There was never really a time when "remake" wasn't considered something of a dirty word by hardcore film buffs, especially when it came to well-respected movie titles. Nowadays, however, remakes are so plentiful that actors, actresses and directors (and everyone in between) go out of their way to not identify a project they're working on as a "remake," so matter how appropriate the label may be. Call it a re-imagining, reboot, or "re-anything-but-make," instead.
RoboCop is the latest example of Hollywood reheating old leftovers. The film is a fresh start for the sci-fi/action franchise, yet it's also a distinct re-working of the 1987 release directed by Paul Verhoeven; who, at this point, is no stranger to his film work being pulled out, dusted off and re-polished for presentation in the 21st century (see: Total Recall (2012)).
The Total Recall redo - its flaws and shortcomings notwithstanding - is far from a purist remake of Verhoeven's 1990 film (itself, based on a Phillip K. Dick story), as there are a number of significant differences between it and its predecessor. The acclaimed director José Padilha (Elite Squad) is calling the shots on this new RoboCop and has long argued that he is interested in focusing on certain issues - such as the "Man or Machine?" dilemma inherent to the title character's journey - more than Verhoeven did in his original movie. If nothing else, the trailers for Padilha's film suggest that is indeed what he's done here (for better or worse).
Joel Kinnam (The Killing) - the actor who is playing Alex Murphy/RoboCop in Padilha's film - told SFX that it was because of the director that he got involved with the new RoboCop in the first place. Moreover, he insisted that Padilha managed to overcome the restrictions that one faces while operating within the Hollywood studio system, in order to make a film that has brains and brawn (read: entertainment value) to boot.
Here is what Kinnaman offered SFX, on that issue:
“When I first heard there was gonna be a RoboCop remake, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll see that somewhere down the line. But it’s nothing I’m interested in pursuing myself.’ Then when I heard it was José Padilha that was gonna direct it, I became very interested. José has fought very hard and succeeded in making something that has a point of view, and a political and philosophical perspective.”
More importantly, Kinnaman indicated to SFX that the new RoboCop doesn't attempt to consciously imitate the formula of Verhoeven's film, nor does it feature (excessive) shout-outs to longtime fans of the franchise and/or elements that appear to have made the cut just because they are what most people would expect to see in a RoboCop film (arguably, that is a criticism that applies heavily to Spike Lee's recent American remake of Oldboy).
Again, to quote the actor directly:
“It’s a great responsibility. Especially in a world where there’s a lot of remakes being made for cynical economic reasons. But having José as a director washed away those fears. The biggest respect you can pay to the original is to acknowledge it as a very intelligent movie, and try to make something intelligent to follow it up with, and not just replay old catchphrases. We kept one or two as a wink to the fans, but we did not try to remake the movie.”
Indeed, the 2014 version of RoboCop looks to be very much its own beast, having strayed a ways away from Verhoeven's film - too much so, perhaps. The concern we've raised here at Screen Rant before is that Padilha's movie appears to have shifted its attention to themes that, frankly, had already been explored many times over - in other sci-fi and/or action films - even back when Verhoeven made his version in the late 1980s (hence, he didn't highlight them); nowadays, they're even less innovative, by comparison.
Having said that: Kinnaman seems to be correct, as the new RoboCop doesn't appear to be leaning on its predecessor's success as a crutch; it's very much striving to stand on its own two (mechanized) legs. On those grounds alone, it may be worth giving the film the benefit of the doubt, ahead of us sitting down and finding out for ourselves how little (or lot) this movie feels like a retread of the original.
RoboCop opens in regular and IMAX theaters on February 12th, 2014.