director José Padilha
In the world of Hollywood and unnecessary remakes, the sheer volume of completely uninspired films is ridiculous and daunting. The creative bankruptcy in the movie-making machine and the love of brand recognition have rolled out remake after remake, reboot after reboot, to a point where a movie is hardly a movie but potentially a single step in an unending reiteration. That voluminous list? Too long to actually do any justice to here.
I can’t speak to the process of which this new 2014 RoboCop went from idea to execution, but I will say that the film at least does in fact want to tackle the material through a contemporary prism, a prism which winds up having a lot to say about information, technology, robotic law enforcement (not really so far-fetched anymore), and the panopticon-like world that technology has brought us to.
Director José Padilha handled other films about a desperate police state in which crime is so far off the charts that the only response available is heartless brutality (Elite Squad (2007) and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010). But oddly enough, this RoboCop isn’t so much about the police state. It does have one vision of it, in a news report from Tehran where robot police swarm the street and all the people are terrified. The film doesn’t dwell on that as the original did.
And really, I guess it’s almost impossible to not compare the two films. The new one does have some irony and humor, namely in the sequences of a television show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, a conservative loudmouth in a sort of Fox News platform. He does praise the idea of robotic police enforcement. And he gets the most of the wry humor that the film has to offer. Pretty stark in contrast to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, which had tongue in cheek throughout.
This film has some good actors in it, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earl Haley, and the aforementioned Jackson. And it gives more time and attention to the family of the cop turned cyborg, adding perhaps depth but perhaps adding something that the original really didn’t require.
What I found the most interesting though was the information at this RoboCop’s fingertips. This is science fiction, and the Detroit of the film is a futuristic version, though not all that far from our present. There are more and better surveillance cameras everywhere. Those feeds are readily available, with facial recognition technology, databases of fingerprints, photos, DNA, evidence. There is nowhere to be off the grid in this world. And with this supercomputer robot cop, his ability to find and capture people is probably a fantasy of law enforcement and a real terror of our world if you really don’t want to be tracked or trackable. Utterly relevant in our present of NSA fears. Someone is always listening, able to see what is being done, who is doing it.
In truth, this RoboCop is not as good as the original. It misses the very elements that make that film prime Verhoeven. But it’s not a bad movie. It’s good enough. And it does address issues of 2014 that were not present in 1987. The modernization is not just lip service. It makes sense, it makes it relevant, in ways more remakes don’t come close to. This, I would suggest is a good movie, whereas RoboCop (1987) is a great movie.