17 February 2014

Review: RoboCop

(Dir: José Padilha, 2014)

Forever doomed. The original RoboCop is hardly an untouchable holy grail of cinema, hell no such thing actually exists, but is it a film actually worth trying to improve or reimagine today? OK, forever doomed is perhaps a little too harshly pessimistic for this remake. The storytelling, the humanity, action, ideas and satire of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original make you question the need. But visually... well there we have another argument. Peter Weller's man machine aside it's a film that looks incredibly dated, even ten years on from it's release that was the case, notably because of the stop motion effects and some unusually unkind future-as-seen-through-the-eyes-of-the-eighties aesthetics. So yes visually, it needed updating, but story wise what's the point if you can't improve? 

Put simply, this remake does not succeed on improving on the original as a whole. However it is a blessing that 2014 RoboCop comes at us with it's own ideas and these at least feel more rounded for the age we now live in. It weighs itself down too heavily on the political front with Samuel L. Jackson's proselytising on The Novak Element, slowing the film down despite the intriguing mocking of such single-mindedly opinionated broadcasters. The robotics aspect and need for marketing/media spin feel more relevant if underdeveloped, likewise the barely touched upon (after five minutes) position of America trying to control the world remotely. It's commendable these ideas are here but more of the fluff could've happily been lost to develop them further. Joel Kinneman makes an adequate RoboCop thanks to being thoroughly wooden, but that just means that when he's Alex Murphy he practically vanishes into the background since he's that bland. Peter Weller brought a fascinating level of pathos to the original character. I never once cared about whether Kinneman's Murphy remembered, resolved and reconnected with his picture perfect family. 

Things get worse on the villainy side. It's always a pleasure watching Michael Keaton on the big screen, here as OCP head honcho Sellars, but it took until the final minutes before he seemed like someone we were supposed to hate. And what of the perfunctory bad guy Antoine Vallon, who might as well have not even existed in the story he was that inconsequential? Let me just say; Clarence J. Boddicker, Dick Jones, Bob Morton, Emil - these are bad guys of interesting and varying shades. These are the people we want to see a policing man / machine brutally taking down. And the threat and menace of these guys is palpable thanks to the unrestrained ultraviolence permeating throughout the original in a Detroit that feels like it needs saving by a super cop. That's not to bemoan the lack of this intense violence in the remake, but just to point out that it serves it's purpose very effectively and the lack of it here contributes to a film with no threat and no sense of pent up satisfaction at the denoument.

Despite these criticisms the films works well visually. I had no qualms with the redesign of the suit, in fact I like the black version and it fits our present perceived futuristic aesthetic. The central control centre, first person perspective and heads up views all looked great, and scenes like the blacked out, thermal imaging gunfight had a heightened sense of intrigue. The ED-209's looked decidedly effective too, a world away from the less menacing stop motion versions. But this is what we should expect these days and is the remake's primary strength.

But does that alone make the remake worth it? RoboCop (2014) is a pleasantly entertaining modern action movie that looks slick, justifying the one reason why the original needed updating. But it doesn't match up on any other level so we're left with a film that's impossible to watch without mentally comparing it to the superior original. And the little throwbacks such as one liners and music cues just hammer home what we're missing, rather than seeming as affectionate as the filmmakers would like. RoboCop (2014) was never forever doomed, but it doomed itself with too many faults that never let it rise beyond unmemorable fun. Hopefully one day studios and producers will realise it's bad films with good ideas that are the ones that really need remaking.

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