I didn’t go and see this film at the cinema as I had no desire to see yet another remake, so I waited for it to come out on DVD. The film isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and as far as remakes go, it was much better than the abysmal Total Recall. Spoilers ahead by the way.
The story is the same as the original, more or less, but the focus of the story is quite different. Alex Murphy is still severely injured in the line of duty as a cop, rebuilt by OCP and put back on the streets as Robocop. In the 2014 film the world has not completely gone to hell in a hand basket, and Detroit is not as grimy and seedy as the 1987 version, but there is still lots of crime and disorder. In the remake OCP have been sending their robotic troops all over the world to police danger zones, including the Middle East where we see what happens when things go wrong via a reporter and her crew observing the action.
Almost every country, apart from the USA, has passed a law allowing robots to support the police and armed forces. Pointing out this gaping hole in American logic is part of Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Pat Novak, who does his thing, spouting off loudly and with great vigour. I think SLJ is a fantastic actor, and I like seeing him shout at someone on screen, but after a while it was a bit tiring in this film. As was having his character explain things, point out things the audience already know or can intuit. Part of his character’s role is a mockery and a mirror for the media, so him telling people him what to feel and think is very ironic and all of that, but it’s still him ranting a lot. Still tiring. Also the film ended on a total whimper which left me feeling totally flat and with no desire to ever see it again.
The main shift in the story away from the 1987 original is that it focuses more on Gary Oldman’s character, the robotics expert who is wrangling with serving the greater good versus keeping his masters at OCP happy. His robotic prosthetics have helped injured servicemen and women, as well as amputees regain their mobility, and even play the guitar in one scene intended to win over the audience to Oldman’s character. But OCP want more from him. They need to make more money and increase their profits. So much for the greater good and healing people. Capitalism is king.
In order to convince Americans that robots are safe, OCP need something that has a heart and emotions and is not just an unfeeling robot, which leads to Robocop and Alex Murphy. Jackie Earle Haley’s character continually mocks Alex calling him Tin Man, referencing the Wizard of Oz and his search for a heart. Har har har. It was nice to see his character get a comeuppance in the end, but again there was a lot of hitting the audience over the head with stuff, telling them what to feel. This is the bit where you should cry at the man playing the guitar. This is the bit where you’re supposed to dislike this character because he’s being mean to Murphy. There’s very little trust in the audience and a lot of leading the audience around by the nose.
The real moral quandary for Oldman’s character comes when Murphy is feeling too much, getting too emotional about his own murder, and he stops doing as he is told like a good robot. So he cuts into Murphy’s brain to stop him feeling and increases his meds to keep him calm and a sort of lifeless, in other words a robot. Murphy is made less emotional and when he’s in action shooting bad guys, he thinks he is in control and making decisions, but actually it’s his programming that has taken over. So he has the illusion of free will. As expected it all backfires at some point and Murphy becomes himself again and less of an emotional zombie. This was an interesting point to explore, but it started to feel more like the film had little to do with Murphy at all, and that his story was secondary to all of the other points I’ve mentioned.
Towards the end of the film the focus shifts back to Murphy and the inevitable happens. He regains control and gets a form of justice. While a direct remake would have been horrible and pointless, I don’t think that this version brought anything new to the franchise. The exploration of free will and identity could have been fascinating, in a totally different film, one not focused around a central figure that people expect to see in action shooting bad guys for the majority of the film.
It was definitely a mixed bag for me, almost two separate films in one. It’s not one I would watch again, whereas I would happily go back to the original as I cared about Murphy and his fate.