I saw the new Robocop the other night. I was disappointed. I went in with low expectations; I stayed away from the trailers, trying to go in blind. I’m not saying it wasn’t entertaining but in comparison to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original it was lacking. And not just in the blood department, although blood was definitely lacking in this PG-13 retelling of the Robocop story, but the film altogether was lackluster.
Realistically, the idea of Robocop is asinine. I can’t imagine how it was pitched to some executive, whether they laughed and said, “Screw it, Americans are stupid,” or told them to get out of their office. The idea of a robot cop, a part man and part machine police officer just sounds dumb. What makes it good is clever writing, a keen eye for satire, and over the top violence. Verhoeven’s original delivers. Robocop is a comic book come to life, the story of an American Jesus, a product, controlled by a corporation’s bottom line, dispensing justice for profit. One of the reasons it works is because Verhoeven’s Dutch, coming from a different perspective. Before Robocop, Verhoeven made movies in the Netherlands (his 1977 film Soldier of Orange won a Golden Globe) and was a newcomer to the United States. Can you imagine what America, especially Reagan’s America, would look like to somebody from a country where prostitution is legal, violent crime is lower, sexuality isn’t such a taboo, where marijuana is quasi-legal and drug offenders aren’t just thrown in prison? Verhoeven’s a stranger in a strange land, looking at America from an outsider’s perspective. It’s like he saw a country that loves violence, loves sex but pretends it’s terrible, loves money, and then made a movie extolling all these virtues to excess.
The new Robocop does none of that. Whereas the original is a strange comedy the new one is pretty serious. It has its moments of humor but they’re not infused into the movie’s core. It was more like a video game, like watching Call of Duty’s Robocop, where Verhoeven’s was, like I said before, a comic book. The toned-down violence is another issue. The original Robocop is really bloody but it was marketed to kids. They had Robocop action figures, kids shirts, a Marvel comic book. There was a syndicated cartoon and live action series that were all targeted towards children. This Robocop is also probably for children (especially with a PG-13 rating) and I don’t know what’s worse: selling a smart but violent movie to kids or selling a dumb but passive film.
Only a few aspects from the original were kept—OCP is still the monolithic death dealer, Robocop is still Alex Murphy but his partner Lewis is now a black man, and the idea of a robot cop is still ridiculous. New characters were created, played by Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Rorschach from that awful Watchmen movie. The science of being Robocop is elaborated upon and newer technologies, such as drones, full body scanners, prosthetics, and elaborate tasers are used. But that doesn’t really matter. We live in a hyper-technological age and the dystopian/utopian future premise is wearing thin. Not that I don’t love it but just putting whatever technology will be on the market in five years next to Robocop doesn’t make a movie great. Rather, it makes it nearly every other movie out there in the last few years except this one has Robocop. At least with Spike Jonze’s Her the same old device worked because nothing exploded and the characters were compelling. Nothing in Robocop was very compelling and I didn’t have fun. It made me think about technology for a few moments but I do that for free on the internet. If you’re not going to make Robocop a ludicrous, campy, and satirical romp through a dystopian American city (Detroit) at least don’t call it Robocop. Call it Robotcop.
The best part of seeing the new Robocop in theaters was filling out the survey afterwards. I put that I’m a black man that only speaks Spanish in my household and that I have 10 kids. While I won’t take my children to see Robocop I’ll recommend other parents should. Finally, I am willing to buy a DVD or Blu-Ray, pay for a digital download, and also pirate it. When they asked for my email address I wrote, “No.”