3 Reasons the Robocop Reboot Deserves to Fail

The new RoboCop is headed to theaters on Feb. 12. Let me tell you 3 reasons that film fans should hope this new film fails.

Jan 7, 2014 at 2:07PM

Prepare to be enraged, sci-fi fans of the 1980s -- the dreaded RoboCop reboot is headed to theaters on Feb. 12.

Although I am a huge fan of Paul Verhoeven's original 1987 film, this shiny new remake from MGM and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Columbia Pictures deserves to fail for three big reasons.

1. It's a PG-13 take on an R-rated story

The biggest problem with the new RoboCop is that it is a PG-13 rated affair. The original Verhoeven film was a stunning tour de force due to its graphic violence and dark dystopian humor.

In the original film, Alex Murphy's death was a sadistic and gruesome one, with his arm being shot off before being murdered in cold blood. In the new film, as revealed in the trailer, he is merely "critically injured" when his car explodes. In Verhoeven's version (not the subsequent sequels), Murphy is never reunited with his wife and son -- in the new film, his wife and son apparently know exactly who he is.


The old Robocop vs. the new Robocop. (Source: Thecynicalowl.com)

Screenwriter Ed Neumeier, who wrote the original RoboCop and Starship Troopers, was also a master of satire, as he eerily predicted a bankrupt Detroit selling its police force to the highest bidder. That level of satire will be a tough act to follow for a first-time screenwriter like Joshua Zetumer, who was inexplicably handed the reins of the beloved franchise.

That's not to say that films can't be dark without being bloody -- Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy pulled that off perfectly. However, RoboCop is a film of hot blood and cold metal -- something that can't be easily replicated.

When Verhoeven and Neumeier left the franchise after the first film, the franchise fell apart, both commercially and critically.


Production budget

Global box office


Rotten Tomatoes

RoboCop (1987)

$13 million

$53 million



RoboCop 2 (1990)


$46 million



RoboCop 3 (1993)

$22 million

$11 million



Source: Boxofficemojo, Rotten Tomatoes. (numbers not inflation-adjusted)

Those numbers show that the successful R-rated balance that Verhoeven and Neumeier achieved so perfectly was tough to replicate -- no subsequent film could match the original RoboCop's commercial and critical success.

2. It tries to rewrite the established universe rather than expand upon it

With the RoboCop reboot, the Spider-Man reboot, and upcoming Terminator reboot, Hollywood is making a strange assumption -- that audiences lack the intelligence or the means to simply go back and watch any films more than 10 years old.

Rebooting a film franchise is lazy and disrespectful to the audiences and the original creators of the film. A better way to build upon a film franchise is to expand its world via sequels, rather than repeatedly overwrite the established canon. While that establishes a sense of familiarity, it is also tedious and the new film can suffer by comparison.

In the Spider-Man reboot, we are constantly reminded how much better Sam Raimi is than Marc Webb at capturing the balance between the light and darkness of Peter Parker's life. In Total Recall, we are constantly reminded how much funnier Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone were than Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale.

For many people who grew up watching the original RoboCop, Peter Weller remains the definitive Alex Murphy. Granted, Joel Kinnaman (Detective Holder from AMC's The Killing) has the acting chops to pull it off, but why not cast him as a new RoboCop instead and connect it back to the events of the original film?

Another highly questionable decision was to remove Anne Lewis, Murphy's loyal partner and foil in the original films, altogether. Instead, the new film inexplicably reimagines her as a man named Jack Lewis and possibly kills him off as an early plot point. That rewrite not only removes the strong female character of the series but also eliminates Murphy's only real connection to his human side.

3. It looks like a video game

The original RoboCop was a hit for the same reasons that Terminator 2 was a success -- the action sequences felt visceral, real, and intelligently paced.

After the original RoboCop, Verhoeven and Neumeier didn't work together again until Starship Troopers (1997), a polarizing film that nonetheless delivered the themes of political satire, dark humor, and graphic violence that made Robocop a critical hit.

The new Robocop, on the other hand, features a radically redesigned Robocop in a black suit seemingly lifted straight from Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:EA) Crysis series. In fact, it's impossible for gamers to watch the trailer without thinking of that game.


The new Robocop suit vs. Prophet's suit in Crysis 2. (Source: Totallylookslike.com)

Therein lies the problem -- Hollywood wants to reboot classic action films as unplayable video game sequences.

With Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, General Zod pilots a ship that strongly resembles the Reapers from EA's Mass Effect; in Marc Webb's Spider-Man, we get a first-person-perspective, free-running sequence that looks exactly like the introduction of EA's Mirror's Edge; and now in RoboCop, we get a rebooted version of Alex Murphy who looks more like Crysis' Prophet.

Films such as the original RoboCop and Terminator 2 never felt like video games. They had bombastic shoot 'em up sequences and chase scenes, but they never felt fake or lazy. Nowadays, most action films filled with CGI feel like the scenes are built around the character on a green screen, completely removing any sense of urgency or realism.

The bottom line

Don't get me wrong -- I don't think RoboCop will bomb at the box office.

However, I think it deserves to fail for those three aforementioned reasons. If it does, Hollywood might finally understand that it needs to stop messing with classic films and start moving forward, take some bigger risks, and launch original franchises that can forge some new memories for movie audiences.

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