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Not Your Slightly Older Cousin's RoboCop

Not Your Slightly Older Cousin's RoboCop

Columbia Pictures

A good cop named Alex Murphy is murdered (or nearly murdered) in the line-of-duty and then brought back to life thanks to an amazing robot suit. After awakening as this Frankenstein-monster for the law, he solves crimes, issues deadpan catchphrases, and contemplates how weird it is to have a theme song that is both awesome and super generic at the same time. So, what’s new with RoboCop? Well, even though this particular heroic cyborg may belong to a different generation, his new incarnation might actually be a little less hardcore than his 1987 ancestor.

When two RoboCops fight, nobody wins, but when you watch these movies back to back, here’s what you learn.

RoboCop = RoboCop (What’s the Same!)

1. The Media is Making You Dumb!

Paul Verhoeven’s original film is replete with satirical media imagery. There are fake news shows and fake commercials throughout the film, which intentionally puts the viewer on edge and causes you to worry about creepy amorality of this quasi-future society. (A family plays a particularly harrowing board game called “Nuke ‘Em” in one scene.) The new version of RoboCop takes similar digs at contemporary media; this time sending up overly politically slanted cable TV programs with their own fiction pundit: Samuel L. Jackson’s “The Novak Factor.”

2. Robo-Catcphrases

In the original film, Alex Murphy says very early-on (before he’s robo-cized) “Dead or alive you’re coming with me.” The new Alex Murphy gets to say the same thing. Additionally, the intentionally deadpan  and ironic “thank you for your cooperation” is recreated in this film, as in the original. What do we learn from this? Almost anything can be scary and funny at the same time if said in a robot voice. (Duh.)

3. Corporate Corruption is Destroying America, But Also Creating RoboCop

Despite its over-the-top violence and gore, the original 1987 film is an extremely liberal flick insofar as it intentionally criticizes how a corporation can dehumanize law-enforcement by placing too much special interest as part  of a government agency. Alex Murphy/RoboCop, becomes, in both films, the epitome of this dehumanization, as he is literally dehumanized. The paradox of both films involves the weird necessary evil of these terrible organizations, who, without their existence, wouldn’t have birthed RoboCop into existence at all. In this way, RoboCop, in either his 1987 or 2014 guises is the ultimate patchwork monster for the good guys, and not just because he’s a literal cyborg! There’s societal components at war in RoboCop: are certain people above the law? Are organizations (read: corporations) people? And probably most important: why do we love cop movies so much?

RoboCop Vs. RoboCop (What’s Different!)

1. Shocking Violence Has Become Video Game Violence

The original cut of 1987’s RoboCop was almost released as an “X” rated film simply because the violence in the film was so gory and disturbing. And though it eventually garnered an “R” rating, the graphic and frightening nature of the film still scares a viewer to this day. (Seriously, don’t watch 1987 RoboCop alone. Please.) However, the over-the-top violence in the movie has a point of sorts, in that the subject of the movie is strongly anti-violence. This is a tough line to walk, and the first Robo-movie did it well. Weirdly then, the new RoboCop is rated PG-13 and is overtly way less violent than its forbearer. And yet, the effect is jarringly more pro-violence. Because most of the action scenes are reduced to RoboCop shooting people or taking people down in the style of a first-person shooter video game, the violence is more desensitized. In the new RoboCop, the viewer is always aware they’re watching a movie. In the classic film, the violence was scary, because it meant something.

2. RoboCop’s Robo Abilities Make Slightly More Sense in the New Film

Though probably a better movie than this reboot, the original RoboCop might be a worse science fiction movie than the new one. The 1987 film doesn’t really care much about explaining the logistics of how Alex Murphy became this particular tin man for justice, but instead sort of just posits that he’s RoboCop now and deal with it. Conversely, the remake takes great pains to show the audience how his emotions are controlled through the manipulation of certain brain chemicals, and even shows you exactly which of his vital organs are still functioning. Further, RoboCop’s ability to detect crime makes absolutely zero sense in the original movie, but thanks to CCTV cameras and the Internet, the data processing machine that is still part man has specific reasons he’s able to track down bad guys.  It might not be more efficient or exciting storytelling, but the new RoboCop makes a little more sense.

3. Robo-Family

In the original film, Alex Murphy’s family is primarily absent from the present-tense narrative of the film. This is changed significantly in the new film, with RoboCop’s wife and son front and center throughout. While these specters of the past haunted RoboCop in flashbacks in the classic film, the new version makes Alex Murphy a much more human character throughout. Indeed, without RoboCop’s family getting involved in the new movie, many of the major revelations might not have taken place. It’s no shock that a PG-13 film is more family-friendly than an R-rated one, but if there’s a question of which RoboCop is literally a better family man, the new guy totally wins.

What did you like about the new RoboCop? What did you hate? Are you ready for more?

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Tags: movies, sci fi, robocop, reviews, remakes

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About the Author
Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths, forthcoming from Plume (Penguin) Books on 11.24.15. He's written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He lives in New York City.

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