Ror Reviews: ROBOCOP (2014)
Given that the last Paul Verhoeven sci-fi remake we got was the tedious Total Recall, Jose Padilha had his work cut out with this one. I wasn't very impressed with anything I'd seen from Robocop 2014 leading up to this screening, but was I pleasantly surprised?
When reviewing any remake it can be easy to fall into the trap of blasting it simply for existing, and not critiquing the actual quality of film making on display. This is because in the current climate we are getting English language remakes of foreign movies made only a few years ago and, in the case of Robocop, a remake of an English language movie made in the late '80s - so yes, it's inevitable that comparisons will be made and most of these "reboots" will be seen as completely pointless.
Jose Padilha's Robocop doesn't buck this trend, but that's not to say it's a total waste of time either.
The movie's main problem is one the one we all figured it would be: If you're going to remake a gore soaked sci-fi classic with a healthy dose of black comedy and satire as a generic PG13 action flick..well, straight away you're gonna lose points. The action is at times surprisingly hard-hitting, but also a little pedestrian and uninspired, with the humor relegated to a couple of mildly amusing one-liners. To be fair to Padila, he does make room for a few swipes at American culture via Samuel L. Jackson's talk show interludes, and these are usually fairly successful - the problem is that the main narrative feels like a completely different beast altogether. The story is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much the same as Paul Verhoeven's original..minus the brutal way in which Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) winds up as Robocop, and with one crucial alteration: In this version his family and everyone else knows that it's Alex Murphy under the visor and he retains all of his memories, whereas in the original he begins as an unfeeling machine and only later does his real personality emerge. It's done in reverse here, and although I suppose it's commendable that they're trying something different, that does appear to be the ONLY reason to do it and it just doesn't work as well. We are also robbed of a really great villain like a Clarence J. Boddicker or the scummy OCP guys. This time Michael Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley serve as antagonists but only towards the very end and even then seemingly by default.
That's not to say their performances are sub-par, or indeed any of them. One of the main draws of this remake for many people was the excellent cast and they don't disappoint. If Kinnaman initially seems a bit out of his depth in the lead he begins to hold his own as the movie progresses, and ultimately gives a very good account of himself. He's given excellent support by the likes of said Keaton and Haley, with the ever reliable Gary Oldman emerging as a highlight. Michael K. Williams also pops up as Murphy's partner Lewis (played by a distinctly more female Nancy Allen in the original) but he's given hardly anything to do, and you're left to wonder why such a potentially strong female lead role was recast as male and then all but sidelined.
I also had a big problem with the ending. In the original, Murphy has a set of "Prime Directives" which his programming forces him to uphold; one of these preventing him from arresting any senior OCP member. In this version there's a similar plot device, but it's dumbed down substantially before being inexplicably discarded. To go into more detail would take us too far into spoilerville but you'll see what I mean when you watch for yourselves.
For what it is, Robocop 2014 is a perfectly serviceable, well paced, well acted action/drama that should hold your attention throughout. Unfortunately what it IS is another pointless remake. You could do worse on a rainy Friday night though - just don't expect to remember a thing about it as you're walking out of the theater.
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