I have a theory about the making of the new RoboCop. At some point during the development process, a rival movie studio infiltrated MGM and deliberately sabotaged the film with extreme prejudice. The screenwriters, director and executive producers were all hatchet-wielding moles with a secret mission – to deliver the crappiest take on RoboCop possible. Someone powerful wanted to kill this franchise in the womb. And for the most part, they succeeded.
It sounds crazy, but what other explanation is there? Practically everything that made the original RoboCop special has been systematically stripped away and discarded; much like the titular hero’s organic body. What’s left is a by-the-numbers, kid-friendly action flick that’s nearly as pointless as the Total Recall remake from 2012. (Does Hollywood just flat-out hate Paul Verhoeven? Or what?)
For those who missed the original flick, RoboCop takes place in a near-future Detroit which has been completely overrun by crime (the fact the bankrupt city is still standing in 2028 should probably be viewed as a victory). A shady conglomerate by the name of OmniCorp is looking to make a buck by incorporating its military robots into law enforcement – but the people are naturally reluctant to trust mindless machines with their lives.
This is where Alex Murphy (AKA RoboCop) comes in. As a policeman horribly wounded in the line of duty, Murphy becomes a stepping stone used by OmniCorp to get people used to robot cops -- a half-man, half-machine compromise that will soften them up for the real thing. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for Murphy to begin fighting his programming as he investigates his own attempted murder as well as the corruption inside the organization that created him. Cue lots of gun fights.
The original RoboCop was a brilliantly schlocky sci-fi film that appealed to brainy cinephiles and dumb action fans alike. Its sleek marriage of deeply biting satire and balls-to-the-wall violence helped to set it apart from the typical blockbuster fare. Crucially, it also didn’t take itself too seriously, with lashings of jet-black humour to break up the machine-with-a-soul pathos. Above all else, the original movie was fun.
RoboCop 2014 is sorely lacking in this department. There are no cheesy action quips, no cartoony villains and barely any comedy at all. Even the satire is mostly played straight – unlike the tongue-in-cheek original, the themes of mass media agenda-setting and the evils of privatization feel tacked-on and dull.
Where’s the playful buffoonery? Where’s the knowing wink to the audience? Even Samuel L. Jackson’s biased network host is surprisingly restrained. If you’re looking for exaggerated farce, you’re not going to find it here.
Then there’s the lack of violence. The original RoboCop is one of the most infamously bloodthirsty Hollywood movies ever made. By contrast, the new RoboCop didn’t even warrant an MA15+ rating -- there’s more claret spilled in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Presumably, the filmmakers were attempting to sell more tickets via a softer rating (no! They were trying to destroy it from within!) but the tradeoff is that any existing fan will feel completely alienated. Put simply, you’re not supposed to neuter RoboCop. PG-13 does not compute.
But let’s set the original aside for a moment lest we become apoplectic. Does RoboCop 2.0 hold up when judged on its own merits? Meh, not really. The set pieces are pedestrian, the action is poorly choreographed with an over reliance on shaky-cam and none of the characters are particularly compelling or likeable.
Joel Kinnaman’s take on Murphy is serviceable enough, but the character is too stoic and two-dimensional for viewers to really root for. Michael Keaton’s big bad OmniCorp boss is similarly understated – this is the type of role that demands maximum scenery-chewing, yet Keaton barely takes a bite.
Gary Oldman fares a bit better as lead RoboCop creator Dr. Dennett Norton, but the character is overused to the detriment of the plot. It's almost as if the filmmakers realised they had one of the finest living actors at their disposal and decided to milk his tits off. Leave Gary Oldman's tits alone!
The film also suffers from a slightly muddled plot. It tries to cram so much into its 117 minute running time that important threads get lost along the way. When Murphy finally decides to investigate his attempted murder, he seems to crack the case in about five minutes. This is supposed to be the most important arc of his character yet it almost feels like an afterthought.
All in all, RoboCop 2014 is a bloated, somewhat messy film that commits the cardinal sin of playing things too safe. Is it the worst remake ever made? That depends on how highly you regard the original movie. But make no mistake: this RoboCop is decidedly lacking in RoboBalls.