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The original Robocop (1987) was a rarity: an action blockbuster with a cult classic’s heart. The film reveled in cartoon violence, satirized the military-industrial complex, and examined the urban decay of Detroit.
It was entertaining, but it also had deep things to say about violence and corporatism. Films that have things worth saying are built to last in the film history. Everything else is bound to fade from memory.
That brings us to the 2014 Robocop remake. The remake loosely adopts the original’s premise: Omnicorp, a powerhouse corporation, is seeking to market robot warriors, utilized overseas in military combat, to the United States.
The American public is against this. Omnicorp comes up with a masterstroke, putting a man in the machine will win over the public. In his investigations, police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) crosses crime lord Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), and an enraged Vallon has Alex killed in a car bombing. Alex is now ready to be the first test subject for the Robocop makeover. However, Omnicorp finds that Alex’s human side is interfering with his Robocop crime fighting efficiency and so they shut his humanity down. As Alex’s humanity slowly returns, he begins investigating his own murder to the anger and frustration of the company.
The film has massive pacing issues borne of its inconsistent tones. There’s a strangely extensive family oriented subplot involving Alex’s wife (Abbie Cornish) and son. It’s mostly well-handled, but it feels out of place in a film that also gives equal amounts of time to a spoof of Fox News’ worst talk programs and polished action sequences. The talk program is the film’s most delightful, featuring an unhinged Samuel L. Jackson, essentially playing himself as a partisan pundit.
Though intermittently entertaining, Robocop attempts to appeal to everyone and ends up appealing to no one in the process. The film simply can’t escape remake-itis. It wants to be something new and exciting, but it ends up being a reminder of how good and rare the original was.
In Pulp Fiction, Harvey Keitel’s character delivers a line that has always stuck with me: “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.” Robocop is a great character, but in this rendition he’s soulless, and the message he ostensibly stands for is toothless. This version of Robocop, like so much entertainment today, is cold and calculated. It is thoroughly designed to get a reaction out of us and it fails to actually concern itself with telling a worthwhile story.
The film looks sleek and shiny but it’s hollow on the inside. This Robocop ends up being a great example of what the original parodied: a soulless corporate product shilled out to the masses.