Thursday, February 13, 2014

ROBOCOP (2014): No Need To Be Robo-Phobic Of This Remake

RoboCop (2014)

 

ROBOCOP '14 opens with the MGM Lion - as all films from the studio do - only instead of the standard kingly roar, the laurel is overlaid with the strange noises of Samuel L Jackson's vocal warmups; sounding more like a cartoon kitten purring. From that moment on, it is clear that José Padilha's remake of the now-classic Sci-Fi/Action film is not intending to go for the gritty, "realistic" take that so many of today's remakes attempt. Nor is it trying to be a beat-for-beat remake of its 1987 predecessor. It's its own beast, so to speak, and I am perfectly fine with that.

When the original ROBOCOP hit theaters, its satirical take on Reaganomics and the War On Drugs was both relevant and ahead of its time. When put in the hands of Paul Verhoeven, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner's screenplay took on a life of its own, and their story of a hard-edged cop brought back to life as a mechanized weapon of law enforcement became more than than just the ultra-violent B-Movie that it could have been. At the time, that wasn't necessarily apparent, but over the years, critics have come to revere the film just as much as the viewers who grew up stuffing their faces full of popcorn and loving every minute of it (myself included).

And that is where my thoughts on the original film will end because, after all, we are here to discuss the ROBOCOP of today, aren't we?

Quite frankly, I think that Director José Padilha knew that it would be a fool's errand to try and recreate the lightning in a bottle that made the original ROBOCOP such a huge part of popular culture. So, instead of wasting time and money trying to churn out the same thing, he did what he knows how to do best, and he churned out a pretty straight-forward action film. Sure, there are moments of humor and a few nods to the original thrown in there, but ultimately, ROBOCOP '14 is its own film, and that is a huge part of why it worked so well for me.

That's not to say that first-time Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer's script doesn't contain topical subject matter; because it certainly does. Its underlying theme of Drones vs People is something that is in the news on an almost daily basis. However, neither Padilha or the film itself seem too interested in really digging into the controversy or taking an overly political stance on the matter. They certainly satirize the politics around the topic and the American media's handling of subjects like this in general, but they never let it get in the way of the either the story or the action.

Maybe this has something to do with Padilha's strong action background. His work on the ELITE SQUAD films are what brought him to Hollywood from his home country of Brazil, and those films continue to have a lot of positive buzz around them; even years after their release. And it shows here because ROBOCOP '14 has a lot of action, and unlike the bulk of Summer Blockbusters we get each year, the sequences of carnage are coherent and well shot. I was never lost in a jumble of fast edits, the sense of placement was always present, and I found myself fully engaged throughout the mayhem. And, boy, is there mayhem.

The pundits will have you believe that a PG-13 rating instantly equates to a limp film, and that's not the case here. In fact, ROBOCOP '14 brings with it a metric ton of bullets, and there is violence beyond anything that I think I may have ever seen in a film that wasn't rated "R." There may not be graphic dismemberment scenes or people melting, but we get people exploding, executions, kids being mowed down, and all sorts of carnage; just without the digital blood or squibs that may have been present in a harder cut. Aside from that, all that's missing are some creative uses of the F-Bomb (which is there a couple times, just beeped out), and personally, I'm fine with that.

Performance-wise, ROBOCOP '14 delivered what I expected. Joel Kinnaman is fine in his role of Alex Murphy, the murdered man who eventually becomes the titular RoboCop. He does play a more flat version of Peter Weller's Murphy at first, but once he gets into the suit, he is perfectly watchable (especially when he later goes full-on drone). Along with that, we get the usual fun performances from Gary Oldman, Micheal Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K, Williams, Jay Baruchel, and of course, an over-the-top Samuel L Jackson. Everyone is clearly having a good time in their roles, and while none of the performances are awards-worthy, this isn't exactly Oscar-bait material, so there are no surprises.

The other real star of the film is the visual effects work, which is also pretty top-notch. The infamous ED-209 is a formidably hulking creation, and it looks great, even if it ultimately isn't as dangerous as you'd expect (again, nothing new, given it's dispatching in the first film). The drone soldiers are also pretty fantastic, and RoboCop's fight scenes with them are some of the best moments in the film; most notably, in a scene where Jackie Earle Haley's character pits RoboCop against them in a training exercise. Finally, RoboCop himself is well-realized in his new incarnation. As expected, he's not quite as robotic as before, but given the tech in the world of the film, it makes complete sense. On a side note, the scenes where you see a mangled Murphy or the moments when he is taken back out of the suit are fairly gruesome, and I'm fairly surprised that they made it into the mass-market version of the film.

At the end of the day, I found RoboCop to be a fun film. It's certainly not perfect (my biggest compliant would be that it does get a little long in the tooth at times), but I enjoyed the way that it didn't try to simply rehash the story and characters of the original film. If I want to watch ROBOCOP '87, I will. I realize that nostalgia is a powerful thing, and I'm just as guilty of holding many things that were a part of my childhood in much higher regard than they probably deserve. Still, it's no excuse to blindly attack a film. The argument that a movie shouldn't exist is a nonsensical one, and the existance of a remake/reboot/whatever will not do anything to erase its predecessor or ruin anyone's childhood. I find that the best way to approach these things is with an open mind. Sometimes the naysayers are right (as in THE FOG), but occasionally, if we just sit back and enjoy the movie on its own merits, we will find something that's not only watchable, but perhaps also fun. For me, ROBOCOP '14 falls into that latter category, and it's something that I will happily revisit later on down the line.

Your move... Internet.


Movie Score

3.5/5



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