Part Man. Part Machine. All Cop.
I enjoy the original Robocop but I have no illusions that it’s anything more than it is. It’s not in the upper echelons of cinema, it’s a decent violent action/crime flick and a satirical product of its era. As such, I will try to review this movie as a standalone feature.
2028. OmniCorp are responsible for policing the globe with their flawless killing/peace keeping machines. Tanks with a programmed manual and no hesitation. After an incident in Tehran, Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson playing a mix between Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh) brings the audience up to speed on the state of society and American crime rates being so high. And how all that could be avoided if a specific piece of congressional legislature was repealed. After this we are brought to Detroit, where honest cop Alex Murphy [Kinnaman] is stirring up trouble with a local crime boss, only to suffer a personal attack at his home. Seizing the opportunity to get around the law, OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars [Keaton] offers Murphy’s wife the chance to save her husband’s life by building him a new body. From here on, Murphy is branded and marketed as law enforcing robot, Robocop. But the doctor who makes it possible, Dennett Norton [Oldman] has concerns for the ethical and practical ramifications of such a creation.
In our contemporary society the major points of contention are fear, privacy and the technology that links the two. As such, the very concept of Robocop couldn’t be more relevant. The problem is the writing doesn’t stick to that. Rather than showing us the moral quandary of a being who is part machine, part human given access to every transmitting device in the city and the consequences of a cold enforcer of the exact word of the law, we dive back into old familiar Robocop territory chasing after one particular scumbag criminal and the head of a slightly unscrupulous company. Yawn. Audiences know crime is a problem and big companies/banks are the real enemies, this no longer surprises us, we also know cops can be corrupt. The reason this movie falters is its appeasement of the fans. Knowing fans won’t be happy with a rebranded Robocop or a new story/dialogue/film, they try to pre-empt the argument. Show the classic Robocop look and mock it for being outdated. Give classic one-liners but deliver them with different meanings. Establish the exact same bad guys but don’t connect them all up. Give Murphy a minority partner but make him black rather than a woman. Ok, I said I wasn’t going to draw comparison between the 1987 original and this new version but I have to at least acknowledge it. As a critic and fan of cinema I fucking hate remakes. I don’t hate them because they recycle successful ideas or draw attention from new potentially amazing scripts; I hate the delusion of remakes. That ridiculous marketing ploy wherein a group of people sit around a table and one dipshit pipes up with “Hey remember *product* did well? Let’s make a new version of that!” “Great idea! We can put in all new ideas and reference the stuff people love about the original and they will pay a fortune to see it.” That right there. Wrong. All wrong. Adaptations, remakes and reboots are almost always criticised in comparison to the original or to the source material for the most remedial pointless bullshit: specifically the costumes, the one-liners and other aesthetic features. Story, acting and direction almost never come into question and if they do, it’s a secondary item. These points here, are what I will be analysing. Is it well shot? How does the acting fare? Was the story serviceable and enjoyable? Shoe-horning in one-liners such as “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” simply take you out of the scene and remind you that you are watching an inferior reimagining. As much as people dislike it, that’s the very reason I really enjoyed Rob Zombie’s Halloween. But I digress. Heavily.
It’s hard to figure out whether Joel Kinnaman is a good match for a man who is part machine. During the brief scenes exploring his family life and undercover work, he seems human enough. He expresses pain, fear, doubt, frustration, love but the second the suit goes on a lot of that is supposed to fall away. So, does he do a good job of repressing those emotions and using his jaw to convey his repressed feelings or is he just a shitty wooden actor? I’m going to go with the former. I’m going to take the leap of faith and say he did a surprisingly good job of delivering horror, despair, anxiety and resolve while in the suit. This may have something to do with the fact that his supporting cast are Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton and Jay Baruchel; all of whom give pretty impressive performances in their very two dimensional roles. Abbie Cornish, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. Not only is her character horribly two dimensional, she’s irritating. Take away the caring female partner from the original, gotta put a caring female in there somewhere. Boom. Wife. Problem solved. I have nothing against Ms. Cornish but she has the unfortunate tendency to land herself in a shit-tonne of terrible roles. Murphy’s wife is a boring, paint-by-numbers support that adds nothing to the story but a glassy-eyed extra to demand to see Murphy, crying about her husband being “in there.” It’s weak. Horribly weak. The only female characters in this film are the corrupt boss, the malicious corporate support, the lab assistant and the wife. So on one hand, we have surprisingly positive performances that take the subject seriously and lend a certain degree of weight to the proceedings and on the other we have the same old archetypal female roles that root this film firmly in the dark ages.
Despite the hit-and-miss acting, the lacklustre story and the incredibly anti-climactic ending, this movie visually excels. The digital effects were very impressive, the representation of technology, HUDs, props were all grounded in plausible reality that allowed the technology that fuels Robocop to require a little less suspension of disbelief than say Pacific Rim. Equally, the direction, cinematography and editing utilise POV shots and technological viewpoints well without outstaying their welcome or feeling overdone. It’s evident a lot of time and care has been taken to really give Robocop a slick decent aesthetic but the story is just far too neglected. At times, I was really enjoying myself and genuinely surprised that a remake I had almost written-off in advance was practically justifying its existence but then I was quickly reminded that everything onscreen was either desperately trying to emulate or deviate from an 80’s film and it lost me. Without the chip on its shoulder and the desperation to assuage purists, this might have been a credible and interesting film, exploring themes commonplace in Ghost In The Shell but instead we’re left with a piss-poor shoot out on a rooftop and Samuel L. Jackson screaming “If you ask me, this mother fucker should rot in prison for the rest of his fucking life!” then seguing unceremoniously into a slightly satirical flag waving salute with “America is the greatest country on Earth, why shouldn’t we do everything to defend it?” To my mind, Robocop isn’t a bad film, nor is it an unnecessary film, it’s just a weak, unintelligent cowardly film. But I will openly admit it could have been much, much worse.
7th February 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
I’ll be honest, I don’t give a shit how Robocop looks because it will always be silly. Much like superhero adaptations, I’m willing to take new designs with a pinch of salt because it’s not the be-all and end-all to the film’s success. Irritation, eyesore , sure but it won’t mean the film will work or fail. Point in case, Robocop’s suit goes through a few transitions and I’m completely on board with the new look for two simple reasons. First of all, when he’s running you can see that his pelvis is attached to his legs via pivots, rather than the obvious human groinal system that goes with ‘guy in a suit’. When he walks and moves, he looks like a machine with a few human parts. Secondly, when he wants the suit off in a scene that would probably cause crippling shock for the central character, he is presented with a full length mirror as his body is pulled away like the Iron Man suit, minus Robert Downey Jnr inside. Instead, Murphy is fundamentally a set of organs, a throat, a face and a hand on a metal pole. Bold cinema for a ‘family film’ and a pretty impressive CGI moment.
I’m not sure if I’m highlighting this character because he was good or bad. Michael Keaton is criminally underused these days yet he remains an outstanding talent. Given the dual role of a ruthless businessman who also suffers from a God complex and a lack of empathy, you’d think he would be able to produce something spectacular. And at times, he does. But the script fails him and by the close, he’s just a selfish snivelling man lacking in conviction who monologues. If ever there was a good point to draw comparison between the two Robocop films, it would be the bad guys. The original had two really iconic villains, one in a suit, one with a gun. Here we seemingly have neither, when Keaton could have easily played both if the screenplay was just a little more intelligently orchestrated.
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”
In A Few Words:
“A lot of remakes/reboots/adaptations are completely unnecessary and utter failures. Strangely, despite its flaws, Robocop isn’t one of them”