Sep 15, 2014

[Movies] RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop was a pretty iconic movie for its period. Almost everything that RoboCop had to say was worth turning into a nerd quote or could appear on a T-shirt or something. And like most things born in the 1980's, a lot of fans have a rather fierce loyalty to the franchise in its original form.

RoboCop as a remake was a little unexpected and one that admittedly I was rather prepared to hate right off the bat. You know how it is - the original movie may not have been perfect, but the combination of its bold concept combined with its often campy aesthetics sort of paid off and made an amazing franchise. And now we had some CGI monstrosity threatening to change the RoboCop image entirely.

Upon finally watching it, one has to concede that it's not actually a bad movie. As is the case with many remakes, you just sort of wish they had tried to explore the movie concept on its own without necessarily digging up some older IP to appropriate in order to tell the story. This could have been a different story entirely with a similar premise of the dangers of augmentation technology and without the need for the "RoboCop" branding.

Synopsis: RoboCop is the 2014 remake of the 1987 science fiction action movie of the same name. It was directed by José Padilha with a screenplay by Joshua Zetumer.

In 2028, the massive company known as OmniCorp remains a leader in military technology. Their current goal is to adapt their cybernetic soldiers for domestic use, but the standing Dreyfus Act bans the use of such robots within the US. This leads to OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) determined to find away to either repeal the law or at least get around it. And thus comes the inspiration - to figure out a way to combine man and machine and come up with a product that OmniCorp can bring to market. This pulls in Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) and his research into advanced replacement limbs for amputees.

Detroit Police Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is your typical policeman trying to make a difference in the city. But when the city's corruption extends to within the police department itself, it's challenging to make any true headway. And thus a recent run-in with forces associated with local crime boss Antoine Vallon results in Murphy becoming a target, things just seem to get worse. And finally a near-fatal car bomb brings Murphy to within an inch of his life, Dr. Norton intervenes and offers the family a possible solution - to augment Murphy's battered body with cybernetics to give him a second chance at life.

The movie is framed by some theoretical news talk show called The Novak Element, where host Pat Novak (Samiel L. Jackson) criticizes the government and calls for the repeal of the Dreyfus Act and other things. It's generally implied that he's quite friendly with OmniCorp and is more than happy to support Sellars and OmniCorp. But I really didn't see the point in using it as a narrative device to bookend the entire movie. I suppose the assumption is that it's always good to have Samuel L. Jackson mouthing off at the camera, but admittedly his news persona is actually tame compared to what we've seen in other movies. So I'm not sure it was necessary to begin and end the movie with Novak segments.

Michael Keaton and his whole marketing crew were a weird part of the movie. I get that they wanted to have him as the slightly charismatic but clearly greedy CEO determined not to let anything stand in his way. But at the same time Keaton's performance felt like a mixed bag and I'm not sure what his goals were as an actor in terms of his various scenes. I won't even go into the members of his marketing team since they were just totally off the wall.

There was an effort to build up Murphy's family, namely his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and his son David (John Paul Ruttan), but that never came across all that well. Then again, the entire Murphy family came across as a little emotionally distant across their scenes - and this includes the scenes where Alex was still completely human.

CGI RoboCop was okay, but I'm not exactly a big fan of the initial all-black look. As a law enforcement solution, right off the bat he looked pretty evil, so I don't see how they thought this would be a good idea. I really wish more of the action involved practical effects and a suit similar to the original movies. Instead we had those classic CGI moments when the physics feel all wrong as he leaps from point to point and all that jazz. And I really, really don't get the decision to have him carry two different types of guns all the time.

Over time the whole struggle between whether or not Murphy was actually in control of things was admittedly a nice angle and one that could have been explored further. I think I would have liked to see more of Alex Murphy's perspective of being in the machine and trying to explain away what he goes through when the machine AI seems to take greater control of his body or something. There could have been a whole story about this, but I guess more action was more important than more human drama or something.

When you think of this as a RoboCop remake, the movie feels rather hollow compared to the complexity of Murphy's struggle in the original movie. There he first had to bring his own sense of self back to the fore before the story could really pick up and his partner at the time was determined to bring back the old Murphy from within the robot frame. Here he never had much of a character beforehand and later on he couldn't even tell that things weren't all fine and dandy. And his very death was hollow since it was clearly a corporate plot to just get a better candidate for their RoboCop program.

Had this been some other generic science fiction movie with a robot policeman, then this 2014 remake of RoboCop might have been a stronger movie. Sure it had a different feel and wanted to go in a different direction, but that doesn't make the movie bad in itself. But since it was in fact a remake, I can only rate this movie as 3 suddenly stupid robot drones out of a possible 5.


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