Why is America so reboot-phobic?
Because some stories just don't need to be retold, especially when they were told extremely well the first time and are beloved by all just the way they are. Over the years, we've had so many awful horror remakes, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Evil Dead, and with the criminally boring, unnecessary Total Recall remake still fresh in our minds, a RoboCop reboot just sounded like a bad idea.
The idea of a more earnest RoboCop movie grounded in reality, with a grittier, more down-to-Earth feel and a mostly CGI hero with more self-awareness and an inexplicable human hand was missing the point of the original film entirely and, after watching the film, I can confirm that it has, indeed, missed the point on various levels.
That said, unlike Total Recall, this is, miraculously, not a complete disaster.
Where some changes either don't really work or simply backfire, some make sense in the new world introduced within the movie and there's enough of the spirit found in Paul Verhoeven's original there to grab onto. Even the classic RoboCop theme is there, even if it only appears in the background here and there, and during the opening title card. The iconic OCP ads are sadly absent and are instead replaced by a pro-OCP show called "The Novak Element" (an obvious O'Reilly Factor parody) which sees Samuel L. Jackson's host spout-out pro OmniCorp propaganda. The humour there works just about, but nowhere near as well as it did back in the day. The satire is very subdued where, in the original film, it was more full on. Michael Keaton's head of the shady company, Raymond Sellars' plan being purely to get this pro-robot cops law through but very little else. You expect that to happen about halfway through and then for Detroit to spiral down into hell leaving only the police and RoboCop to try and sort everything out but the political stuff turns out to be the ultimate goal. There are a few plot-holes here and there as well as character inconsistencies but not enough to distract too much or kill the movie.
The film does clearly attempt to make the most of its 12A (PG-13) rating with the occasional gory-ish moment and (bleeped) cursing and to bring forward some thrilling action sequences but, as entertaining as the film is, it still falls short and ultimately lacks bite. There's something very safe and unthreatening about this whole thing which really doesn't belong in a RoboCop movie, same goes for RoboCop 3, by the way. You want Detroit to be a complete mess full of rough, horrible criminals, worthy villains for RoboCop to battle, otherwise why would that city even need RoboCop? Alex Murphy catching a drug dealer like that dude in RoboCop 2, whose product is tearing the city apart completely, that makes sense. Otherwise, the people would never go for this, even if he did stop a murderer who just happened to go to a heavily policed event. That makes very little sense. A few plot-threads in this movie are questionable like that and you keep expecting another level to everything, like deeper and deeper corruption, maybe even a twist, but that just doesn't happen. As it stands, Patrick Garrow's villain is a missed opportunity and is instantly forgettable. At least Jackie Earle Haley's army dude was given some fun lines and was somewhat intimidating.
It's a shame that this movie wasn't allowed to be a violent, gritty, harsh 18-rated action flick like Dredd was. Under the circumstances, it admittedly did ok, but there's still obviously something missing. Every aspect of the film is a little weaker than it should be and, in the end, we're left with a reboot that's not bad but not too great either. I guess at least it doesn't look as cheap as RoboCop 3 and we get Gary Oldman bringing life to what could have easily been a un-memorable character. Joel Kinnaman, who plays the titular hero/anti-hero, makes a good Murphy but his face doesn't seem to fit RoboCop that well. It doesn't help that they left him eyebrows despite his character having suffered severe burns. This is a more emotional, much less robotic RoboCop than we're used to and that's both interesting and infuriating. The direction in which the film takes its main character, where he becomes more machine than man as the film goes on, works here but you can't help but wish this guy was more convincingly robot-like. It looks like Peter Weller is still very much the best RoboCop around.
While flawed in many ways, this RoboCop is something of a nice surprise in that it's not a complete catastrophe. Unlike that soporific, misguided Total Recall remake, this movie manages to be fun, keep some of what made the original so iconic and tell an involving story. The result is hardly in the same league as the first two RoboCop films but it's a step in the right direction for the franchise and, as far as unnecessary reboots are concerned, this one gets a pass.
I'd probably buy it for a dollar.