By Jay Sizemore
There’s so much wrong with this latest in an endless plague of Hollywood remakes that I almost don’t know where to begin. I allowed myself to be swayed by the cleverly-cut trailer for this movie, despite my gut instinct that kept warning me of disaster, and I actually walked into the theater for this with a mixed bag of emotion, ranging from excited anticipation to dread. I, like many others, am a lifelong fan of the original RoboCop film, made in 1987 by the talented Paul Verhoeven, and felt, much like I did with Total Recall, that such a sci-fi classic need not be remade simply for the enjoyment of seeing it with today’s glossy HD CGI effects.
This is probably one of the worst attempts at a franchise revamp that I have ever seen. The writing and directing are so absurdly clueless as to what it takes to make a well-rounded character, or to make conflicts tangible with tension for an audience, that this movie quickly crumbles after its opening scenes. The opening scenes are quite promising; leading in with a slightly overlong setup piece that is an obvious satire of today’s media, with Samuel L. Jackson as the host, the movie tries to make the leap of comparing today’s Drones that are used overseas to the movie’s “drones”, which are large militarised robots used to lock down entire cities. This comparison doesn’t really work, though I gotta give them credit for at least trying to find a way to tie this story to modern day politics. As it stands though, the movie almost comes across as pro-drone, which I think is antithetical to their intentions, never mind the obvious disparities between the function of current day drones and how this movie tries to portray them in the future. The next part of the opening introduces us to Murphy and his partner, at a shakedown involving dirty weapons. There’s something off about the way these moments are directed; from the onset it is a very clinical approach to shot selection, rather than one that allows any room for emotional response. Perhaps it is just the disorienting editing that causes this. At any rate, someone should tell the director that simply having your main character on the screen is not introducing him to the audience.
The moment that the RoboCop logo flashes on the screen is the moment my warning bells started ringing. They use what sounds like the theme from the original score here, with maybe some tweaks thrown in, but the sound is so horribly edited and mastered that it comes in with zero punch, mixed way too low compared to what we have already heard in the movie. It just feels cheap, like they didn’t have the budget in this $100,000,000 movie to produce some good updated theme music, or to at least remaster the original score so it would match the levels of the rest. At any rate, every time this theme music comes on during the film, it sucks the energy right out of the movie — what little there is.
The horrible choices just keep coming in this one. The villains are so amorphous they might as well not even exist, and Murphy only directly interacts with them during the moments when he is about to kill them, creating the most flimsy of conflicts, devoid of any real emotion. One can’t help but wonder how Murphy manages to go off on these tangents in the movie, when his controllers have the power to remotely shut him off at the click of a button, which sort of makes the entire plot null and void. Murphy’s partner is changed from a woman to a man, so this way the female interaction can be placed back with his family, his wife and his son. His partner doesn’t even factor into the narrative except as an occasional cheerleader, rather than helping Murphy find himself. The director’s ideas of how to garner empathy for characters are so laughably cliché, I won’t even discuss them here. Let’s just say the idea of family was handled much better in the original film.
In the new version, Murphy is brought back with his memories intact, but when he is uploaded with all the crime data of the city, the doctors lower his dopamine levels to zero so he is a complete robot, a state from which he gradually has to come back. In the original, Murphy is brought back without his memories, and the story is about how he gradually re-discovers who he once was and re-connects with his human side. The way the story is handled in the update completely shifts the narrative away from this compelling journey of self discovery, instead focusing on all the technological gimmicks and business decisions surrounding the characters, rather than what the characters are going through themselves. I’ve never seen a movie so accidentally absent of emotion before. The most ridiculous moment happens when Murphy goes back to his old home, and the audience assumes he is going there to try and re-connect with his wife, but once he gets there, he randomly decides to go solve his own murder instead. That scene sums up this film’s lack of humanity more precisely than I ever could. Perhaps this movie is not intended to be viewed by humans and the director is a true prophet, anticipating that in the future only robots will want to watch films. To sum up my opinion on this movie, let me quote its own weak attempt at paying tribute to the original by way of a line of dialogue: “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar.”
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for the magazine.