Finkle is Einhorn: ROBOCOP

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On this installment of Finkle is Einhorn, we’ll be taking a look at Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop versus the 2014 Jose Padilha reboot.  While both films center on a robotic law enforcement officer, there are some fundamental differences between the two that set them apart from one another.

Because this article will be pointing out these differences it should be noted that spoilers will be plentiful, so if you want everything to be a surprise, watch both films before reading further. 

The Motor City

Both the original and reboot of Robocop take place in a near future Detroit, where crime and corruption have overpowered and overwhelmed police force.  The city is rampant with drug dealers, rapists, and murderers, and officers are being killed in the line of duty everyday.   While the original shows this gritty lawlessness in great detail, the Detroit in the new Robocop seems to be a much safer place.  While we’re repeatedly getting hit over the head with Samuel L. Jackson’s character telling us how bad it is out there and we need robots patrolling our streets, there’s never really a sense of just how bad.  This is something the original conveyed early on and reinforced as the movie progressed.

If we’re at a point where we need giant robots patrolling our streets and our country is being compared to the Middle East, then there should be something that supports that idea.  The original Robocop displayed a Detroit that is absolutely terrifying whereas the new Robocop’s Detroit looks like a nice place to raise a family unless you’re a cop.

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I’d Buy That for a Dollar

One of the more interesting aspects of the original Robocop is the biting satirical elements Verhoeven injects into the film.  He paints a disturbing picture of a future where corporate greed has taken over our country’s infrastructure with the privatization of our police force and the world is nothing but a hotbed of violence and corruption.  Of course, being the ‘80s, he also includes things like luxury car commercials and hysterically awesome looking board games.

As for the remake, there’s very little satire at all.  Periodically we check in with Jackson’s character as he presents himself as a caricature of a cable news anchor, but that’s pretty much it.  These cutaways happen far too often and feel fairly pointless.  We already know the theme of this Robocop is about the Government’s use of drones on American soil, so it’s not necessary to be pounding us in the face every five minutes with the same information.

Murphy’s Law

There are some major differences between the characters in the original Robocop versus the reboot, the main difference being with Alex Murphy himself.  Joel Kinnaman gives a fine performance as Murphy AKA Robocop, but when the transition between man and machine occurs it’s much more subtle than in the original.  For the most part, he still acts, talks, and behaves like when he was human.  While this change was certainly intentional, it all but eliminates the concept of man vs. machine from the conversation.  There’s never a question of whether or not this is still the man he once was and it feels more like someone in a suit than someone who is now less than human.

Peter Weller’s Robocop on the other hand feels like a robot from the get go.  He talks like a robot, he shows less emotion, and the film spends more time with him learning to become human again.  This element creates a stronger connection between us and the character of Murphy and raises more questions about if he’s the man he once was.

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While both films didn’t really give a strong sense of who Murphy was, and what his home life was like pre-Robocop, the reboot attempts to connect us more with his family.  Unfortunately, despite spending more time with his wife and son, the original accomplishes the same amount of empathy simply by including the TJ Laser bit into the film.  By showing us this gun twirl, it not only establishes the fact that Murphy is still in there somewhere, but it also shows that his bond with his family is stronger than the 1s and 0s making up his new consciousness.

The event in which Murphy becomes Robocop has also been changed.  Instead of being brutally gunned down by viscous drug dealers he’s blown up by viscous drug dealers.  While both are terrible ways to go, the former is so much more sadistic and intimate that it makes us hate the villains even more and anxious to see Robocop exact his revenge.

That ‘70s Show

Kurtwood Smith AKA Red Foreman plays the despicable Clarence Boddicker in the original Robocop, the man who would ultimately and savagely kill Alex Murphy.  This character was so dastardly and vile that he made for an incredibly entertaining and formidable bad guy.

This character’s name was changed to Antoine Vallon in the reboot and is played by Patrick Garrow.  This character is not nearly as charismatic and meets his demise in a very quick and unsatisfactory way.  While Smith’s character happened to be one of the most memorable in the Robocop series, the greatly underdeveloped version in this iteration is completely uninteresting and forgettable.  In fact, all the enemies in the reboot are completely boring and spring no emotion whatsoever when they finally get their comeuppance.  This is partially due to the film spending more time with the inner workings of Omnicorp and develop Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman’s characters, but it’s way more fun to watch Robocop destroying these vile human beings than to see Oldman and Keaton verbally duke it out.

Adults Only

The original Robocop was known for the excessive amount of violence contained within its story.  Murphy’s hand being blown off alone resulted in the film being smacked with an X rating in its original cut.  This gritty violence complimented the overall tone of the film, and was constantly reminding us that this is a dark world filled with nastiness that needs to be cleaned up.

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Padilha’s Robocop is nothing of the sort.   It’s cleaner, more kid-friendly, and not nearly as grimy or dark as the original.  This would be find if there was some reasoning behind it other than to generate more ticket sales.  Granted, this isn’t the first time the Robocop franchise went into shallow waters, Robocop 3 was PG-13 (and look how that turned out) and there were several made for TV features as well.  Everything just felt too polished and nice.

Matte Black Versus Real Steel

The most obvious change between both films is the suit design.  While the reboot starts off with the classic all silver look, the filmmakers decided to switch things up a bit by giving him a sleek, all black look.  Other than the functionality of his weapon, the look of the suit is mostly aesthetic and is simply a matter of personal taste.

The new Robocop seems slightly inconsistent in his movement however, where he seems to slowly lumber around loudly until the action starts, then he turns into some sort of robotic ninja.  There was something silly and fun about the original Robocop’s design, as it seemed like he would be terribly inefficient in a real combat scenario.

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Both films did a fantastic job of making the actor look like an actual robot.  With the advances in special effects, the new Robocop has much more depth and detail in his inner workings, especially when they show him disassembled.


These were only the most glaring changes within the two Robocop films and there are many more that I didn’t highlight, such as the changing of Lewis from a white woman to a black man, and the plot developments involving the chief.  One could easily go through both films with a fine-toothed comb and nitpick each deviation, but the broad strokes are enough to show there’s no contest as to which is the better film.

Padilha made a conscious effort to not be exactly the same as the original because he knew that it’s a film of its time and can’t be mimicked.  Unfortunately, the changes removed much of what made the original so great in the first place.  Sure, it may look better and have better performances, but it still feels more like a soulless cash grab than a genuine attempt to reboot an aging franchise.

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