Color me conflicted. As a personal rule-of-thumb, if a filmmaker/a musician is remaking/covering a movie/song, I expect them to give it their own touch. I expect said artist to make this new version of an old tale his/her own. There’s no point in recreating what’s already been created in a particular type of media unless you’re willing to differentiate it in some way. In that sense, this 2014 iteration of “RoboCop” flourishes. No longer is it the pointed satire of the private military-focused aspects of the Reagan regime, but, rather, with the explosion of technology within the near twenty-seven years since the spawn of the original, “RoboCop” is now about the dangers brainless drones. A lot of things have changed over the last quarter of a century, and so in order to retain relevancy the film has to touch on aspects of our every day life in here in 2014 order to reach an audience. That’s understandable. “RoboCop” was always meant to be a genre that provided audiences with plenty of social commentary. Amazingly, the same themes reign true today. It’s the circumstances that are different.
The problem, for me, is that I was kind of hoping that it remained more true to the original, at least, in execution. That’s where the conflict comes in. Do I judge the movie based on what it could have been? Having seen the original, I know that there’s a far more entertaining way to tell this story, so how much of that should affect my review?
I’ve decided it best to judge the movie based on its own merits. After the paragraph, I will not touch on the original 1987 version at all. I will only say this: the remake is not better. I know, shocker, right? It’s obvious that the producers were going in a different direction with this film, only providing us with a couple of winks in reference to the original. So, with that said, let’s get it all out in the open. Joel Kinnaman does a pretty good job of playing a robot, but he’s no Peter Weller. The suit is sleeker than the original, but not as iconic (and the filmmakers know that.) The violence has been turned down from a ten to a four, which isn’t an overtly bad thing, but definitely doesn’t give you that guttural, sort of extra kick that the original has. It’s violent, but neatly wrapped in a PG-13 bow in order to maximize audience turn-out. Finally, the satire is practically an afterthought, relegated only to a few scenes involving Samuel L. Jackson playing the part of a faux-Fox News analyst. It’s a true representation of their gung ho attitude towards conservative values for America, and has its funny moments, but it ultimately doesn’t live up to the scope of the original. For a good look at the original, check out, TYF contributor, Shane’s retrospective.
Now, let’s focus on “RoboCop” as a 2014 action film.
Set in the year 2028, it seems that the world’s problems remain the same as they are now in 2014, the difference is that the gadgets are much more opaque. The United States is still dealing with heavy crime, and there’s barely been a recovery from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There must be a solution for the countless deaths of military officials overseas as the United States attempts to provide democracy to third world countries. Somebody has to do something about this. OmniCorp has taken it on themselves to provide the answer. They are the chief in producing “robot soldier” technology. See, OmniCorp has nearly perfected a robot that can assess danger and get rid of the danger in seconds flat. The robot uses integrated technology to scan for any sort of weapon or gauge any sort of malintent through a person’s behavioral mood. At the beginning, we see this situation in action as the robots are being presented for a news piece in the Middle East. Some insurgents are in danger of getting caught with mass weaponry, so they take it upon themselves to attack the machines and rid themselves of the danger. It doesn’t end well for the masses of flesh and bone. The robots prove to be exactly as advertised.
Now, OmniCorp wants to bring them to the United States in order to protect the citizens and rid the country of so many fallen policemen. However, due to popular opposition, and, officially, the Dreyfuss Act, enacted by Senator Dreyfuss (as played by Zach Grenier), OmniCorp is not allowed to sell robot soldiers to police stations around the country. The argument is that the robot cannot act on reason and lacks empathy. Basically, the public needs to feel protected by an entity capable of humanity. OmniCorp CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), decides that he’s going to find a way to make that happen. He gathers his marketing team and convinces Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to use his research in robotic limb attachment to find a candidate in which they can combine man and robot into one.
Meanwhile, a policeman named Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) finds himself on the receiving end of a car bomb when he gets too close to finding out details about a local crime kingpin named Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) and the crooked cops that work for him. Up until this point, OmniCorp had not found a candidate suitable enough for the treatment, and after Clara Murphy, Alex Murphy’s wife (played by Abbie Cornish), agreed to sign off on the procedure, they found their perfect robot-man hybrid.
From there on the movie has two plot-lines racing into a collision. On one hand you have the political implications of a man/robot hybrid ridding the streets of criminals and on the other, a man looking to get closure by putting away the man that made an attempt at his life. Needless to say, things get messy.
Like any other action movie these days, the shaky-cam makes its presence felt, but, thankfully it isn’t overdone as with most other movies. Director Jose Padilha has a great head on his shoulders when it comes to filming action. He’s, obviously, gained experience thanks in no small part to the movies that got him this job in the first place, “Elite Squad” I and II. He has the ability to tell an intriguing story, but, when it comes to “RoboCop”, the script is a bit of a mess, so we’re left with some really cool action sequences to tide us over.
The world of “RoboCop” is full of tons of science fiction goodness, but the story we’re focused on is scattered about and doesn’t let us concentrate on one aspect long enough to get the proper amount of sympathy for the character. It’s a shame because Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman both deliver in their respective roles, and the situation can certainly be considered harrowing. (A shot of what’s left of Alex Murphy will have you appreciating your body more than you ever thought you would.) Not to mention that while Jackie Earl Haley is just so good at playing the sniveling little runt that you wish would get crushed, at the same time they completely underutilize someone as great as Michael K. Richards . It’s safe to say that the film has a lot of great potential, but is too flawed to flourish. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t buy it for too much more than a dollar.
RoboCop will be released February 12th , 2014.