RoboCop: Our Top 5 Questions

RoboCop 2014

It's almost here: the long-feared, unimpressive-looking remake of RoboCop, the 1987 sci-fi classic that starred Peter Weller as a police officer brought back from the dead to be the tool of an evil corporation that cared more about profits than whether or not their products actually helped people. There's a pointed analogy to be made about the Hollywood remake machine there, but until we actually see Jose Padilha's RoboCop remake, starring Joel Kinnamn as the title character, it's important to reserve our judgment.

But that doesn't mean we can't ask questions, and a remake of such a famous, important motion picture raises a lot of questions indeed. Here are Our Top 5 Questions About the RoboCop Remake, along with our speculations and analysis based on what we've been able to glean from the press releases and trailers so far. We'll find out the answers when RoboCop hits theaters on February 12, 2014.
 

numbers_set_01 How Bad Could It Be?

RoboCop Remake 2014

The trailers for Jose Padilha’s RoboCop looked just awful to pretty much anyone who could be bothered to watch them online: generic imagery, sparse futurescapes and what appears to be a rehashed version of the original plot, but with a lot less personality and edge. Interest, at least from the hardcore sci-fi fans – and fans of the original RoboCop in particular – is pretty low. There’s a distinct sense that this new RoboCop might go beyond simply paling in comparison to the original, and into straight-up “worst movie ever” material, if you’re prone to hyperbole (read: you’re on the internet).

It could be terrible, or it could be a mere disappointment. In either case, it would be a huge problem for audiences who still care about the original. Sure, the original RoboCop exists, but whenever someone asks “Have you seen RoboCop?” they will have to clarify which one they’re talking about, keeping a hypothetically disastrous remake alive in the public consciousness even if it doesn’t deserve to be remembered.

Then again…

numbers_set_02 How Good Could It Be?

RoboCop Remake

Trailers have lied to us before, telling audiences that the plaintive art house crime drama Drive was a balls-to-the-wall Fast & Furious knockoff, or that the cruel and bitter August: Osage County was a feel-good comedy for the holidays. So although the initial trailers were disappointing, they’re just trailers, and shouldn’t be taken at face value.

While it still seems likely that any RoboCop remake would pale in comparison to the original film, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a bad movie. It might even be a damned good one in its own right, based on whatever Jose Padilha and the producers want the franchise to be this time out. It could be more satirical than it looks in the trailers, something marketing companies may have wanted to de-emphasize to make this new RoboCop look more like a contemporary superhero movie than a rejiggered version of a 1987 polemic against Reaganomics.

Then again, it could be just a straight-up action movie with fewer ideas but enough decent effects, explosions, performances and plot points to make the film an easy one to swallow: effective but not mindblowing. Just because it may not reach the epic heights of Paul Verhoeven’s original film doesn’t mean it also has to suck.

Although it might…

numbers_set_03 What’s With the PG-13 Rating?

RoboCop Joel Kinnamn John Paul Ruttan

Yes, unlike RoboCop and RoboCop 2 – but, disconcertingly, exactly like RoboCop 3 – Jose Padilha’s RoboCop is rated PG-13. The news was announced at Comic-Con 2013 like it was a good thing, presumably by marketers and/or executives who thought that a throng of thousands of hardcore sci-fi fans would respond the same way their stockholders would to the news that a hardcore, ultraviolent R-rated classic has been transformed into a mainstream thrillride that desperately wants to appeal to both parents and their kids.

But let’s take a look back at the original RoboCop franchise. The original film was incredibly R-rated, to the point that the hero’s mainstream appeal allegedly took the studio by surprise. By the time RoboCop 3 was going into development, they decided that it was necessary to smooth out the rougher, bloodier, more sadistic edges of the first two movies and make a film that would appeal to younger demographics and that parents wouldn’t be pissed off about their kids watching in the first place. The result was RoboCop 3, which now starred an annoying, precocious brat of a pre-teen, and transformed the villainous American corporation OCP into hapless cartoon characters who were simply led astray by foreign markets, and which took nearly 20 minutes to even introduce RoboCop – the title character! – on camera.

But times have changed, and the studio no longer needs to work overtime to undo the nasty “adults only” image of R-rated films fresh in the audience’s memory in order to make RoboCop a PG-13, merchandisable property. By all rights, in fact, PG-13 movies often feature more violence than their R-rated counterparts nowadays, albeit with less blood and gore. RoboCop is still being geared towards a broader audience, and that may be the best thing in the world for a franchise that made its name on vicious cultural satire and ultraviolence, but that doesn’t mean the new RoboCop is only for kids either.

It’s just a rating. Whether or not the film will be bad depends on the content of the movie itself, not the arbitrary rating of the MPAA, an organization famous for giving mainstream schlock a free pass to be violent with a family-friendly rating if the budget is big enough.

numbers_set_04 Who the Hell is Joel Kinnaman?

RoboCop Joel Kinnaman

The new RoboCop follows modern Hollywood blockbuster guidelines which states that the title, recognizable character is the real star, and that casting a big name actor who already commands an impressive salary is just unnecessary as a result. It’s bad business, throwing away an enormous percentage of the budget on a big name when, really, all audiences want is RoboCop. Besides, actors without a lot of clout are easier to sign up for economical, multi-film contracts.

So this time around RoboCop is played by Joel Kinnaman, best known to (some) American audiences as Det. Holder on the troubled but mostly good AMC series “The Killing.” Kinnaman is a fine actor with a lot of personality and presence, and he’s a good-looking dude to boot. The new RoboCop is banking on making a star, not on repurposing one, and Kinnaman may be a good choice for the studio.

Whether or not RoboCop is a good choice for Joel Kinnaman remains to be seen. If he’s excellent and the movie follows suit, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him for years to come. If he’s excellent and the movie bombs, Hollywood may give him one or two more starring roles just to see if he’s an asset worth holding on to for a project better suited to his talents. And if he sucks, well, that’s probably going to be it for Joel Kinnaman, at least as a major star. He’s talented enough to stick around in smaller films, supporting roles and television, but there’s a lot of eggs in the RoboCop basket and Kinnaman can’t afford to drop a single one.

numbers_set_05 Is Nothing Sacred?

RoboCop Joel Kinnaman Gary Oldman

No, nothing is.

Remakes are still de rigueur in Hollywood these days, to the extent that audiences only seem to protest when a film as beloved as the original RoboCop goes into the studio recycling plant. Whether they turn out “good” or “bad” is besides the point to the industry itself: name-brand recognition from the original property combined with a heavy marketing push is enough to bring pretty much any remake into the black, money-wise, and enough remakes are making a tidy profit to keep the trend going for years to come.

So real the question is, if nothing is sacred, what’s next? What beloved movie classics are going to get repurposed for modern audiences in the near future, at the risk of dragging the original’s name through the mud?

Here is a list of some supposedly classic films that Hollywood doesn’t think are important enough to leave alone. Not every one of these films will wind up in theaters, but they have all been in development lately from one studio or another. Feel free to cringe.

11 Classic Films Hollywood is Threatening to Remake:


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.