No matter what age you are or what demographic you belong to, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the name RoboCop.
Released in 1987, the original film is often hailed as one of the best movies released during its time and many would argue it’s still one of the best flicks to this day. What’s weird is that if you ask a lot of people on the street about it these days, many will recall having seen the original at least once during their childhoods; which also speaks a lot about how media sensitivity has changed over the years because the original RoboCop was (and still is) one of THE most gruesome and violent films ever put to the big screen.
Despite its gratuitous brutality, RoboCop is still hailed for its charm, themes and memorable characters. While it’s not as big a franchise as something like say… Pokemon, RoboCop himself has a surprising amount of recognition and you’d truly find it rather difficult to know someone who doesn’t know who the metal man is on sight.
There’s no doubt that the original by Paul Verhoeven will be remembered for years to come, which is something that can’t be said for the 2014 RoboCop remake; which despite being more recent, has almost immediately fallen off the face of the earth. With that said, let’s attempt to look into a few factors as to why there’s such a disparity between these two movies birthed from the same intellectual property. And of course, if you haven’t watched these movies already: SPOILER ALERT.
The Look and Feel
An often overlooked aspect of film, visual aesthetic may not mean much in the way of logic, but is a huge factor in helping our minds remember things and also helps build the world that a story takes place in. The original RoboCop does this well by placing us in a dystopian Detroit, where crime is rampant, the rich are corrupt and the police are underfunded. Throughout the movie we are constantly reminded of how dire the situation has become as when we’re on the streets with RoboCop, there’s no end to petty crimes and violence; whereas when the scene shifts to that of the focal mega corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP), it’s always some underhanded dealing for businessmen who want nothing more than self-gain.
Whether it be the lowly man on the street or the prideful shmuck in a suit, violence and crime is literally everywhere in the city that RoboCop calls home. The movie establishes the world as much as our protagonist himself, resulting in a place that serves as a memorable lesson as to what happens when corruption goes unchecked. The setting of RoboCop is, in itself, one of the morals of the story.
RoboCop 2014 to be fair, does show a fair amount of corruption and crime, even having some policemen be corrupt themselves, however it doesn’t really go on much past that. The reason for RoboCop’s creation in this new world is no longer to have a supercop that can constantly fight crime in a cancerous city, but rather one that can enforce law in global hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The result is that the world RoboCop 2014 lives in becomes a bit too similar like ours, albeit more technologically advanced. The settings are places we’ve seen before, the city has no personality of its own and everything seems to revolve around our protagonist. The message of the original, its no-holds-barred brutality, has been sterilized down to its basic elements and as a result, falls short and feels extremely bland and forgettable.
This should go without saying but characters in any story will make or break the tale you’re trying to tell. Have a character wander too far off into the realms of unrelatability and the illogical, and you’ll soon find your audiences becoming alienated or bored. RoboCop 2014 doesn’t fall into this pitfall thankfully, though it unfortunately falls into another.
The supporting cast in RoboCop 2014 are for the most part, alright; they play their roles well but never really stand out. Which is a shame because this newer movie boasts the talents of stars like Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton who are known to be incredible actors. The main man himself, RoboCop Alex Murphy, comes off looking like your generic protagonist with amnesia.
There is a scene during which Murphy contemplates suicide after realizing how much of his organic body is gone, but since his wife and son are okay with it, this plot point in character development is almost immediately discarded and the rest of the movie plays out like a typical superhero movie. That’s right, once again, RoboCop 2014 commits the sin of just being plain bland with its characters. The dynamics between them aren’t nothing to write home about and the individuals themselves are just there for the sake of it.
Compare this to the original RoboCop and you’ll find that despite being almost 30 years ago, the original has far better writing. THIS version of Alex Murphy goes the majority of the movie being mostly robotic, with his mind and individuality only slowly returning to him as the film goes on.
You as a viewer feel extremely bad for him as essentially, this poor soul had his body blown to bits, reassembled without his memory, goes through life feeling like he’s missing something and oh yeah, his wife and son left him and started over because he was legally dead. That’s right, when this Murphy was reborn he had NOTHING left. His whole life, including his soul, was almost taken away from him. He was TRULY a robot cop, or at least, that was what he was supposed to be.
This ties into another character, Officer Anne Lewis, who served as Murphy’s original partner and is the catalyst for RoboCop’s returning memories. Played by lesser known actress Nancy Allen, Lewis is a pivotal character and contributes to the overarching plot almost as much as RoboCop does. Together, they are a team the audience really comes to like and root for as they go up against the truly despicable villains that RoboCop has to offer. Just look at this scene and observe how much personality and eccentricity is on display from these baddies. Although it’s just a few minutes, it’s sheer fun to watch.
When it all comes down to it, the original RoboCop is always hailed for many reasons. All of which can be attributed to its unapologetic tone, charming characters and brilliant writing. While the newer RoboCop is by no means a terrible movie and is certainly worth a watch, it really does fall into the category of “remakes no one asked for” and seems to be made just for the sake of it.
The original RoboCop was a cautionary tale, a satire and a story of one man’s quest to find his identity, the new RoboCop is about a superhero fighting the bad guys. That difference in nuance and execution, perhaps, is why one is so fondly remembered while the other has faded into relative obscurity. Have a look at both and find out for yourself why this gun twirling tin man made such a hit in pop culture as we know it today!