Director José Padilha‘s RoboCop is one of those rare remakes that actually tries to differentiate itself from the source material, providing a few new ideas and concepts, while still winking at the original. RoboCop isn’t as groundbreaking or as entertaining as the Paul Verhoeven classic, but it’s a fine example of how to remake a film, for the most part. It’s not without its gaping problems, but it’s still a serviceable piece of work from a director that has a clear vision and purpose for his take on what it means to be a man inside a machine.
Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is one of the last good cops in a rotting futuristic city. The rest of them are either dirty or crooked in some manner, which means that he and his partner have to fight an uphill battle on the daily, with crime rising and rising and cops doing less and less about it.
Enter billionaire inventor Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and his robots. He’s contracted his robots out to the rest of the world for military purposes, but now he wants to bring them back home, to US soil. There’s a law set in place that prevents the use of robots as weapons on US soil, so he forces his top mind, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to somehow come up with a way to fuse robot and man as one.
He does this with error, but is forced to proceed anyways as Sellars gets greedy and impatient. Murphy suffers from an attempted murder and what’s left of him is quickly thrown together with robotics to make the world’s first half man half machine law enforcer.
He is called RoboCop.
This is where director José Padilha‘s remake takes slight, but much-needed liberties to set itself apart from Paul Verhoeven‘s ultra-violent piece of social commentary. Sure, Padilha’s film has some commentary of its own to make, but his film approaches the material with a completely different mindset and that’s immediately what makes it something much more watchable than say the Total Recall remake.
RoboCop (2014) doesn’t completely rob from the original film with a stripped down mindset. Yes, the action is weaker, unorganized and mostly blood-free, but it’s still okay filmmaking. This version of the character gets points for exploring the character of Alex Murphy on a much more detailed level, focusing on his transformation into machine and highlighting the bugs and glitches that he’s exposed to, bringing up the morality of everything that Dr. Norton and Sellars are doing, while also allowing us to see the film through Murphy’s perspective.
Watching Sellars force Norton to decrease Murphy’s brain activity in exchange for a more robust and lifeless product is painful and scary and something that I was not expecting Padilha to touch up on and follow through with. This creates a whole new level of complexity for a film that I thought was just going to borrow and recycle lines from the original, with a much larger budget and more action scenes.
This RoboCop definitely pokes and winks at the original, but Padilha is much more concerned with delivering a product that feels more relevant today and less worried about pleasing all of the die-hard fans.
For example, the new suit. Many complained about the change of color, but most will be pleasantly surprised with the decisions as to why it was changed. This and many other minor things help sculpt this film into something different and not just another rehashed and pointless piece of cinema.
RoboCop perhaps works best because of its performances. Joel Kinnaman‘s Alex Murphy isn’t nearly as memorable, but he brings a strong layer of helplessness and awareness that makes Alex both relatable and sympathetic. He’s not just a big and tough cop turned killing machine, but instead a loving father and husband that believes in the law and what it stands for. His character progression is natural and rarely forced and doesn’t actually come full circle until the film’s closing moments.
Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton get next up honors as the film’s conflicted doctor and money-hungry asshole. Oldman’s constant battle back and forth to sides of research and science versus morality is great and fully realized, while Keaton’s slightly held back as the film’s baddie. It would have been nice to see Keaton really let loose and go crazy, but instead we’re given a character that’s fun watching, but not all that important.
Samuel L. Jackson has a decent extended cameo that gives the film its unique tone and sense of humor and helps it feel familiar.
RoboCop isn’t a perfect remake. But it is a good film that does its own thing for a majority of the time. José Padilha doesn’t come anywhere close to Paul Verhoeven‘s original, but he seems to understand that and not use that as a goal or jumping point. His version of RoboCop focuses more on the character of Alex Murphy and what it means to be human. The film could have benefited from an R-rating and a little more focus on its supporting characters, but the outcome could have been much worse.
RoboCop is a mostly good film that gets points for attempting to be new and fresh, without too much influence from the previous film. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s definitely not the disaster that we were all expecting.
RoboCop (2014) – 7.5/10