoiler Alert. Thank you for your cooperation.)
6. Relevant themes for today’s audiences
In the original film Alex Murphy is brutally murdered and resurrected by the RoboCop program. He has no memory of his human life and his journey in the film is to rediscover his humanity.
In the remake Murphy is nearly killed in a car bombing and living on life support when OmniCorp takes advantage of his situation to gain popularity with the American Public to repeal the Dreyfus Act, a bill which prohibits the use of Robots to police the United States. In this future, OmniCorp has already replaced the U.S. military with robotic drones thus saving countless human lives and is planning to do the same on native soil.
This incarnation has Murphy as an amputee before becoming RoboCop. Today with the existence of actual robotic limbs manufactured for amputees, and the current development of robotic delivery drones by Amazon and other companies, these concepts are not so far-fetched; they’re nearer to science fact than science fiction.
5. Murphy’s memory is not erased
In the original, Alex Murphy’s memory has been wiped cleaned when he becomes RoboCop and the issues of his past life are on the periphery of a story about the corporate destruction of a human soul in favor of an efficient machine.
The Remake fills in the blanks of RoboCop’s creation with his memory remaining intact when he is revived, exploring the trial and error process of the scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), who must alter the existing robot-human hybrid to meet the requirements of Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO of OmniCorp.
The remake delves more deeply into the human element of the story, with Murphy waking up horrified at being kept alive as a machine, begging them to just let him die, and then struggling to interact with his family, one that he can no longer be a part of in any normal way. We see the illogic and futility of a human life saved only for that person to be unable to truly live it, illustrating the ultimate limitations of technology.
4. Futuristic Detroit is always cool
Even though the remake takes place in a dystopic version of Detroit in 2028, the city has never looked better. Filmed mostly in Canada, the remake makes Detroit look like a pretty nice city considering it has the highest crime rate in the country and a drug kingpin named Vallon paying off the police chief to maintain a stranglehold on his criminal empire. Perhaps Michigan should ditch those tv and radio spots that Tim Allen narrates and get Jose Padilha to direct some tourism commercials for them.
The original created a future that was an urban-industrial wasteland riddled with drugs and crime. The remake however portrays a future that doesn’t look much different than present-day except for their advanced technological capabilities. It is of course a city overtaken by crime and drugs still, but a more or less gleaming and clean city. The more I think about it I guess this part of the remake actually does suck. I digress.
Hopefully this film is actually a premonition of what the future holds in store for Detroit. Or the filmmakers at least donate some of the profits to putting that place back together.
3. The Cast Rules
Let’s face it, no one can out-do Peter Weller in the original.
5 months of preparation to develop the movements of RoboCop with Moni Yakim (at the time the Head of the Dept. of Movement at Julliard) combined with an oddly expressive lower face and a dedication to going so method as to request that the cast and crew refer to him only as “Robo” (at least until Paul Verhoeven found it too ridiculous to stomach) made for an indelible screen performance. Rarely was an actor of that caliber the lead in what was essentially a ‘comic book’-type film, at least not in 1987. Not to mention the fantastic against-type casting of Kurtwood Smith as the sadistic crime lord Clarence J. Boddicker and Ronny Cox as corporate executive scumbag Dick Jones.
BUT. Joel Kinnaman, fresh off his awesome work as Det. Holder in “The Killing”, is an inspired choice for the new RoboCop and he delivers a pretty great performance. (His movements aren’t as robotic as Peter Weller, but we’ll let it slide). Granted, Kinnaman is given much more face time in this retelling than Weller ever had, making his job that much easier, but he does great all the same.
Add in Gary Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton, the scientist behind RoboCop and perhaps the only character with a conscience, Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellars, the ambitious and unstoppable CEO of OmniCorp, and Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, a thinly veiled parody of Bill O’Reilly, along with Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Michael Kenneth Williams and Zach Grenier. Actors that never disappoint.
2. ‘The Novak Element’
Some of the most memorable moments of the original RoboCop were its satirical newscasts (Media Break), commercials (“Nuke!”), and sitcoms (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”). It showed us a society desensitized to violence (sound familiar?), war, poverty, and obsessed with appearance and wealth. A Detroit that was like a demilitarized zone, close to the truth then and even closer now. A sharp criticism of the state of affairs in America at the time as only a European could give, in this case the great Paul Verhoeven.
The remake manages to incorporate its own version of satire with: “The Novak Element” a fictional news show hosted by Pat Novak, ferociously played by Samuel L. Jackson, as a very thinly veiled parody of Bill O’Reilly. These segments punctuate the film with Novak’s bombastic rightwing views on robots, OmniCorp and the exploits of RoboCop. They are the most brilliant and hilarious parts of the film.
Simply put, Samuel L. Jackson lampooning Bill O’Reilly. I’d buy that for a dollar.
1. Potential to create a better franchise
As I’ve said already, 1987’s RoboCop was a classic. But RoboCop 2, on the other hand, was just okay, despite Peter Weller reprising his role and Tom Noonan as Cain aka RoboCop 2. Weller bailed after the first sequel. RoboCop 3 totally sucked. And the size of the budgets and quality of material dropped off from there. From what I watched of the television series and the mini-series on YouTube they both look terrible, extremely low budget with cheesy one-liners, featuring either toned down violence or over-the-top-exploitation-violence pretending to be dark comedy, and lame attempts to replicate the satire of the original. Surely there’s a good comic book or video game incarnation of the character out there somewhere, but that’s about it.
The remake leaves off with OCP still in the shadows as the parent company of OmniCorp and the potential for the sequel to surpass the first film in the series. Hopefully, it does well enough at the box office to at least get a chance at a sequel with a good screenwriter the series could really take off and make RoboCop a major franchise.
Author Bio: Kyle Joseph Hintz is a filmmaker and writer based out of Chicago. His love for film was cultivated at a young age when his father would take him to the video store and let him rent whatever he wanted, creating an eclectic cinema palate.