Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Robocop (2014) vs. Robocop (1987)

This comparison between Robocop (1987) and Robocop (2014)comes from a hardcore Robocop fan, who truly freaking loved the original. I mean, when that first movie came out, it was the talk of the town, I remember. All my buddies and I could talk about was Robocop and how cool it was. How awesome was Robocop to me? Well, this is how cool: I made a mini comic that was a parody of Robocop! I called it ‘Bobocop’, the series went on for five whole issues! My 12 year old self loved this ‘R’ rated film, I worshiped this freaking movie. Thinking back, I was a pretty tough kid, I mean, I loved this hardcore ‘R’ movie that included scenes of drug abuse, nudity and hardcore gore! I mean, here’s a movie where Alex Murphy, a Detroit City cop literally gets his brains blown out by the bad guys! But then again, that’s what I liked about it; how over the top it was. How hardcore was Robocop? Well, let me put it this way, in the original film, when the Robocop project gets green lit, the guy who was spearheading the project goes and gets a couple of hookers, sprays some cocaine on their breasts and snorts away to celebrate his success! Want more? Well, in that first film, a bad guy gets a vat of chemicals poured on him and we see his flesh melt off his bones! Basically, this movies modus operandi was called overkill. And you know what? That’s the way I liked it! That was director Paul Verhoeven’s way, many of the movies he made during the 80's and 90's were always over the top with their violence. If you don’t believe me, then check out Total Recall (1989), a film that was criticized for its bucket loads of blood and disregard for human life.

Paul Verhoeven directs

But it’s like Verhoeven says, the violence in these movies is an exaggeration of real life, cartoonish in some ways, in other words, it’s all in good fun. Which is exactly what I loved about Verhoeven’s Robocop, the shock value. And let’s talk a bit about that, I didn’t watch a film like Robocop for how deep it was or how it touched upon what it means to be a human, as a kid I devoured Verhoeven’s film for the cheap thrills, the shock value, that jolt of electricity that you get when Robocop slashes Clearance Boddicker’s throat. It’s what made these movies fun. Not that I’m some sort of blood thirsty violent person, I’m actually quite the peace loving dude, but I love the shock in movies like Robocop, it was never, not for one second boring! Of course, I also loved that science fiction angle; I loved that Robocop was a cyborg and I loved ED-209. In the end, to my twelve year old mind, Robocop was an irresistible mix of science fiction, action and shock, what’s not to love? And I’m not just talking through my nostalgia goggles here, I still think Verhoeven’s Robocop is a solid film with an amazing cast in every single role. Heroes took chances and risks, I mean, Alex Murphy was a brave guy! So was Lewis. The villains where scary dudes, Clearance Boddicker, that guy was really evil in that movie, it took me a while to see that actor as anything but the villain from Robocop. You felt a certain kind of energy through their performances, which is something I didn’t get from the new one. Everyone is so one note on this new film, it was nauseating! Where was the anger and fury on these people? Doesn’t anybody feel? Point is the old Robocop was an intense, solid film all around.  The action was so intense and in your face, it just felt real.

In contrast, this new Robo does not deliver the same levels of intensity, which is sad. Now, when I first heard about the news of a Robo-remake I was excited as hell because I’d been needing a new dose of Robo action. I wanted more Robocop, even if it was through a remake. I was thrilled with the prospect of a new Robo film, and I have to admit that in certain moments of the new film I was genuinely excited to see Robocop again, unfortunately the cons outweigh the pros on this one.  Of course, as it is always the case when the remake of a beloved franchise is announced, film buffs and geeks all across the world shouted sacrilege. I’m not the type to immediately hate a remake because as I’ve said a thousand times before, there’s the off chance that it might be one of the good ones. I was seeing a lot of good things in the previews. In all fariness, the remake does not warrant the intense hatred it’s been getting. It actually has some good ideas. For example, I liked that whole idea about the United States using robots to invade (read: conquer) other countries, the military applications for Robocop where not ignored, this is an element we never saw in previous Robocop films. They dwelled a whole lot more on the technological advances that allow these people to merge a man with a robot. They explored the ideas of what makes a cyborg a cyborg a whole lot more than on Verhoeven’s film. But then again, therein lies part of the problem; while the first film glazed over a lot of the logic in order to make room for the fun stuff, this one wants to be a bit more cerebral.

They spend too much screen time explaining everything; which by the way is something that a lot of films are doing nowadays; they analyze things to death. The original film didn’t explain everything about Robocop, we were meant to take certain things for granted, we found our own explanations in our minds. We as an audience connected the dots in our heads. Not so on this new film where they explore ideas to death. The problem with that is that after seeing Verhoeven’s Robocop and watching this new one, I swear I felt like a junkie with freaking withdrawal symptoms, I needed my jolt of shock! I needed that fun factor turned up! Sadly, this is a problem with films nowadays, they want to be so politically correct that they are no longer fun. They don’t want Alex Murphy to say fuck, they don’t want drugs, they don’t want blood, they don’t want  gore…we my friends are living in an age where action films are being sensored, the action film as we knew it no longer exists. We are living in an age where films simply have no guts. I know that studios want to make more money, and that making films PG-13 is a way to do that, but damn, seriously, is every single thing that Hollywood makes going to be watered down? Is everything going to be made for pre-teens?  

And here’s part of the problem with the Robocop franchise, it started out as a hardcore action franchise for adults. The first two films were ‘R’ rated sci-fi films for adults, but once they got to the third one, well, the owners of the Robo franchise decided to turn it into a franchise for kids. By then they had made Saturday morning cartoons of Robocop, a television series, toys, video games and even comic books, all made for children, which makes no sense whatsoever. I mean, why would you want to make a cartoon series for children based on a movie where Robocop’s creator snorts cocaine from the breasts of a prostitute? You know what I mean? From inception Robocop was a very adult series of films, but Hollywood thinks Robots, and they immediately think kids and toys. Which is the reason why by the time the franchise arrived to its third film, well, Robocop had a little kid sidekick. It was also by the third film that the studio decided to make Robocop a PG-13 franchise. And you know how that story goes, Robocop 3 (1993) turned out to be the worst film in the franchise because it wasn’t the Robocop that we knew and loved, it was by then, a watered down version of the first film.

More of this please! 

Which, I’m sad to say is what we get with this new Robocop film. This is not to say the film doesn’t have its moments. I mean, I love Robocop itself, how he looks when he puts the visor on and aims his gun is positively cool. I loved seeing Robocop in action, sadly there’s not enough action to be had, and what action we do get, is computer generated. On the first film when Robocop gets shot to death by all those cops, you can practically taste the gun powder and the shards of glass, you felt an intensity in Peter Weller’s performance, even through the helmet. Weller’s eyes and mouth expressed the pain; I felt sympathy for Robocop in those scenes!  On the new one I didn’t feel for the character. Joel Kinnaman was a bad choice to play Robocop, it’s the biggest bit of miscasting since John Cusack playing Nixon in The Butler (2013). I felt no sympathy for this Robocop because I didn’t care for the guy, there were no moments in the film where I connected with the character. In the first we felt we were Alex Murphy, a cop out on a new turf, Detroit. On this film the city is not a character and neither are the people who inhabit it, in the old one Detroit was a hell hole you did not want to live in. And then there's Kinnaman, why fill a movie with all these stars and then leave the most important role in the film to a complete unknown? You know how much better Robocop is because Peter Weller’s in it? A whole lot better! I’m sorry, but Kinnaman even looks goofy in his robo gear. And speaking of Robo gear, I was willing to give the film a chance in this department, but the black was a bad choice. Here’s the thing, they should’ve left him looking all metallic, whenever Robocop looks metallic in the new film, everything was so much better! If it aint broke don’t fix it. Robocop is not black, he’s metallic!

One of the biggest problems with the film is that nothing feels tangible or intense, the film felt as cold as the robots it portrays. My advice to Hollywood is: stop doing entire films in CGI! However cool you guys think everything looks, things just don’t feel real. Use freaking computer animation sparingly dammit! The minute I saw a computer generated Robocop jumping through the air in the previews, I knew something was rotten in Denmark. So my final say on this is that the first film is still superior in every single way possible. I gave this one a chance; I gave it the benefit of the doubt and while it has some cool moments and shots, the film as a whole felt like it was missing what made the old one so much fun to watch, Hollywood is an old man afraid to have fun these days. When it started, Robocop was a concept made for adults, it had biting satyre! I mean, beneath all that shock and action, the film made fun of society. Basically, what happened with this new Robocop remake is the same thing that happened with the Total Recall (2012) remake, while enjoyable to some extent, they took away the edgy, fun elements, it brings down the film if you ask me, it makes it less than what it was. And you know what I say to that? Boo, is what I say. I want my fun movies back. Bring back the freaking eighties because I don’t like what action films have become. Simply put: they don’t feel like action films anymore. If you want to see what all the hoopla is about go see this new Robocop movie, I’m not calling it a bad film, I’m calling it a watered down version of its former self. Shame on you Hollywood, you know what we want, you’ve just decided not to give it to us. 

Robocop (1987): 5 out of 5

Robocop (2014): 2 out of 5


Roman J. Martel said...

I was afraid this was the direction they were going to go in. By removing the fun and humor from a film, they hope that it is edgy and cool.

I gotta say, I think Nolan's "Batman" films and their immense popularity are what is responsible for this trend in current films. Every remake of a sci-fi, action or super hero flick has to be serious, edgy and filled with angst. No humor is allowed, and if there is any it is cynical snarky humor.

As you mentioned, one of the great things about Verhoovan's films is the satirical humor and sense of fun they all had. You couldn't take them too seriously because they were in on the joke. It's ridiculously horrifying to see the melted toxic ooze man in "Robocop". You laugh, but get grossed out all at once.

My wife had never seen the film, and when we watched it a couple years back, she had the perfect reaction to that scene. She started laughing while saying ewww at the same time.

What does seem intriguing about the new 'Robocop" that you've touched on and that I've seen in other reviews, is that they tried to take it in a more sci-fi direction. That keeps it from being a pure rehash, and I like that concept. But by draining all the fun out of the film, that is what gets me.

I'm curious to check it out, but I'll keep my expectations low.

Franco Macabro said...

I was expecting that cynicism, that bleakness, that acid humor so present in films from the 80's...its the same feeling I got when I watch films like Lethal Weapon for example. It's funny because its characters are angry...

They did show us things we've never seen in a Robocop movie, like deconstructing his body and all that, and they went into the military applications of the project...but what made Robocop, Robocop was that feeling of hopelessness against the ever prevailing crime wave....hell, they don't even have a freaking crime wave problem in this movie.

It's not even addressed! There's no clear know how in the old Robocop we'd see Robocop fighting against crime in the streets, well for some reason this movie completely forgot about that element, Detroit is no longer a hell hole and crime doesnt even seem to be present, they went the wrong way there if you ask me.

I don't think you'll completely hate this remake (I didn't) but you ARE going to miss what you loved about the old Robocop by Verhoeven.

Thanks for commenting!

odenat said...

Thank you for this good review, i didn't see the film yet, now i know what to expect. So i'll be less disappointed, i hope ...

Franco Macabro said...

Just let go of whatever it is you liked about the original one, and go in with an "open slate", you just might enjoy it.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good review Fransisco. The director said that the violence in the first film wasn't necessary because the message and style is different. I'm sure a lot of people were disappointed by the lack of risk-taking in this film.

Franco Macabro said...

The style is very different, what made the original film the way it was had a lot to do with Verhoeven, of course if you put another director in there it's going to be totally different, but even Padilha's Brazilian films have more guts to them, and they are movies about cops! I'm pretty sure this movie was watered down because of the studio and the kind of film they wanted.

steve prefontaine said...

For all its hideousness and uglyness the 1987 version of Robocop is still a magical and legendary film, its as though the flair and genius of Verhoeven's film-making actually transcended all the loathsome odious obnoxiousness and turned it into an eternal masterpiece.

Unknown said...

I like the review that you made here, I think it's an honest take on the differences between the two movies and even though you're clearly a big fan of the old film (which you spent most of the review on), I agree on many of the points you made. However, not all of them...

I also really like the tone that Verhoeven manages to infuse in his projects, Total Recall is another great example of his characteristic super-violent pulp action with a comic twist that he became famous for. The old Robocop was a witty, political satire about the Reagan-era, where the market-objectivism clearly shone through in policies and measures taken on societal issues like crime. The solution to rampant criminality in a society where private institutions own the police force, doing everything on a for-profit basis, is not suprisingly a tougher, more zero- tolerance approach. What could be better for that than a robot policeman, built like a tank, with a machinegun-pistol, who "feels nothing". The concept of the '87 movie was spot on as a product of its' era.

The new movie modernizes that concept, but takes it into our time, where the US military is the obvious parallell, also aggregiously propelled by a profit-making machine, referring to every opponent as a terrorist, and (fittingly) introducing actual drone warfare. It's in some regards as if the reality of the first Robocop movie has come alive. This is where the new movie really gets it right, I think. You mentioned that there is no crime wave in the new movie, but that only makes it even more consistent with its theme, I think. The whole idea is to get the American public to accept having robots on their streets. Apparently, they are against it in the beginning of the film (because why not, there is no crime, right?) but OmniCorp (kudos to the script writers for consistency) wants to sell their robots, thereby gaining control of the US as well, so they introduce this man/machine as a PR stunt. It's cynical, dark and incredibly appropriate, I'm sure Verhoeven himself approves.

Samuel L. Jackson delivers an awesome speech where he talks about the benefits of having an autonomous, mechanized police force, saying that "they don't feel emotions", as if that's a good thing. It's every bit as much a parody of the contemporary world as the old one was.

Sure, there are problems, like maybe too much CG-effects and maybe some of the lumbering charm of the old version is missing, compared to the more agile, quick style of the new, but I think those are minor details. Sure, I was discouraged when I saw Robocop in the new trailer looking like the jumping robot-ninja in Robocop 3, but efter seeing the movie I felt my fears were unwarranted.

I think the new movie was pretty good; both the story, the actors and the director did some nice work here. Sure, I also wanted more over-the-top violence (as in the old movie), although it wasn't necessary in this case. It's a competently made action thriller, as long as we don't compare it too much with the original.

Franco Macabro said...

Hi Johan and thank you for your reply!

I agree, Robocop '87 was a product of its time, and that's all fine, but you know, crime has not dissapeared from the world, it's still a very real thing, so why this squeaky clean film with no crime, when the film is called Robo-COP. Where's the 'COP' on this new film?

I did like the military applications being involved in the new film because what is happening now in the world is that cops are being used against the people, which in reality isn't a new thing, but now its augmented beyond measure. I would have loved for the new film to take that idea see the robot cops turning against the people that they are supposed to protect...nothing of the sort happens. It feels as if they might have had that planned for a future film.

It would have been awesome to have Robocop become a savior to the people, a cop that went against the programming of the governments who abuse their power...if this new remake was truly a product of the times we are living in, that would have been the film to go with. This alone takes this new Robocop in an entirely new direction than the old one, setting it apart, unfortunately it looses that cop element, that thing about a cop being on the streets fighting crime, so in essense it doesnt feel like Robocop anymore. I think thats why the film failed at the box office.

People wanted a robot cop fighting crime on the city streets.

I think that with the Samuel L. Jackson character, they were hinting at what a future film was going to be about, a police force that would eventually overtake the people, but it looks like this isn't going to happen. This new Robocop movie has sadly tanked in a big freaking way.

I guess people wanted a fun Robocop and not one with really serious comparison, while the first film was a farce, a parody, a critique, it was so in between the lines, it's main purpose was to entertain.

As I said on my comparison, the new one aint bad, I actually enjoyed it for the most part, but the first is still more fun and entertaining. It has more intensity to it, more emotion, even in the performances.

I applaud it for going its own way though, it's just a totally different tone and direction and looses what people loved about the concept originally.


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