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Robocop (2014) – film review

February 11, 2014

ROBOCOP

I LIKE IT!

Reviewed on Friday 7th February 2014

Joel Kinnaman - Robocop 2014

Directed by José Padilha. Screenplay by Joshua Zetumer, based on a screenplay     by Ed Neumeier & Michael Miner. Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams and Samuel L. Jackson. Running time: 118 mins.

When Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is mortally wounded in a failed underworld assassination attempt, he is given a second chance at life as a half-man, half-machine crime-fighting cyborg known as Robocop. Forced into service, Murphy sets out to find those responsible for the attempt on his life and bring them to justice.

Like most fans of Verhoeven’s Robocop, when I first heard this 1987 classic was being remade, I didn’t expect anything more than the usual souless, vacuous, pale imitation. I figured it would probably be just another sensory overload, devoid of any depth or heart which made the original such a stand-out.

Less a satire on corporate greed and rampant consumerism and more a commentary on perceived US imperialism and libertarian angst over the use of drones in law enforcement; this Robocop (like the original) is very much a product of its time. Although I would happily suggest the unbridled corporatization of society depicted in the original Robocop is just as much of a concern today as it was three decades ago. While Bob Morton’s motivation to create a man-machine hybrid is somewhat hazy     in the original – here the justification is more focussed. The idea being: the lack of empathy and compassion inherent in machines is a major issue swaying US public opinion against the introduction of automated law enforcement drones to tackle crime. It is thought that by incorporating an actual person into the machine – this will be enough to allay the public’s mistrust of a cold and unfeeling automated police force. At the end of the day, it appears the creation of Robocop is nothing more than a calculated exercise in public relations.

Brazilian director, José Padilha (Elite Squad, Bus 174) was an inspired choice to helm this remake and he does a terrific job maintaining the gritty atmosphere of Verhoeven’s classic. Robocop is the first produced screenplay by Joshua Zetumer (having sold several spec scripts prior to landing this assignment) – and it is a mostly solid piece of work. The biggest change from the original is that here Murphy is no longer completely estranged from his family. And it’s a change for the better. Abbie Cornish is always a joy to watch and it’s great to see her role as Murphy’s wife expanded here from the short flashbacks of the original. The scene where Murphy visits his family for the first time following his ‘procedure’ is heartfelt and emotional and heart-wrenchingly honest. The movie also features a jaw-dropping reveal; a moment of true existential horror (which I won’t be spoiling here) – which, without going into specifics, is definitely on par with the big reveal in The Matrix (as far as wow factor goes). And it will probably go down as one of the most startling movie reveals in recent memory.

Appealing Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman absolutely nails Peter Weller’s bird-like movements as Robocop – and he brings an emotional depth to the character which wasn’t so apparent in Weller’s performance. Jackie Earle Hayley (who seems to be looking more and more like The Edge from U2 with every passing year) is also terrific here in a supporting role. Gary Oldman as Robo’s creator Dennet Norton, is more low-key and less scenery-chewing than usual – which is refreshing. Michael Keaton plays OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars as an enthusiastic and vigorous entrepreneur and steals virtually every scene he is in. Samual L. Jackson, on the other hand, becomes annoying very quickly as the ranty social commentator, Pat Novak. Novak is your typical right-winger (in the style of Fox News) – who, with his preachy diatribes against libertarian detractors of the use of law enforcement drones, delivers the movie’s message all too loud and clear (and with great slabs of ranty exposition). Ultimately these scenes have little impact – coming across instead as annoyingly shrill and intrusive. Jackson is the weakest link in the entire movie – a poor substitute for the amusingly satirical news grabs in the original and the film tends to grind to a halt whenever he (too often) appears.

While I was not all that enamored with the look of the new robo-suit to begin with (remember the fanboy backlash?) – it did grow on me after a while during the course of the movie. I do get that the suit’s redesign has been done to accomodate the athleticism of the new Robocop. Locations in Vancouver and Toronto (doubling for Detroit) do indeed recall those of the original – although there isn’t the same sense     of run-down decay inherent in the look of Verhoeven’s exteriors. Meanwhile there are plenty of call-backs to the original which will please fans – including Basil Poledouris’ iconic theme, which makes a surprise appearance over the opening title.

The CGI is competent for the most part – but nothing we haven’t seen before. And there is much less of it here than in the Total Recall remake. The ED 209s feature prominently in the opening and closing action sequences – but lack the personality and sense of terrifying menace which legendary designer and stop-motion specialist Phil Tippet created for the ‘87 version.

While nowhere near as gruesomely violent as the original, Padilha’s skill in staging fresh and exciting (and immersive) action sequences immediately makes this a non-issue. Robo’s assault on the gun-runners’ hide-out is the highlight for me – staged     in a pitch black setting, we view the scene entirely from the perspective of Murphy’s heat-vision, intercut with the bad guys’ night-vision goggles and machine gun muzzle flashes.

I must admit, going into this film – I was fully prepared to be entirely dismissive of it. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so low that I really enjoyed this – but   I don’t think this is the case. I think this Robocop is a heartfelt and legitimate attempt to do justice to the original and it works because it maintains focus on the personal, rather than the spectacle – something which took me completely by surprise.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, February 7th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

 

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2 Comments
  1. Utterly pointless movie. Why can’t they do something new instead? It may seem heartfelt and sincere but at its core, the thing is all about making easy money from an established intellectual property instead of creating something original. At the very least they should have done it with a completely new script, call it RoboCop but have new characters and setting and plot. I love movies but this kind of stuff really winds me up. At least the Total Recall remake tried to take a different spin on things but even then, why bother? There are so many new ideas out there, or great books yet not plundered. Oh well. Rant over.

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