I understand the skepticism many feel when it comes to the remake of RoboCop, releasing February 12th. The 1987 original has gained legendary status in the years since its release; a black comedy, blending satire and violence to mock American excess and naked capitalism while telling the story of a man fighting to regain a shred of humanity taken from him by a corrupt corporate oligarchy.
How could a PG-13 remake dumped in the middle of February possibly have any hope of recapturing that magic?
But I remember 1987, when people thought RoboCop wouldn't be much more than a cheapjack ripoff of The Terminator, a notion helped by the use of that film's score in the trailers.
That trailer certainly doesn't hint at any social commentary or biting satire. It hints at a lot of shit blowing up in obnoxious ways as leathery people yell things, yeah. It was only later, after being released on VHS and Laserdisc, that people really peeled back the bloody, smirking layers that Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier had built into the film.
Amazingly, it turns out people had to actually watch the movie about the Robot Policeman in order to find out there was a brain working under that goofy helmet of his.
So why is almost everyone sure that Jose Padilha's attempt to revive Alex Murphy is doomed to dull failure?
It's because people have placed an artificially high bar for what a good RoboCop movie can be. That bar sits where it does because some really loud people on the internet are making a conscious decision to ignore what a fucking shitshow RoboCop quickly became.
Like John Rambo and Sgt. Mahoney of Police Academy before him, Murphy transitioned from the ultra-violent world of film to the cereal-selling wonderland of Saturday morning cartoons. As if that didn't tarnish the shine on Murphy's ample chest, there was RoboCop 2 which took a bad script from Frank Miller, butchered it further, and hired Irvin Kershner to deliver on the promise of tone-deaf mediocrity the original's trailer provided. RoboCop 3 was even worse than that, and once the seal on that particular turd was broken, a grunting flood of dookum was released in the form '90s syndicated television that made Mortal Kombat look like Downton Abbey.
Also, somewhere in there, Murphy apparently saved WCW wrestler Sting from being stuck in a cage for all of 2 minutes.
So, with the above banished to a memory hole, I guess it becomes a matter of "remake fatigue," which seems to be in this case a blend of genuine concern for the death of originality with an affected feigning at cinema sophistication that doesn't fit so well with legit worries that something called RoboCop will be too dumb for moviegoing audiences.
It's that hint of affectation, that scent of fronting, that leads to people pretending they really liked the original due to the incisive satire. That aspect's become vastly overstated, leaned on by fans who find it just a touch uncouth to admit they love it because it's a movie where Red Forman tells bitches to leave, and that annoying doctor from E.R. gets splattered all over a windshield, and someone gets their dick shot off.
Why can't those simple pleasures be enough, somehow? They absolutely can, you know. It's why you're so pissed off that the film is PG-13 instead of R. You don't worry about that sort of thing if you're super-concerned about the satire aspect. It's not like satire needs a .50 caliber round tearing through someone's glans to pack that thoughtful punch.
And if that's all that's bothering you, I get that. You'd like Murphy to be stabbin' and shootin' and splatterin' folks like he did in the good ol' days of the '80s. PG-13 doesn't make that very easy. And if you do remember the cinematic dingleberries clinging to Murphy's metal bottom throughout the '90s, I understand the expectation that this probably won't be good because nothing with the name RoboCop on it has been good for 27 years, not counting a few video games here and there.
But is it so hard to believe that a director with two of the best action films in the last decade on his resume might possibly make a movie about a Robot Cop that is - at the least - visually interesting? That Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael K. Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, and Joel Kinnaman could maybe turn in some decent performances? That in all those decades of study and analysis, the people making this film might have absorbed some of what made Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier's original film an appealing mix of eye-candy, violence, and basic social commentary?
I'm not saying the movie won't suck. It's very possible that it will. Or even worse, it could be a bland RoboCop flavored nothing that slides right off the brain into a puddle of baby food on the theater floor.
But I think that maybe we're setting the bar for something called RoboCop a little too high, considering the history. It's an easy thing to miss when you're too busy freaking out over the fact the costume doesn't look the same as the one on your mint-in-box action figure.
Keep an eye out later this week for Senior Editor Erik Henriksen's review of the remake, by the director of the Elite Squad movies, which Mr. Henriksen recently recommended to me in his finest film critic tone with the assertion "Those movies FUCKING RULE."
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!