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Asian cyberpunk robot police officer accompanied by a robotic dog, neon lights, Chinatown
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Robocop 2014: A Good Movie Hampered by Bad Timing

The 2014 remake of RoboCop is considered a failure by most. I disagree. It has its problems but it is pretty solid in many respects
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The main box office problem was that RoboCop (2014) came out at a bad time. People were growing tired of the constant wave of remakes churned out by studios, and were increasingly wary of taking risks. Obviously, things have not improved. Plus, the original RoboCop (1987) is widely regarded as a classic. So it’s hard to justify creating a remake in the first place.

There is also a generous amount of social commentary in the script that some viewers probably considered trite. But I have to say that many people’s sentiments have changed thanks to the revelations regarding surveillance and censorship that have come to light since the remake’s release. So the funny thing is that the movie, for all its flaws, is actually more relevant now than when it first came out. I would say the film is ahead of its time — but this is a hard claim to make since Robocop 2014 is retelling a classic story from the 1980s.

The film starts with Samuel L. Jackson doing vocal exercises before beginning his news program. The scene is meant to parody the commentators on the twenty-four-hour news channels. He argues that because robots are being used as soldiers overseas, Americans should be more willing to accept the use of robots to enforce the law at home. However, the Dreyfuss Act is preventing this from happening, despite the efforts of Raymond Sellers, the CEO of OmniCorp.

The next best thing to a robot…

After a failed senate hearing, Sellers decides that the best thing to do is to put a man in a robotic suit. Of course, the police officer in question would have to be horribly wounded so he could be considered mostly robotic; otherwise, what’s the point?

While Sellers is trying to navigate his legal dilemma, Officer Alex Murphy is busy chasing a mobster named Antoine Vallon. Vallon is somehow snatching weapons from the police department, and Murphy is determined to bust him. His first attempt goes awry thanks to an anonymous tip, and Murphy’s partner Jack Lewis is wounded during a shootout. Murphy goes to visit him at the hospital and while he is there, one of Vallon’s men plants a bomb under Murphy’s car.

The car bomb doesn’t go off when Murphy leaves. That detail annoyed me. It isn’t really a plot hole because it has no ultimate effect on the script. But there’s no reason why the bomb wouldn’t go off once Murphy turned on the car. I think the writers delayed the explosion so that they could introduce the audience to Murphy’s family. But they could’ve just moved the introduction of the family to an earlier scene in the movie, or they could’ve had the thug plant the bomb under the car while Murphy was at home. It’s a minor point, but there was no reason for the discrepancy, and it created distracting questions.

Anyway, for some reason, the bomb causes the car alarm to go off, and he car explodes when Murphy goes outside to deal with the noise.

Murphy is critically injured, and Seller’s company is there to offer Murphy’s wife a chance to save her husband. She agrees to the experimental operation, and Murphy is then put under the care of Dr. Dennett Norton, a pioneer in the field of cybernetic robotics. Norton builds prosthetics for OmniCorp and Sellers convinces him to join the project by promising that he will save countless lives.

Dr. Norton proceeds to create Murphy’s robotic suit, but when the police officer first wakes up, he is horrified. He breaks out of the facility, trying to escape, but Norton shuts him down. Much is at stake.

During an earlier scene, Norton mentions that emotions can affect the software’s programming. If the patient becomes upset, the prosthetic limbs will cease operating the way they should. Reavealing this information to the viewer accomplishes two things. Number one: It justifies some of Dr. Norton’s decisions later in the film. Number Two: It implies the existence of the soul, which is a subject the movie thankfully doesn’t shy away from.

Murphy’s distant relationship with his family

When Murphy wakes up for the second time, he asks Dr. Norton to kill him.

However, the doctor talks him out of that by reminding him of his family. This is an odd moment in the film because, on the one hand, Murphy’s desire is understandable. He is in an emotionally bad place. The temptation to give up is perfectly justifiable. At the same time, it weakens Murphy as a character because it muddies his motivation to pass the training he will later endure.

I think the problem could’ve been fixed by having Murphy discuss the importance of his family at some point, but he never does. Most, if not all, of Murphy’s motivations seem to revolve around catching Vallon, which almost transforms the movie into a story about revenge.

Even before the crucial twists in the film, Murphy is very hesitant to be around his family, mostly because he feels ashamed of what he’s become. That again is an understandable choice for the writers to make but it weakens the significance of the sins Sellers and Omnicorp commit later in the film. They prevent Murphy from seeing his family, but it’s easy to forget why this is a bad thing because, while other characters bring that up, Murphy himself never does. He’s more upset about personal matters—which we’ll discuss later—and his family is just along for the ride. Even as Dr. Norton insists that Murphy should remember his family and keep in mind the hope that’s been given to them because of the operation, Murphy is more concerned about not seeing himself without the suit.

Again, these are understandable reactions, but The goal of seeing his family again should’ve offset his depression. Instead, he seems somewhat selfish, which clouded the tone of the film. Is this a story about revenge, or is this a story about a man trying to return to his loved ones?

In the end, Murphy decides to live and begins his training. We’ll cover what happens then next Saturday.

Here are the second and third parts of my three-part review:

Does a lack of empathy make you more efficient? RoboCop (2014) tests out that thesis when Murphy, now a robocop, is matched against actual robots. With all of the city’s criminal records downloaded into his mind and his dopamine levels nearly zero, Murphy meets the press…

RoboCop 2014: Murphy is a real boy after all. After his wife confronts him with troubling news about his son, Murphy starts a chain of events that enables him to confront key sources of crime and corruption. The political commentary is on the nose but lazy writing took much of the punch out of the ending. Still, it may be worth your time.


Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Robocop 2014: A Good Movie Hampered by Bad Timing