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Battle of the RoboCops: Is the Remake Better Than the Original?

Robocop movie
Sony Pictures/MGM

After years of moaning and teeth-grinding from fans, the instantly-controversial remake of ‘RoboCop‘ has arrived in theaters. Like so many fans of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, we were dreading this day like no other. Even if the remake was a good movie, it would still be a remake of a classic that feels like it’s barely aged a day.

But like any criminal in the American legal system, the new film has the right to a trial, and, now that we’ve had a little time to digest the film, it has a right to prove itself. We have to give it a chance before we can condemn it. What better way to officially judge Jose Padilha’s remake than to put it head-to-head with the original film and see which one comes out on top?


1

Alex Murphy

 
 

Alex Murphy is an interesting character, not because he's a cyborg police officer, but because he's just so ordinary. He's a good man put in an awful situation and watching him learn how to function with his new life is heartbreaking and terrifying. In the original film, Peter Weller infuses this average Joe with enough laconic charm to keep him interesting. In the remake, Joel Kinnaman never rises above "kind of boring." However, the real deciding factor here is Weller's iconic RoboCop walk, which is just as wonderful today as it was back in the '80s.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
2

The Bad Guy

 
 

This one is no contest. Kurtwood Smith's Clarence Boddicker is one of the great sleazy bad guys of '80s cinema. Ruthless, terrifying and unpredictable, he's the kind of villain we love to hate and watching him get his comeuppance is just plain satisfying. There's a reason Alex Murphy's death in the original film is so haunting -- Boddicker is the one who pulls the trigger. In contrast, I couldn't even tell you the name of the bad guy in the remake without going to IMDB (it's Antoine Vallon), mainly because he's about as boring and generic as Hollywood villains get. The remake puts its priorities elsewhere, but the result is an antagonist who pales in comparison to the original in every way.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
3

The Evil Businessman

 
 

Ronny Cox's sneering, foul-mouthed Dick Jones is one of the many highlights of the original 'RoboCop' and he leaves an impression despite limited screen time. On paper, the remake's Raymond Sellers is far less effective, but in execution, it's Michael Keaton being Michael friggin' Keaton. Cox may have a more well-rounded character, but there are few actors as pleasurable to watch as Mr. Keaton, who fills the paper-thin, lightweight Sellers with both charm and menace.

WINNER: TIE

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
4

The Morally Dubious Ally

 
 

As far as great coked-out-businessmen-in-the-'80s performances go, you won't find many that top Miguel Ferrer's slimy Bob Morton, who oversees the RoboCop project and acts as Alex Murphy's handler. This character doesn't exist in the remake, but the closest comparison is Gary Oldman' well-intentioned scientist, who builds, deceives and ultimately protects Murphy. Ferrer is a wonderful piece of an ensemble, but Oldman is the single best part of the remake, making us wish the film followed him instead of the dull guy in the robot suit.

WINNER: The Remake

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
5

The Partner

 
 

If it were up to us, we'd put Michael K. Williams in every movie, so seeing the toughest-guy-in-the-room from 'The Wire' and 'Boardwalk Empire' as Murphy's loyal partner is just a joy. However, the film itself wastes Williams, giving him limited screentime and making him peripheral to the plot. He may be a fine actor, but his character has nothing on Nancy Allen's Anne Lewis, who not only provides a perfect foil for Murphy before he becomes RoboCop, but continues to be a vital character in the narrative until the final scenes. If the new movie gave Williams more to do, we could be singing a different tune, but alas, this one is easy to pick.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
6

The Action

 
 

In the new 'RoboCop,' Murphy carries a super-taser and gets into bloodless, PG-13 gunfights. In the original, he carries a massive hand-cannon that turns his enemies into gory mush. There must have been all kinds of studio politics that dictated that the new film be a milder experience, but come on! If you're going to remake one of the goriest and craziest action movies of all time without the gore or craziness, you're shooting yourself in the foot immediately.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
7

The Social Satire

 
 

The original 'RoboCop' is just as famous for its satire as it is for its grisly action. Director Paul Verhoeven uses a science-fiction story to ruthlessly tear apart 1980s America, targeting corporate greed, police corruption and really awful television. The remake isn't lacking in satire, but it's significantly less goofy, operating as more serious-minded political commentary than comedy. Ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that people are still quoting the "I'll buy that for a dollar!" guy and no one will remember any of Samuel L. Jackson's lines next week.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
8

The RoboCop Costume

 
 

The original RoboCop costume is iconic for a reason. Like something torn from the pages of a comic book, its bulky, stylized and instantly recognizable from its silhouette. The modern take has been derided by fans across the internet, but the actual movie should have them singing a different tune. When seen in action, the slick, streamlined design is much improved. Add in the fact that the movie makes it clear that corporate focus groups helped design it and you have a badass suit that's also a commentary on what mainstream America thinks looks badass.

WINNER: TIE

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
9

ED-209

 
 

Other than their name and the fact that they're large, hulking robots, the two takes on ED-209 couldn't be more different. The original is a wonder of stop-motion animation, a monster that simultaneously acts as comic relief and a serious threat. The remake re-imagines ED-209 as more realistic and militaristic device, making it a constant danger to RoboCop whenever he's in a room with one. However, by stripping ED-209 of its flaws, the remake does a disservice to the robot. What was once goofy-but-memorable is now just a CGI special effect.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony
10

The Better Movie

 
 

If you look at the winners thus far, it seems obvious that the deck is stacked in favor of the original 'RoboCop' over the remake ... and you'd be right. In all honestly, the new film isn't bad at all. It's a totally competent, often entertaining movie with the occasional flash of greatness. It just has the great misfortune of living in the same space as the greatest science fiction satire/action movie in recent memory. Sure, go watch and enjoy the remake, just don't expect the original to make room in your heart for the new version.

WINNER: The Original

 
MGM/Sony
MGM/Sony

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