February 16, 2014

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

It has finally arrived. Despite what seems to have been a troubled production and vociferous protestations from the anti-remake brigade, the new take on RoboCop has arrived in theaters. Many have sworn not to see it, others were excited for it, others were cautiously optimistic. You can count me among the latter group. It seemed clear based on who was brought in to make it that it was not meant to be merely a cash grab, although there is a certain amount of that to be certain, but the got a generally interesting cast and some new blood behind the camera. Was the end result worth it? Ultimately, that is up for you to decide yourself.

Originally, I was pretty excited about this project. Of course, that was back when Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct, event though I had that sinking feeling that he would not ultimately be the man to make the movie. It seems he has a habit of becoming attached to high profile studio projects only for something to go wrong and him leaving or abandoning the development. It happened here, previously he was attached to The Wolverine and also a Batman: Year One project, which obviously never happened. I suspect it is an issue of clashing personalities, the studio exerts their will on the development, Aronofsky refuses and things disintegrate. This seems to be proven out by some reports from the RoboCop set with Jose Padilha in the director chair.

Speaking of Jose Padilha, he is some new Hollywood blood, previously directing films in his native Brazil. I am not familiar with his work, but at least it wasn't someone like Paul Anderson or Brett Ratner, both whom have made films I like, but would not be ideal for something like this. Still, if the report of his conversation with City of God director Fernando Meirelles is true, Padilha had problems with creative control, it probably doesn't matter who sat in the director's chair. As for the screenplay, it was written by first-timer Joseph Zetumer, who has no other credits. This could be a good or a bad sign, but again, it probably ends up as a non-issue since I am sure the studio was involved a good chunk of the time. Besides, there are reports of the screenplay being completely rewritten by folks like Nick Schenk (Gran Torino) and James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man, White House Down).

As for the movie itself, it was surprisingly decent. It was not mind blowing by any stretch and does not hold a candle to the original, but it is certainly better than RoboCop 3 and is certainly worth spending a little time with. It manages to keep some of the satirical elements, although they seem to have morphed a bit into a bit more straightforward commentary line. Many elements have been updated to fit a more contemporary setting, particularly in its employment of major political thread, superseding the big business stance of the original. Sure, the big business piece is still an important element, but it is trumped by political statements regarding ideas of freedom and protection. I did particularly like how the RoboCop creation program has been outsourced to China. Seems appropriate for today.

Well, the story is a simple one and is much like that of the 1987 film. Omnicorp (the dreaded OCP) has created a line of peace keeping robots that are being used around the globe to save American lives and to pacify warring states. We see this being used in Afghanistan with a veritable robot army marching through streets searching people for weapons, all in the name of safety and telling us they are happy for the safety they provide. The situation is different in the US where people are not too keen on the idea of a robot police force. Omnicorp decides to find a way to put a man inside a machine, fool people to think the machine has a conscience.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). He is a good cop, but he may be a little too good as his desire to bring down a bad guy makes him a target. A well placed car bomb strikes and thus makes Murphy a prime candidate for the newly minted RoboCop program. So long as Murphy's wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), signs off on the permission slip.

From there it takes on similar notes, with RoboCop being programmed and used as a political pawn to get robots into the American peace keeping business, while Murphy attempts to overcome the mechanical, pre-programmed part of his brain and get revenge for what happened to him, as well as reconnect with his family.

While it is generally well executed, enjoyable, and timely with its political target, the movie still feels like a missed opportunity. The cast seems largely underused, in a seeming attempt to make sure everyone got enough screen time. The action was on the tame side, although that is to be expected when the studio wants a PG-13. On top of that, Joel Kinnaman is not terribly charismatic or emotive as either a human or as Robocop. He was rather bland. It have been interesting if someone like Michael Fassbender was in the role (as he was rumored to be on the shortlist). I did like Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, and Jackie Earle Haley. They brought the production up a few notches even if they were underused individually.

RoboCop does not add a lot to the RoboCop world, but it does do a few particularly interesting things. For one, I liked the Novak show that was used at the open and throughout the film, sure it was there to put a point on the political statements, but they were well done and entertaining. I also liked the outsourcing of the creation of RoboCop, seems appropriate with today's climate. I particularly enjoyed the revelation of what was left of Murphy, or rather, what was used, paired with Murphy's reaction. This point plays into the fact that Murphy did not have his memory wiped (or at least attempted) as in the original, in an attempt to prove that the man was still in control to the public.

Overall, this RoboCop is a solid mainstream sci-fi/action movie. It is fun, has some nice elements, and is certainly worth checking out. Although, I have to wonder what could have been done had the studio been more hands off, it seems pretty clear they had a good framework to work with here. Problems always arise when compromises have to be made. An increasing budget for this movie necessitated a studio mandate to deliver a PG-13 film, which causes a ripple effect through the rest of the film as to what you can and cannot do.

Still, this is far from a failure certainly enjoyable and I rather enjoyed it. Given a chance, I think many of you will enjoy it too. Just do not expect what Verhoeven and team were able to do back in 1987.


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Vic Lana said...
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Vic Lana said...

I imagine we would view the film differently if not for the original; however, that one still stands the test of time. I just watched it the other night and it still hits all the right notes. Why was this new version needed?

draven99 said...

I suspect there would be some difference in view if the original was not there. Still, I think some of the complaints would still be valid, particularly the lack of charisma in Kinnaman and the under utilization of some cast members. As for was it needed, I try to avoid that question as a lot of films, remake or not, seem unnecessary.

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