2014-02-14

RoboCop – Questioning Humanity…and Remakes

by Yo Snyder

RoboCop was the
ultimate forbidden fruit for a 12 year-old boy back in 1987. After all, it’s a
movie about a guy in an awesome robot suit who goes around fighting crime with
cool weapons and tough sounding one-liners like “You’re move, creep”; who
wouldn’t want to see that? However, the film was rated R because it was
ridiculously violent and bloody and foul-mouthed; so as my parents wisely told
me when I begged them to see it, “NO WAY!” Eventually, I did see it, and truth
be told, all that robot stuff was pretty cool, and all that other stuff was
shocking, gross and quite frankly, uncomfortable. So I’ve never quite
understood its lasting legacy as some sort of “social commentary” and what not,
but I do get the lasting coolness of the fact that it’s a guy with a cool robot
suit to fight crime with. Now, did this movie really need to be remade; even if
it tones downs some of the gratuitous elements? Of course not; is there any
movie that really needs to be remade (except maybe for Logan’s Run)? However, with Hollywood it inevitably will, and so
all we’re left with is the question of whether the remake is any good, or any
sort of improvement. Well, this new RoboCop
left me feeling kind of like the original; sort of conflicted. It tries for some
improvement and has some interesting ideas, and of course it has all that cool
robot stuff, but in the end it falls short of being anything really memorable.

First, let me say that the look of the new suit and the
modern technology available to help it do really cool looking things definitely
adds to that appeal of just how awesome the concept of a RoboCop can be. While
the original certainly had its appeal, I’d say this version is a big
improvement both in looks and function. As for the man in the suit, I was
impressed with Joel Kinnamen’s ability to both give this RoboCop a more human
feel but also to emulate the cold, robotic, removed persona made famous by the
original film. I also appreciated that they got that awesome sound of him
walking down so perfect; I loved that sound in the original. It just sounds so
heavy, menacing, and…well, robotic. It’s just a cool sound effect, so I was
glad they brought it back here. The return of some of that 80s music…not so
much.

I also appreciated that this film tried to explore some
interesting philosophical quandaries presented by all this technology and
blending it with humans. What ultimately runs that hybrid result; the program
or the humanity? Is free will an illusion (especially if you have a microchip
in your brain? Is morality what sets humans apart from robots? Indeed one
character in the film argues that robots just don’t know what right from wrong
is, so how could they be trusted? Now that was an interesting question since in
our culture we’re so determined to make morality relative and to redefine
what’s right and wrong. If we truly believe that right and wrong are arbitrary,
purely based on opinion and therefore constantly in flux and can never be
concretely defined, it seems to me that it wouldn’t matter if a robot didn’t
know right from wrong since those concepts are nebulous at best anyways; the
robot probably knows about as much about that as we do. On the flip side, a
friend wondered why a robot couldn’t just be programmed with what’s right and
wrong? C.S. Lewis suggests in Mere
Christianity
that in a sense that’s the case with humanity’s perception of
right and wrong; there is a clear standard for what that is that’s been
“programmed’ into us from something outside of us. The reason morality can be
clearly defined is it isn’t defined by
us, but defined for us; and we all innately
acknowledge that standard really does exist. These are all interesting
thoughts, and while the movie briefly touches on them, it doesn’t really delve
into them in much detail; after all, there are bad guys to be busted in
spectacular, robotic fashion. Who has time for figuring out if the man rules
the machine or if the machine rules the man when there’s stuff to blow up? Or
to examine the consequence our little compromises on principles can lead to
when wanton destruction awaits? Yes, there are some great themes in here, but
they get pushed aside to make more room for bloodless gun battles and some nice
explosions.

Basically, I kept waiting for this new RoboCop to do something to help make it memorable, which for better
or worse, the original did with its bloody “hyper-violence as commentary on
violence”. Yet, the action for the most part is fairly generic, the plot is
pretty straightforward and generic without ever really connecting on any sort
of meaningful level, and the noble attempts at adding some heart with the
scenes of a loving family, wife, and daddy never really make an impact. In the
end what we get is an enjoyable but forgettable movie that at least tries to do
some interesting things with the material but never really gets anywhere in
doing so.

Score: 4 of 7 –
RoboCop tries to do something interesting with the material, but then forgets
to actually do that with the focus on the action, which leaves it in fairly
middling ground. There’s lots of bullets, but very little blood (unlike the original),
just a smattering of language (unlike the original), and a few kind of creepy
scenes of the man without the suit. So, take that PG-13 rating seriously, it
may not be R any more, but it’s still not for kids.