Who is in control? Man or machine?
Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence
Man loses penis, gains immortality.
Lewis has been transformed from Nancy Allen into Omar from The Wire. During one scene, he stands next to Murphy’s wife and son while a news reporter identifies them as Murphy’s family. Yeah, we all know what’s going on here.
Prior to that, when Lewis first meets Murphy after he has been turned into RoboCop, Lewis states, “At least I know that you’re the right color now.” See, for some reason, they spray paint RoboCop black for the second half of the film. Lewis likes the new look. It turns him on. Just look at that smile:
Most of RoboCop’s actual ‘kills’ in this movie are other robots. RoboCop seems to use non-lethal taser rounds against people most of the time, so it’s difficult to tell how many humans were actually killed in this film. There’s no blood spray from most of the gunshots at any rate, so I guess we can assume that many of these gentlemen lived. Disappointing.
I obtained a (very) rough count of 26 by Murphy/RoboCop, 3 by others, 4 suicide bombings, 1 inadvertent suicide by grenade, and a whole bunch of robots blown to bits. The Murphy count is pumped up by the assumption that nonlethal rounds were not used during the assault on bad guy Antoine Vallon’s hideout. The movie gives a count of at least 30 for that sequence, but I only got approximately 17. Really, though, it’s impossible to get a real count. These PG-13 action movies just screw everything up with their nonlethal rounds, robot bad guys, bloodless headshots, and whatever else.
Nobody gets melted with toxic waste, stabbed in the neck, or gunned down in a boardroom. So, really, I’m not sure that any of this counts.
How Bad Is It Really?
The pre-title sequence is amazing. It’s brilliantly directed and effortlessly shifts from a news entertainment program hosted by Samuel L. Jackson to live footage of ED-209s and new EM-208s deployed on the ground in Tehran while establishing the entire backstory of the movie. This is how you set up a movie, guys. If only the idiots who made Vampire Academy would take note.
Now, I shared my thoughts on the trailer to this film some months ago. After finally watching the movie and reading it over again, I stand by my statements there. However, I will say that there is some intelligence behind this film. So, while I still recoiled at much of what I witnessed, I can at least give them credit for coming up with a new take on the material. And, hey, it’s better than RoboCop 3!
To me, good film remakes can generally be classified into a few basic categories. You have remakes that have a radically new take on the material (like Carpenter’s The Thing or Cronenberg’s The Fly), remakes that adapt a foreign language film with an interesting new viewpoint (The Departed, Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or remakes of films that were already adaptations in and of themselves (usually of novels or plays). Most recent film remakes, though, don’t fall into these categories. They often just half-assedly remake a movie that was perfectly fine to begin with, have nothing new to say, and embarrass themselves in the process. These remakes range from pointless (Total Recall) to hilarious (Carrie) to total fucking shit (Red Dawn).
Having said all of that, Robocop (2014) definitely doesn’t end up in the “total fucking shit” category. I think it’s maybe somewhere around “decent”. They drastically change the entire story of the original movie, and while I didn’t personally feel that it was better than the original story, at least they didn’t just lazily make the exact same movie for no god damned reason. There is that.
So let’s get into this new story. In this RoboCop, Murphy is blown up by a car bomb and transformed into RoboCop, yet he retains his memories afterward. He becomes more “robotic” over time as his handlers wish to subdue his humanity to attain greater efficiency and control. This is, of course, completely different from the original, where he is reborn completely “robotic” and slowly regains his humanity over the course of the film. Is the new version more interesting? I don’t think so, but it’s not like they could top the original, so I’m kind of glad they didn’t even try.
Pretty much all of the characters have been reinvented. Clarence Boddicker is now Antoine Vallon, and he no longer commands women to leave the immediate vicinity. Dick Jones is now Raymond Sellars, and his ED-209s actually work. Just about everyone else has been completely replaced. Even Alex Murphy is different, as he retains his right hand instead of receiving full body prothesis. Yes, I bitched about this in my review of the trailer, and yes, I still don’t get it. I mean, just look at this:
Why? What the fuck?
You know, I really can’t figure out why they even bothered to call this movie “RoboCop”. It’s one thing to change the story around the character, but it’s another thing to change the character himself. At some point, you’ve so fundamentally changed the nature of the character that it’s something else entirely. In the original, we see him first as a man, then as a machine, and finally as a synthesis of man and machine. His humanity overcomes his programming and he asserts his place in the world as a sentient being. In this new one, he starts out as a man, then becomes a man augmented by programs in a robot suit, then becomes a man whose humanity is being subdued in service of that programming, and finally emerges as a man still at the mercy of his programming sometimes, except when he magically overrides Directive IV and shoots a “red asset” at the end. Okay. That makes a lot of sense there, guys.
I mean, what if they remade Hard to Kill but didn’t have Mason Storm spend seven years in a coma? Once again: What the fuck?
And I’m going to be honest: my interest in this film dropped considerably once they spray-painted RoboCop black halfway through it. I just don’t know why they decided to fuck up RoboCop’s classic design like this. It’s distracting, and it takes you out of the movie. They would have these neat POV shots with all sorts of cool directory lookups and whatnot going on in RoboCop’s HUD, and then they would cut back to RoboCop walking around looking like a giant black dildo and I would just start thinking about… other things.
They’ve somehow managed to make a RoboCop movie that gets less interesting the more RoboCop is in it. He’s just not as cool as Peter Weller’s take on the character, and the political themes and completely badass new ED-209s are a hell of a lot more interesting. Honestly, I think this movie would have been a lot better if they just changed Murphy and Lewis’ names, took out the “I’d buy that for a dollar” reference, and changed the title to CyberCop or Robophobia or something. Every time they reference the original movie, it just makes you think of the vast differences between the two films. I mean, whether you liked The Departed or not, at least they had the decency to change the title when they radically changed the original films that much.
In short, the movie keeps getting dragged down by references to the original and the PG-13 rating, which is too bad because there are some great (bloodless) action scenes in this movie. Watching this film has convinced me that I finally need to check out those Elite Squad movies. I’m sorry, guys. I’ll get right on that!
So how bad is it really? Well, I guess that depends on how wedded you are to the original film. If you’re the kind of person who is going to be bothered by RoboCop reusing the “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” line when he didn’t use it in human form against Clarence Boddicker and his gang first, then you’re going to be annoyed. I was annoyed.
Really, though, the differences between the films can be summed up by the finale, where RoboCop jumps his bike through the windows at OCP OmniCorp Headquarters and faces off with some ED-209s in the lobby. It’s a great action scene, with RoboCop hiding underneath one ED-209 and using its legs as cover against another’s fire. But at some point during the sequence, I couldn’t help but remember what defeated ED-209 in the original film:
A flight of stairs.
There’s real brilliance in that. Some people say that action movies are for idiots, but the visual of ED-209 helplessly kicking its legs as it is stuck on the floor says more about RoboCop‘s view of corporatist MIC bullshit than all the crazy explosions and gunfire in the remake’s finale could in a million years. In summary, from best to worst: RoboCop (1987), the collected works of Shakespeare, RoboCop (2014). Thank you.
They ironed out most of the humor in this one, though I did like the threat assessment of “Totally Stoned” that appeared on RoboCop’s HUD as he confronted a low-level criminal on the street. But, you know, I can’t recall a single post-mortem one-liner from RoboCop (or anyone else) in this entire movie. Zzzzz.
Stupid Political Content
Plexico Gingrich already covered most of this in his review, so just go read that. He does a better job of breaking it down than I could.
One aspect that I found quite interesting, though, was the movie’s take on contemporary corporate productivity and efficiency metrics. There’s a great bit where Michael Keaton’s CEO bitches about the fact that RoboCop is slower at clearing a simulation than an EM-208 because he hesitates slightly before shooting and tries to make sure that an innocent child is not harmed. The only thing that matters to the corporate guys are the numbers. The benefits of RoboCop that cannot be measured by those metrics are discounted. Avoiding civilian casualties negatively impacts the scenario completion time, so they must go back to the lab and take away his ability to exercise human judgment during combat. It’s a great takedown of the entire performance assessment process that exists in many companies and institutions today. It doesn’t matter what other skills or qualities you bring to the table; if it doesn’t show up in the numbers they’re looking at, no one is going to know about it, and they certainly aren’t going to care.
There’s also an undercurrent of workers being displaced by increasing automation. This is shown by a gentleman holding up an anti-robot sign at a protest, and later when the infotainment propaganda machine successfully spins RoboCop’s confrontation of the corrupt cops who set him up to die into an indictment of the very concept of a human police force. Robots cannot be bribed and are incorruptible, thus, they are presented as the one true solution to our law enforcement troubles. The fact that the humans running the company behind the machines are corruptible is, of course, not stated. Our corporate overlords only care about the police turning their attention to them. With a robotic police force, they would be invincible.
Then again, no one ever went down for securities fraud or accounting fraud as a result of the whole 2008 disaster, so I’m not sure that it really matters. At any rate, I think movies like Elysium have done a better job of exploring these themes recently, and they didn’t have to take the name of a classic to do it.
Finally, there’s a moment when Michael Keaton’s character states,”People really don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” This is said immediately prior to the decision to spray-paint RoboCop black. Is this a meta-commentary on the attitude of modern Hollywood and American corporations in general? Are they fucking up RoboCop just to show that they can fuck up RoboCop as a commentary on RoboCop being fucked up in a remake of RoboCop? Oh God, my head hurts.
During the pre-credits sequence, a guy jumps off a roof onto a ED-209 and suicide bombs it. I’m not sure if a suicide bombing of a robot counts as a novelty death, but I found it both hilarious and awesome just the same.
RoboCop rips off an EM-208’s head and throws it at a guy at one point. The EM-208 is a robot, so this definitely doesn’t count, but I kind of laughed a little bit at that. It’s nowhere near as awesome as RoboCop ripping out RoboCop 2’s brain in RoboCop 2, though. This movie totally sucks!
Was There An Atomic Blast At The End?
Only a metaphorical one that eradicated our civil liberties once and for all.
What You Learned
Black is the right color.
EM-208s are crap.
Only the Japanese seem to remember that robots need dicks.
Samuel L. Jackson needs his own TV show. They can just do the same show from this movie and add in dancing girls in bikinis. Ratings gold!
RoboCop is jet black and shoots non-lethal rounds now. In the sequel, he’s going to have pattycake bitchslapping programmed in.
I’m just going to go watch Dredd again. That movie will never get old.
Abbie Cornish is kind of hot.