So I once again managed to make it out to theaters to catch a new release this year which brings my total up to 3, and while I didn’t make any official goal this year, it’s bringing me well on my way of reaching last year’s goal of 10 theatrical viewings which I only made it about halfway. I had a few reservations about seeing it, it is a reboot and these kinds of reboots of 80’s movies have had a pretty hit and miss track record. The early reviews coming in were mixed, so I had some hope there. And when I watched it, I quite liked what I saw. But when I discussed it for an upcoming Lambcast episode, it didn’t hold up very well to dissection. There is a great cast here, there are some updates that work quite well, from the drones angle to the conservative news show host, and even some nice little callbacks to the original movie. But there are also quite a few missteps in the movie, like the fact that while the satire is on a different topic and scale than the original, it also carries much less of an impact, and the final act doesn’t carry any of the same punches as the original. There’s nothing wrong with the movie by any means, but it’s not much of an improvement and like most remakes, it wasn’t really needed in the long run.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of Robocop, it’s basically about an officer who gets nearly killed in the line of duty and a giant robotics corporation uses him to create a cyborg police officer in order to allow them to get a contract for their fully robotic soldiers. Unfortunately, the cyborg doesn’t fully comply with their plans and uncovers more than they initially realized. I was a fan of the original even though I didn’t rewatch it or any of the sequels in preparation of watching this one.
There were plenty of changes, but also some callbacks to the original. Some were better choices than others. Instead of the TV clips and commercials from the original, they are replaced by an ultra-conservative news/talk show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson which is apparently very similar to the O’Reilly Report from what I’ve heard as I’ve never seen it. I thought this was a decent choice, and this is where both the satire and humor are placed, and placed quite well. Another decision that I agreed with was the change in the progression of Murphy’s transformation. In the original, there is a short scene where we see what’s going on with him, but before long he is fully Robocop. Here, it’s more of a gradual progression, as they remove more and more of the man until he becomes essentially a robot in a human’s body, and then the human part of him finds a way as we have learned from Jurassic Park. The downside is that there isn’t a successful way to conclude this progress as there was in the original. Instead of the hidden directive, there is a red asset marker. And instead of the satisfying “you’re fired!” moment, there’s an internal struggle that’s overcome due to reasons.
Another choice that I thought worked well in the original was how the wife and son were handled. He finds out that they are ok, but they have moved away and he has a brief moment where he returns to their house. Here, the wife and son play a much more integral role in the story and in the return of the human side of Murphy. Unfortunately, it’s one of the weaker parts of the movie as there is very little chemistry between Murphy and his wife which is partly due to the fact that much of it happens when he is supposed to be more emotionless as Robocop. But it also just doesn’t work as a storytelling method to keep things interesting. This extends almost moreso to the kid, as he isn’t given much of a presence outside of talking Red Wings games and standing wordlessly next to his mom, or staring mostly wordlessly at his robodad. The entire story arc where he solves his own murder is also extremely truncated and not all that satisfying. It’s also essentially unconnected to what used to be the greater plot surrounding Omnicorp itself, and now is much more like a completely unrelated plotline.
Another introduction in this movie that I did enjoy was Gary Oldman’s character. He plays the scientist responsible for integrating Alex Murphy into his Robocop body as well as the tinkering with his brain in order to make him more robotic and less human. I really liked his character even though I wish it had gone a little deeper into the questions surrounding the ethics of what he’s actually doing. It’s brought up a few times that what he’s doing is wrong, and whether he should be doing it at all, but it boils down to a slightly worried glance for a half a second before he decides to go through with it. And when everything starts going to hell in the third act, he has a complete change of heart that’s once again explained because of reasons. I also liked the look of all the robotics in this movie, from the Robocop-like drones to the callback to the classic look of the ED-209s, and I really liked how they showed Robocop’s internal software which was connected to the entire array of the city’s security cameras and the entire criminal database, which he is able to sort through using facial recognition in order to find the criminals he’s searching for on whichever mission he happens to be on. I also wanted to make a quick mention of some of the other actors who had somewhat smaller roles, but they worked well for what they were, Michael Keaton was great as the head of Omnicorp along with Jay Baruchel as his head of marketing, and Jackie Earl Haley had a fun role as the lead drone technician and pseudo-Robocop trainer, or tester. I especially enjoyed how he always referred to Robocop as “Tin Man”. Like many recent sci-fi movies, it’s a fun watch while it’s going, but when you start thinking it over, it just doesn’t quite hold up very well. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.