I saw the original RoboCop when I was much too young, so it's always had a special place in my heart. It was my first 'grown up' movie and undoubtedly left a big impression on me. Paul Verhoeven's 1987 classic was incredibly dark and violent, but also surprisingly sharp, satirical and funny. The thing is, the character of RoboCop has an obvious appeal to people much younger than were intended to watch the movie (being a metal cowboy at heart), so after the poorly-received RoboCop 2 the character has been pitched at youngsters. The dumb cartoon, the horrible third movie, the rubbish television series... it just hasn't worked, because what people liked about RoboCop was the sense of sick danger Verhoeven brought to the table. The edge.
So now there's a big-budget remake, which because of financial strategies has to appeal to as many people as possible. It's a PG-13 in the States, which most likely means a 12 in the UK. And while audiences tolerances mean you can still get away with a fair amount of violence, I'm guessing RoboCop '14 won't feature many naked breasts, hands being blown off by shotguns, a rapist getting shot in the groin, or a man half-melting after having a vat of acid explode all over him.
The good news is that I like the casting: Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) won't outdo Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, but he's a solid presence and has a good lower jaw; then there's Michael Keaton (Batman) as Robo's designer, supported by Samuel L. Jackson as the villain and Gary Oldman as a scientist. You'd like to think that star-power means those guys saw something in the script worth doing, but then you remember 80% Jackson was in Snakes on a Plane and Oldman has Red Riding Hood on his resume.
Maybe the biggest issue about RoboCop '14 is that you can't help comparing the new to the old. You really bought into the idea that Weller's Robo was a head and a torso strapped into a heavy metal suit of armour, but Kinnaman's Robo just looks like they've given him a full-body bullet proof suit with a helmet. He even has a human hand, which makes him feel less convincing as an automaton. The styling of the suit itself doesn't look too bad, mostly because it appears to go through a few alterations and the trailer plays up the 'updated 1980s version'--which for all I know may only take up ten minutes of screentime before it moves to the black TRON-style version. And from the look of it, the new Robo's movements don't look especially 'robotic', which again makes Kinnaman look like a cop given high-tech body armour rather than a human transformed into a cyborg.
Add to that some buzz from the set about director José Padilha (Elite Squad) having to fight the studio every step of the way, and I have a feeling the new RoboCop's going to be an entertaining but soulless update of the original. Some of the action towards the end looks fun, I loved the glimpse of an ED-209, and Kinnaman quoting the "dead or alive you are coming with me" catchphrase made me smile, but it's easy to push a fan's buttons like that. (Miguel Ferrer from the original also has a cameo, I hear.)
I was hoping this remake would find ways to improve the formula of the original—but the only thing that feels like it's going to add something new is having Alex Murphy's wife more involved in the whole situation.
I just wish they'd noted the appeal of the original wasn't the concept, it was the execution. In the original, Murphy was horribly tortured and killed by sadists in a warehouse; in this remake he's the victim of a car bomb on his drive. I can't see me being quite so keen to see RoboCop get his revenge on whoever left that bomb, compared to hos desperately I wanted to see Clarence Boddicker get his comeuppance in 1987.
RoboCop arrives in US & UK cinemas on 7 February 2014.