Is the 'RoboCop' Remake Smart Enough to Be Satire of Blockbusters?
by Ethan Anderton
February 13, 2014
The remake of RoboCop hit theaters last night, and while the film is a pointless remake of a great 80s film that makes no attempt to have any real weight or substance, it definitely hits the audience over the head with right-wing satire. Throughout the film, Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, an exaggerated take on Bill O'Reilly (or any intense political pundit really), who hosts a program called The Novak Element. On his show, Novak is constantly berating Americans for not letting OmniCorp's robots police the streets just as they doing in foreign countries with the military. But is that the only satire that lies within this remake?
As I sat bemused and unimpressed watching Jose Padilha's remake of RoboCop, a few things struck me as intriguing about the film itself. While RoboCop makes no mystery of their parody of right-wing news network pundits and their biased viewpoints on the 24-hour cycle, I found myself wondering if the film was smart enough to contain a different target of satire: blockbuster films.
The evidence of this potential mockery lies within some bits of dialogue and even a couple of the plot points, mostly within the walls of OmniCorp. Even when the initial trailer came out, Jay Baruchel's marketing character spouting the line "We're going to make a lot of money," sounded like the studio mentality when it came to remaking a film like RoboCop. But that's not the only dialogue that sounds like it could come from the mouth of a studio executive. Michael Keaton as OmniCorp's chief executive Raymond Sellars harps on Gary Oldman's Dr. Dennett Norton about having to meet a release date, forcing him to work harder to fix the kinks in RoboCop in order to meet expectations that the public already had in their mind.
Further evidence comes from the conversation Sellars has with his right hand woman Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) and Baruchel's Tom Pope as they discuss focus group testing for the suit that RoboCop will eventually wear. There's the talk of people not knowing what they want until they get it as they look at concept art of potential suits, including one that is clearly the original suit from the 1987 film. It's almost as if they're mocking the way studios go about pleasing fans, especially in the realm of comic book movies, by going so far as to test the wardrobe of their heroes. Even the fact that RoboCop apprehending a criminal at his unveiling changes people's minds is reminiscent of the impact a movie trailer can have on a skeptical public.
And then there's one of the big plot points. After Alex Murphy is ready to be revealed to the press, with his mind and emotions mostly intact, he has a breakdown while downloading case files into his mind, traumatized when he encounters footage from his own crime scene that turned him into what he is today. In order to "fix" the problem, Dr. Norton reduces Murphys dopamine levels, rendering him unemotional and lacking any real human elements other than a face. It effectively removes the human element and emotion from RoboCop, making him heartless, expressionless, and without any scrap of real life behind his eyes.
Could this be a commentary on the construction of blockbusters and how studios try to put them together in an attempt to do the impossible of pleasing all the people all the time? The result of these kind of methods can be tragic, and result in a film not entirely unlike this remake of RoboCop: lifeless, lacking substance and devoid of any original thoughts or ideas. Is the script smart enough to contain this kind of satire or commentary on blockbusters becoming a victim to the very system that allows them to be released as hollow shells of films?
My gut reaction is no, if only because the film should have been better if it contained these poignant bits of criticism of studio filmmaking. Or perhaps these bits are there as merely tongue-in-cheek nods to the film industry and not meant to be dissected like this. Either way, the fact remains that not even this reading of RoboCop renders the film entertaining. The action surrounding the themes and story (which does nothing to build upon the concepts of the original film) is boring, and makes for a slow, grueling experience devoid of any fun or joy that doesn't shake a stick at Paul Verhoeven's original. RoboCop is dumb, heartless and irrelevant, everything a film about a cyborg detective in 2014 shouldn't be. Thoughts?