Of all the things they're changing in the RoboCop remake, the heavy focus on his family life is the main reason I'm no longer curious to see how this one turns out. It's got Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman, so it should at least be watchable, unlike the remakes of Footloose, Total Recall, etc., which had nobody, and which were not hard to spot ahead of time as garbage.
First, the scientists don't just pick Murphy to be the hapless cyborg guinea pig -- they go to his wife to get her consent. In the original, the fact that he's just chosen without asking anybody shows how much corruption there is between all the parties involved -- police, government, big business. How are these parties supposed to come off as disturbingly all-present and all-powerful when they have to clear the cyborg idea with the wife first? If she had said "no," would that have stopped the entire scheme dead in its tracks? Maybe they just don't make omnipotent corporations like they used to.
Then when Murphy doesn't feel so hot about the whole robotic cop deal, the scientist convinces him to stay strong and go through with it -- for his wife and son. This is just ego-stroking for the target audience of doofus dads, who want to see their ordinary effort of "being there for the wife and kids" glorified into heroism. And not in a self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek way, like Clark Griswold in Vacation. No, it has to be in a serious emo tone, reassuring them that helicopter parenting is nothing less than an epic sacrifice, rather than suffocating to the kids and paranoid and cowardly toward the outside world that must be shut out.
In fact, Murphy's family in the original are gone. When he visits his old house, it's empty, and his wife and kid have moved away. I guess after learning of his brutal murder and not being informed by OCP about about the whole "new life as cyborg" experiment, they figured he would never be coming back to visit. Not only does their absence add to his desire for revenge (the bastards robbed me of my family too), it serves to contrast the two lives that he has led: formerly a family man, now a loner.
In the remake, his wife and kid are still there, even interacting with him. They visit him at work, she tells him about his son's nightmares, and he returns home to them while reviewing footage of his murder. Does Robocop also get interrupted on his cell phone every half-hour because his son got an owie, because his wife needs him to pick up some yogurt on the way home, because the dog peed in the living room again and when are you going to finally make him housebroken, bla bla bla?
Not only does their presence dull the revenge motive from the original, it makes him too dependent, when he is supposed to be more of a lone wolf. How else is he supposed to find the time to single-handedly send crime rates plummeting in dystopian Detroit? Super-cop has no time to double as Super-dad.
Back in the '80s, critics complained about "gratuitous nudity" and "gratuitous violence." How about gratuitous wives and gratuitous children? It's fucking RoboCop. We have enough movies with CGI nuclear families taking their puppies to a picnic at Disney World.
I think this is one of the key elements of success behind the new Batman and Iron Man movies. No families. There, it takes the form of a playboy who moonlights as a superhero, which is the opposite extreme on the family-life spectrum. Characters today have zero nuance, and are either hardcore cads or single-minded dads.
In RoboCop, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon, Murphy, McClane, and Murtaugh all had wives and families, but they were in the background to establish that the hero was a father and husband, not to play their own role throughout the plot. The only time they enter the plot is to get kidnapped, taken hostage, or driven away, in order to provide motive for the hero. Family life itself does not come into play, and the wives and children have no goals or agency of their own.
What if the entire plot centers around kidnapping the protagonist's child? At least that keeps the family members from interacting with each other, so we don't have to see drab family life in an action or thriller movie.
Even there, new movies do it worse than the '80s originators. The movie Taken, for instance, is nowhere near as adrenaline-pumping as Commando, despite similar plots -- retired government ass-kicker finds his daughter abducted, he must track her down in unfamiliar territory, kill the abductors, and rescue her back home. In Commando, the kidnappers have a personal beef with the ex-Delta Force colonel played by Schwarzenegger, and his daughter is taken as a pawn in the larger game of chess being played between her father and those who have beef with him.
In Taken, the ex-CIA operative lets his daughter go to Paris, where a gang abducts her purely in order to sell her to the highest bidder on the black market for white slavery. None of the antagonists have any idea who the father is, are not trying to use his daughter to get back at him, etc. Just sheer profit-seeking opportunism. Not exactly adrenaline-pumping revenge and counter-revenge.
It's shamelessly meant to feed the helicopter parents' paranoia about what random crimes will definitely befall your teenage children if you let them have a social life. "Can I go to Susie's party?" becomes caricatured into "Can I go to Paris, France with Susie?" And "Some creep tried to make out with me" gets warped into "Albanian gangsters tried to sell my virgin body to a shady Sheikh."
Helicopter parenting of cocooning times gets everything about family life wrong, probably because it is so paranoid and over-reactive. Vacation, Commando, Die Hard -- those movies get family dynamics right, yet they came from a zeitgeist that prized communal rather than familial bonds.
I think what's going on is that in more outgoing and community-oriented times, folks come to appreciate the bigger picture, beyond their narrow little lives. It puts family life in perspective. Paranoid cocooners and helicopter parents lose that perspective and over-exaggerate the importance of constant contact among family members. Sheltered within their private nuclear households, they can't see what larger belonging and meaning they ought to be enjoying in life, and they try to make up for that by having family members shoulder way more of that burden than they are capable of.
Give them a break and get that sense of belonging and meaning where you're supposed to, from the larger community.