Ah, remakes… It seems Hollywood studios keep churning them out for one apparent reason: Not necessarily to improve a prior work or perhaps say something new, but rather, more often than not, because it’s a quick cash grab… easy money from a familiar title ( at least on the opening weekend). Usually, bad critical reviews and indifferent public interest derail these movies before they gain any traction… and that’s if fans of the original don’t eviscerate the production in online forums first.
RoboCop opened in the summer of 1987. It had a big impact at the time, and continues to be a highly influential among fans and filmmakers. Not only was the premise was ridiculously cool and the action sequences startlingly violent, but the movie also took plenty of satiric jabs at conservative politics, privatization, and rising crime in big cities… not to mention the depressingly prescient view it took of old Detroit, a city in decline.
When the RoboCop remake was announced it was immediately met with groans and eye-rolling across the Interwebs… mostly by fans of Paul Verhoeven’s original movie. However, upon watching the trailers for this reimagining there’s a chance that the new movie might actually be that rarity of rarities: not only good remake, but quite possibly great film on its own merits. Though it remains to be seen if the film, opening on February 14, 2014, will become a cult classic like the original, I’m sure hoping it at least tries for greatness, especially with that incredible cast of vets and character actors it has.
In my opinion, there are five things that this new movie needs attend to if fans are to take it seriously…
5. The Star: Joel Kinnaman vs. Peter Weller
Joel Kinnaman is a Swedish-American actor best known for his role as Detective Stephen Holder on AMC’s now-cancelled, The Killing. Though he played a human trainwreck with a heart o’ gold perfectly on that show, in order for his version of street cop, Alex James Murphy, to resonate with RoboCop fans, his performance must be on par with, or superior to, Peter Weller’s superb embodiment of Murphy/RoboCop.
Can Kinnaman garner sympathy for his version of Murphy while also expertly miming and performing as a cyborg? We’ll see, but already changes are apparent: in this one Murphy doesn’t die, but is critically injured… this will certainly diminish the kind of tragic pain and suffering that Weller’s Murphy had to go through at the hands of murderous crime captain Clarence Boddicker and his vicious gang of miscreants prior to having his body used in the RoboCop program.
4. It’s Gotta Play As Slick as RoboCop Looks
Paul Verhoeven’s impressively slick direction, along with the savagely witty script Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, combined to make the original movie more than just a cheap sci-fi/action mashup.
Will the new movie play as flat and dull as most remakes? Or will it at least try to be as crazy-cool as the first RoboCop’s mix of Christ-story parable and dark political satire while attempting the look and comic book feel that Verhoeven achieved with its over-the-top violence, quick, brutal action and clever visual gimmicks.
Remake director, José Padilha, who’s best known thus far for his Brazillian efforts, Elite Squad and its sequel, has already given indications from the set that directing the film was “one of the worst experiences of his life”, and this does not bode well for a film that germinated in the suites of studio executives rather than in the minds of creative filmmakers.
Still, troubled productions (with release dates pushed back) are hardly a rarity in Hollywood, and sometimes perform quite well after all is said and done. The trailer looks pretty good, but that’s never really an indication of the quality of an entire movie.
3. A Badass RoboSuit… and RoboMurphy
Will the new suit even touch the hem of make-up artist Rob Bottin’s RoboCop creation?
The original suit, which would become incredibly influential to future makeup and effects artists, achieved a wicked mix of fierce utility (side-arm gun, data stick that also serves as a lethal bayonet), sleek design, and jaw-dropping integration with the post-op “RoboMurphy” make-up. What audiences saw in theaters back then was a marvelously conceived cyborg that still looks incredibly futuristic (and plausible) 26-years later.
The new suit has already taken more than a few knocks for being uninspired and derivative of other new-fangled super-suits seen recently in theaters. Unlike the first RoboCop movie, the new version shows Murphy fully alive within the suit, though still bound by corporate rules and programming parameters. His face fully shown except when in “combat mode” where the helmet visor will flip down to offer a heads-up display and impact protection. Quite a difference from the prior version where Murphy was all but dead and fully integrated with the neural network, leaving only his face and part of his brain as the organic pieces of the cybernetic suit.
Let’s be honest here… if the RoboSuit doesn’t work onscreen or in the hearts and minds of fans, the rest of the film will almost certainly falter because of it.
2. CGI Candy or Engaging Special Effects
The special effects in the 1987 version were pretty amazing for its day: A mix of matte paintings, retrofitted design, some rotoscope animation and some stop-motion, too. It all looked pretty convincing at the time, and it was all done in the service of moving the story forward and developing the characters against a plausible Detroit futurescape.
There’s no doubt the new RoboCop will contain lots of digital work. But will we get an overload of ridiculous, physics-defying, bloated CGIcandy, or well-integrated CGI that doesn’t get in the way of the story, while still accentuating the futuristic world inhabited by the flesh and blood actors? Let’s hope that the filmmakers managed to restrain themselves in the use of computer-generated imagery unlike that other recent remake of a Verhoeven hit.
1. Intense Action or Bloody Gore
The original RoboCop was famously branded X by the MPAA several times before earning what was a very hard-R for its gory and quite gleeful violence and bloodletting, not to mention adult themes, language, a dash of sexual situations. When buggy ED-209 blasts a mid-level executive away with a rain of high-powered bullets in the original theatrical cut it was unbelievably shocking. Even with the impact of lead busting through flesh while countless spurts of blood gushed was censored before granting an R (we instead got cut-away shots to the robot having its murderous conniption fit) it still was a seriously violent moment that underscored the typically buggy roll-out of a product designed by committee.
It’s apparent that the new RoboCop, which is catering to teenagers with its PG-13 rating, while still attempting to be edgy and grim a la the Nolan-esque way of telling adult comic book tales, won’t even come close to the mayhem of the first film, though it will still be pretty violent. Since the new film doesn’t need Murphy to die in order to transform him from average cop to RoboCop, his bloody crucifixion scene from the earlier film wasn’t even scripted, nor will there be the gross out moments like the villain getting a stiletto-styled data stick through the neck (more gouts of blood!). For some, this means the new film will be weaksauce compared to Verhoeven’s version.
However, a study this week showed that many PG-13 films, though perhaps lacking the red, red kroovy of R-rated movies, still manage to contain more violent moments than most R-rated films from the 80s and 90s. So, while action certainly won’t be lacking in the new RoboCop, it’s still a movie made for teenagers rather than adults (while still trying to retain adult themes), and that doesn’t really inspire much confidence in audiences familiar with the old favorite.
Enjoy the show, kiddies!
Christian Hokenson is a writer based in Burbank, CA. He's interested in technology, movies, and home entertainment. If you're nice to him, he might buy you ice cream.