I don't think there's anything more disappointing than a project that tries to do the right thing and fails doing it. Unfortunately, the new RoboCop failed. This review contains major spoilers for the original RoboCop (Billie's review is here), as well as some minor spoilers for this remake.
As far as remakes go, it wasn't that bad. I know that's damning with faint praise, but I could tell they at least tried to do something new. While I was watching it I was engaged. It wasn't until I left the theater that the problems started to compound. The themes were shallow, the dialogue was flat, the action was compulsory, and the humor was almost non-existent. Which is a shame, because all those things were the strong points of the original. I think the biggest problem for me was that this film felt neutered, stripped of the biting social commentary, ultra violence, and black humor that made RoboCop (1987) so damn good.
I'll admit the original RoboCop is one of my favorite films. Back when I was a wee lad, I won't say quite how old but I was under ten, I went to see it in the theater. What you say? How could my parents let me go? Well, they didn't. I was supposed to go see a comedy, Maid to Order, which I did eventually see (unfortunately). But I wanted to see RoboCop so bad that I snuck into the back just as Murphy was being shot up. I wasn't traumatized, though I think it contributed to why my threshold to withstand movie violence is so high. It was a pretty incredible experience, and stuck with me. So RoboCop (1987) will always have a special place for me.
Anyway, this remake attempted to rethink the concept a bit, and attacked it from a more emotional place. His wife and child were front and center through most of the film, and Murphy almost never had his helmet on. Having his face so constantly present was a bit jarring and off putting. That was one of the big things about the original, his helmet didn't come off until near the end because it was literally a part of him. So to me it felt like watching Raylan Givens walk around without his hat. Also, none of the plot from the original was kept, other than a basic character through-line for Murphy. Meaning it felt very different, but not necessarily in a good way.
The other big glaring omission in this remake is the lack of satire. Samuel L. Jackson plays a smarmy TV host named Novak who fills the social commentary/satire role. He works within the structure of the movie, and feels like a Fox news anchor combined with Stephen Colbert, but he isn't particularly funny. He serves as kind of the narrator, explaining the surface details of the political situation around the world, but doesn't go into enough detail to explain the whys and hows, which would've plugged up some of the gaping holes in the plot.
The acting all around was good, although the lead was a bit of a non-entity. I liked Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) at first, and even through the first half of his time in the suit, but once the action started all the characterization that had been built up for him mostly fell by the wayside. Which is another departure from the original. When we first see Murphy in the original, we like him but we don't really have enough time to get attached. It's how he comes across in the suit, his confusion and self-discovery that was amazing to watch as he slowly become human again as the story progressed. In this remake, that transformation is handled rather quickly and clumsily.
The rest of the cast did a good job with a script that wasn't bad but also wasn't spectacular. There was really no stilted dialogue or uber-cheesy one liners, but I didn't get the sense that there was any challenge for the actors. Abbie Cornish tried to inject pathos into a basically nothing part as Murphy's wife, and Gary Oldman did his best to add layers to his doctor character that's conflicted about his choice to sell out to a corporation. Michael Keaton worked as the main 'villain' but wasn't villainous enough for me to root for his downfall, and wasn't over the top enough for me to enjoy his performance.
The other big problem I have with this movie is all about the aesthetics. Detroit comes across as a fairly clean, well maintained city with a bit of a crime problem. The police offices are modern and pleasing to the eye, with glass walls and new computers. There's no real sense of grime and corruption, and we don't really see any political figures except for one politician that is basically a good guy. Hell, even the criminals we see have a base of operations that was well organized and professional looking. In other words, I didn't see a big reason why this world needed a RoboCop, again unlike the original.
Oh, and don't get me started on the way they handled the ED-209. Essentially, they totally missed the point.
Yes, the quote at the top was in the film, and so was "I'll buy that for a dollar." but they were both poorly used.
The music from the original showed up for the title sequence, but not really during the film itself.
If you were ever curious to know how much of Murphy's body is left, well you get to find out in this one. Suffice it to say, this is one element that worked thematically but was almost too upsetting to watch. Although that scene was probably Kinnaman's best in the entire film.
Lots of familiar faces. Jennifer Ehle (Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from Watchmen), Aimee Garcia (Jamie from Dexter), K.C. Collins (Hale from Lost Girl), Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire). And of course with Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Sam Jackson (Nick Fury), and Michael Keaton (Batman), both Marvel and DC comics were thoroughly represented.
With all the controversy about the suit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a pretty good design. He felt big and heavy and powerful. Although I didn't care for the black version at all. There is a nod to the original suit, which just made me want them to use it.
The corporation in this was Omnicorp, but towards the end there's a mention of OCP as a parent company.
Overall this was a by-the-numbers action movie that isn't bad until it's compared to its far superior predecessor. I think that's kind of the point. If this had been an original film, and dug a little deeper to mine for a stronger execution on a few elements it might've been an excellent film. Oh well.
2-1/2 out of 4 Lifeless Robots