It's hard to believe, but it's been almost three decades since Paul Verhoeven and Peter Weller first introduced audiences to the original "RoboCop." Two sequels, countless kids' toys, video games, comic books, and a few short-lived TV shows later though, and it's much easier to believe that the beloved 1987 sci-fi classic is getting a modern reboot, only a year and a half after a remake of Verhoeven's "Total Recall" also hit theatres.
In the updated version from Brazilian director José Padilha ("Elite Squad"), Joel Kinnaman stars as Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop critically injured in the line of duty and rebuilt into local law enforcement's first cyborg by a multinational corporation with questionable intentions.
Aside from the general premise of dropping a man (or parts of him, anyway) into a metal suit and the resulting complications, fans will notice a lot of big differences between the original "RoboCop" and the 2014 version (like the new Lewis, now played by Michael K. Williams). Here's a rundown of how Padilha has updated Verhoeven's sci-fi classic for modern audiences.
1. The Suit is a New Colour:
The most obvious upgrades were made to Murphy's iconic suit, now painted black (thanks to feedback from focus groups -- the meta-ness of which is up for debate) and more streamlined and "tactical," according to OmniCorp president Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), a sort of villainous Steve Jobs. And when RoboCop's visor comes down, the heads-up display gets a few tweaks too, providing a helpful on-screen body count so audiences can follow along during the action scenes, live CCTV feeds and fight simulations, even alerts when a perp is "Totally Stoned." Otherwise though, this is pretty much the same RoboCop you remember, only with a splashy new paint job, and fine-tuned by the marketing department. Or in other words, probably a pretty good metaphor for the movie itself.
2. He's Got a New Ride:
These days, it seems like just about every action hero has to know how to ride on two wheels, so Kinnaman's RoboCop trades in the original's semi-futuristic Ford Taurus (not to mention the 6000 SUX) for a sleek, high-tech motorcycle, also painted jet black. The change means more adrenaline spikes during otherwise routine patrols as he zips through traffic, but on the downside, it lacks the nostalgia factor of seeing RoboCop stiffly exiting his police car. But credit where credit's due, the motorcycle does make for a much more convenient projectile weapon.
3. The Competition Got an Upgrade Too:
Don't worry, the iconic, intimidating ED-209s are still here, though thankfully they're not asked to roar or attempt to navigate a flight of stairs. In Padilha's version, OmniCorp has expanded their product line to include humanoid robots, the better to help "pacify" foreign cities, and also up the reboot's body count while keeping the action a relatively bloodless PG-13. Humans still make up the majority of RoboCop's foes, but the new tech allows Padilha to put together an impressive showcase of what almost 30 years of advancements in visual effects can buy.
4. The Hero is More Human:
To be fair, Peter Weller was pretty robotic even before he got into the grey metal suit, so the reboot makes sure to devote more time to humanizing Murphy before his accident. And apart from all the shiny new CGI, it's probably the most "modern" update made to the new version. In a major, albeit more predictable wrinkle, Murphy's wife (Abbie Cornish) and son actually stick around the whole time; we see her consent to Murphy entering the OmniCorp program and the family dealing with the aftermath. That means exchanging a lot of the original's sharp-edged subversion for more sentimentality, but Kinnaman does a nice job of bridging the gap and adding gravitas to his struggle to retain some semblance of humanity. And while there's certainly a few bugs in the reboot, the man inside the suit isn't one of them. Somehow they successfully managed to make this new Robocop feel legitimately human. Case in point? He even searches for himself on Bing.
5. The Story Gets a Complete Overhaul:
We saw it with "Total Recall," but typically, whenever a cult classic gets rebooted, it keeps the name brand, but loses the freshness that made it connect with fans in the first place. And since just about any remake is going to suffer from comparisons to the original, probably the smartest move the new "RoboCop" made -- besides featuring a strong supporting cast -- was to completely revamp the plot, maintaining the same general structure, but updating much of the specifics. So while the central concept of corporate greed is still there, Verhoeven's biting satire and fake ads are replaced by Samuel L. Jackson's Fox News-style show and talking head fear-mongering.
Of course, there isn't a single scene as subversive or darkly funny as either of the original's blood-splattered boardroom meetings. Instead, there's a derivative B-plot about corrupt cops that could be lifted from any recent action movie, and a softened RoboCop. He still shoots first and asks questions later -- only this time he uses a Taser. The result is a new, more modern version with a few upgrades and better tech, and a much smarter, better and more enjoyable remake than you'd expect, even if it's still never going to replace the original.