Growing up was challening at times for me because my parents had a strict rule with not allowing me to see R-rated films growing up. I can't really think of a time this pissed me off more than when Robocop came out in 1987. I was only 7-years-old, as were most of my friends, but their parents let them see it despite its gore and bad language. What made my crew talking about it extra frustrating was that it had an extensive line of toys that came out supporting the film and everyone had them. Everyone. I did eventually get to see it when I was a teenager when friends of mine wanted to watch it for nostalgia. I didn't love it and thought it was cheesey and silly but in that I saw the appeal for other people. But a remake of Robocop that gets rid of the cheese and silliness is more ridiculous than a Robocop with it.
Brazilian director Jose Padilha is no slouch when it comes to action films. His Elite Squad films, which got very little attention in the states, are really well done action films. When I saw that he was being handed Robocop by Hollywood I was pretty excited. A gritty hardcore action film about a half robot-half human police officer seemed like something he'd be able to do wonders with. What I forgot was that Hollywood was involved and what they ended up doing was watering down his potential to a PG-13 level so this time around repsonsible parents like mine could bring their kids. What they ended up doing was making it an action movie where lots of people die but in ways that make you think you're watching an old Spaghetti Western; shot, yell, fall, no blood.
The other change they made was to pump in a message and humanity. Now, this is something that I typically love in cinema! When Christopher Nolan did both to the Batman series, particulary in The Dark Knight, I thought it was what officially made that the greatest superhero movie of all time. In Robocop it doesn't work though. You have Samuel L. Jackson playing a Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck type lunatic who uses his show as propaganda for a corporation trying to bend US law and public opinion to allow these cyborg cops on the street. You also have Gary Oldman playing the brilliant scientist who begrudgingly strips away Robocop's humanity and soul until he's nothing more than an organic robot. Both of these concepts seem brilliant and obvious but they end up making everything tedious and rather dull.
What was lost in the film was that it's called Robocop. That title is one of the silliest titles ever created. The reason why we accepted that as the title of the original was because you got what you paid for; a man-robot shooting bad guys in Detroit. What you end up seeing with this remake is attempted deepness that instead should have had a prentious title like The Loss of Self or At What Price. Instead of a badass hero running around blasting holes in everything, you get a lot of people standing around debating the merits of what is happening and then seeing the emotional toll it takes on the characters. I'll watch that movie but not when I'm expecting Robocop.
That's not to say there isn't action, of course there is; but it goes back to my original critique that it's watered down. In fact, it's so watered down that some moments feel like you're watching CSI or some other carboncopy network cop show. But what really helps the film are two great performances from star Joel Kinnaman (Safe House, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who's a face and name you don't recognize but when you're wearing a mask over your face over half the movie, you're not gonna get an A-lister and Michael Keaton who's the CEO bad guy. What I loved about Keaton's performance is that he's likable and logical. He's calm through the entire movie and that makes him scarier because it's a far more realistic villain for the time.
Will this version of Robocop have the same impact on society that the original did? Not at all. He looks cooler and I'm sure kids will buy a toy or two but it's not the same. They tried to make the film for everyone and, just like with everything, when you try to make something appeal to everyone you end up making it appeal to no one. Despite its FX and performances and everywhere it succeeds, Robocop just comes across feeling...well...robotic.
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