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Should I Watch..? RoboCop (2014)
What's the big deal?
RoboCop is an action sci-fi film released in 2014 and is a direct remake of the 1987 film of the same name directed by Paul Verhoeven. This version stars Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop almost killed in the line of duty who finds himself resurrected as a cyborg. The film also stars Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L Jackson and Jackie Earle Haley and was directed by Brazilian director José Padilha. The project was originally announced back in 2005 but found itself stuck in development hell. When it was released, the film went on to earn more than $242 million worldwide but received a mixed reception from critics. The consensus was that the remake fell short of the original, lacking the humour and more adult levels of violence that the first RoboCop (1) possessed.
What's it about?
In 2028, OmniCorp unveils its army of drone soldiers which can be deployed in trouble-spots around the world to help bring peace. Eager to release a domestic version for law enforcement in the US, the company's CEO Raymond Sellars must oversee a change in the law which prohibits drones being deployed on American soil. To this end, he conceives of a more approachable machine with a human inside. This has the dual impact of having a machine with human instinct as well as proving that robotics can be used safely without risking the lives of innocent civilians.
Meanwhile, across town, Detroit officer Alex Murphy is pursuing local crime lord Antoine Vallon who is getting his hands on weapons supposedly confiscated by the DPD. With his partner Jack Lewis injured in the line of duty, Murphy is targeted and caught in the explosion of a car bomb at his home. Desperate for her son not to grow up without a father, Alex's wife Clara is approached by OCP scientist Dr Dennett Norton with promises of being able to bring Alex back...
Det. Alex Murphy / RoboCop
Dr. Dennett Norton
Jackie Earle Haley
Michael K. Williams
Sgt. Jack Lewis
Samuel L. Jackson
Patrick "Pat" Novak
Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner *
Release Date (UK)
7th February, 2014
Action, Crime, Sci-Fi, Thriller
What's to like?
Given my initial scepticism about such an undertaking, RoboCop is far better than I thought it was going to be. Obviously, the effects have received a huge makeover which makes the character of RoboCop look more like a tactical unit more befitting of his role than the stainless-steel tank he was before. The film also retains much of the original's discussion about the nature of humanity and the political battles going on behind the scenes. I also enjoyed Jackson's appearance as talk-show host Pat Novak, ramming his personal agenda home with all the subtlety of a Donald Trump press conference.
The action is satisfying enough in that annoying PG-way but there isn't enough of it for my liking. However, you can't fault the cast - the film is loaded with talent and the likes of Keaton, Oldman and Cornish deliver some great performances. Cornish is especially good as Clara, fleshing out a role that wasn't properly explored in the first film and offering an alternative take on the film's story. She's so good, in fact, that I wanted more of her in the film but no doubt Padilha wanted more shots of Kinnaman riding his motorbike.
- Both Kinnaman and Padilha wanted the film to have a R-rating but as the budget increased from $60 million to $100 million, studio executives pushed for a more family-friendly PG-rating - even hanging around the set to ensure Padilha was delivering what they wanted.
- Two characters are named after philosophers with views on artificial intelligence, an important theme in the film. Dr Dennett Norton may be named after Daniel C. Dennett while Senator Hubert Dreyfus (whose anti-drone act opposes OCP's aims) shares his name with Hubert Dreyfus, a critic of AI research.
- Keep an eye on the rolling news along the bottom of the screen which briefly mentions "Brazilian surfer Gui Padilha". This is the director's son.
What's not to like?
OK, I can hold it back no longer. For all the whizz-bang visuals and effects the film possesses, the film is about as hollow as an Easter egg. For starters, Kinnaman is completely wasted in the lead role. As Murphy, he's simply any old cop and we never really see much of the man. But as RoboCop, the action never allows him to show any sign of character at all - in fact, the camera never gets close enough to the action to convince us he's even in the suit. He even looks awkward on the motorbike with its silly twinkling lights, which doesn't make him look as impressive as Weller did in the original.
The film also sorely lacks the humour of RoboCop which had more to it than just a cyborg cop shooting the place up. The satirical elements and media parodies have been almost completely stripped away, replaced with Jackson's pulpit-thumping media commentator and fiery discussions between Oldman's kind-hearted scientist and Keaton's hard-headed businessman. Jay Baruchel's PR guru isn't given enough screen time to make any impact which is a shame because I felt he could have contributed more. Overall, the film looks OK but lacks any sort of enthusiasm for the original's multi-layered approach to the story. The first film was a genuinely brilliant piece of cinema and not some mindless shooter. This remake is like a kid walking around in his dad's clothes, pretending he's the man of the house.
Should I watch it?
RoboCop is a serviceable remake of the original, refreshing the visuals and bringing the film more in line with more recent efforts. But it doesn't really offer anything new to the story besides Cornish's underused character and worse, drops some aspects that made the first film so good. It is better than either of the two sequels to the original and it is better than I expected it to be. It just needed a much better lead and more insightful script to be held in the same regard as Verhoeven's misunderstood classic.
Great For: underlining the original's brilliance, patient action fans, anyone who missed the first film
Not So Great For: fans of the original, Kinnaman's future prospects, studio execs who should have left the director alone
What else should I watch?
While it was critically lauded at the time, the original RoboCop was a more grown-up and brutal affair. But it was so much more - a genuinely subversive thriller filled with boardroom battles to match anything that was happening on the streets of Old Detroit below. Peter Weller was a much better lead, giving the role an unsettling humanity. If anything, the costume and makeup of the original feel more real than Kinnaman's black, sleek armour despite the increased budget the remake had. As for the sequels, neither RoboCop 2 (2) or RoboCop 3 (3) did much for the franchise either. The first sequel lost the humour and subplots of the first film, becoming a generic sci-fi shooter while the third film was watered down into a more family-friendly version (much like this was) and even lost its leading man.
Robots and movies go together like a cowboy and horse. From Arnold Schwarzenegger's unforgettable appearances as The Terminator (4) to the more family-friendly companions found in Star Wars (5), the influential Maria found in the bowels beneath Metropolis (6) and Harrison Ford hunting replicants in Blade Runner (7), cinema features as many different kinds of robot as you could imagine. And as many different agendas...
© 2017 Benjamin Cox