ROBOCOP, An In-Depth EF Review

ROBOCOP, An In-Depth EF Review

Here is my in-depth review of RoboCop. Read on after the jump to see my verdict on this reboot of a beloved cult classic from the 80's, and leave your thoughts in the usual place.

RoboCop, 2014

General Information
February 12th, 2014
Opened: February 6th, 2014 Internationally @ $28,700,000, with its first actual screenings on January 30, 2014 in Malaysia and Singapore
Metacritic: 52% with a 7.1 User Score
Rotten Tomatoes Aggregated So Far: 49% (Critics) & 67% Audience
IMDB Profile
Movie Website

Editorial Biases:

I was young when the first RoboCop movie released, and I “Skipped” into it with some of my friends due to my preteen status barring me from “R” rated movies. While I can say it was cheese to the max, I can also say that I loved every second of it; during a very hot summer in New York 1987.

That said, I understand the need to control budgets; the fiscal responsibility in terms of what needs to be done to generate appropriate returns on a film at a 2.5 markup over its budget. But I am not necessarily happy this is a PG-13 movie to accomplish this fact. What I’ve perceived is a watered-down storyline eerily parallel to the original, without any risks to do something (properly) new. It should be a remake, in the sense that it should be new and different while maintaining the essence of the original, not just a generic sequence of events. While there are aspects in this film that I have found to be extremely pretty and “inner child awesome” I use my press access into this film tonight with a lot of apprehensive thoughts; skeptical that this will live up to the interesting ways the original is still relevant today. I may end up enjoying the film, but I’m almost certain it will not remove the original as the cult classic it is today, 30 years from now.

The Good

Despite anything I may write in this review, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie, because it was a very different take on a beloved character in cult cinema. It is fun, it is a bit mindless, but a few actors help place some of the story on track, even if some of the writing was not necessarily the greatest in a variety of areas. But this is not intended to be an Oscar performance, aside from the amazing CGI and costuming, which needs some recognition.

It is a film worth watching in an IMAX theater while sitting in a DBOX seat, as I did. If you don’t mind the rollercoaster seating effect, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the ride. Bring Popcorn, because this movie (the original, and this remake included) are what the phrase “popcorn flick” was coined for.

There were myriad homage’s to the original film, many I don’t want to spoil here in a review. While they are fun to notice and catch, most are not really hidden as Easter eggs. They are immediately recognized if you are a fan of the original film.

Because the film is a remake, they keep to a set outline defined by the original, and in keeping with this outline, the changes made cause the pacing to stutter forward in a few spots, but mostly has a good general feel and movement forward.

Edit: Joel Kinnaman was an excellent choice for the role and brought the human side of Alex Murphy extremely well.

The Bad

There are characters missing that are, in my book, a part of the original cult classic in a way that made RoboCop “become” what it is. Officer Anne Lewis, and Sergeant Warren Reed. Now, in some way, we got both in the form of Sergeant Jack Lewis, played by Michael Williams, who is a phenomenal actor, usually shining in criminal character roles (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire). Instead we got somewhat of a one dimensional character to feed a directional path for Murphy to follow, ultimately leading to his near demise and his resurrection as RoboCop.

Another amazing character that we did not, at least not yet (depending on sequels) get in this movie, is The Old Man. Someone I originally was hoping was being played by Samuel L. Jackson, to then seemingly be played by a younger more animated, frantic, and somewhat squirrely Michael Keaton. Who easily could have been Dick Jones. I’m guessing, like most films, the production did not want to give away their presumed surprise twist by penning the name of the bad guy from the original film. Which was obvious from the first moment Keaton walked into frame, that he would (ultimately) be the main antagonist, pulling all of the strings. You just don’t know, until much later on, that in the first few minutes, the film foreshadows the mechanic by which RoboCop would be thwarted in parallel to the original film.

What happened to my beloved and ridiculously cheesy commercials? Like “I’d buy that for a dollar!” I only got a revision of that line in a moment of homage. But no commercials to speak of.

We’re also missing the gorgeous sniper rifles that were used to take out Robo in the original movie, by a cast of baddies that were relatively fleshed out and well developed. Something sorely lacking in this remake. These iconic weapons were replaced by (sure they were cool, but…) pulse rifle looking sci-fi toys. Along with Taser Projectile weapons, that can be set from Stun to Kill…I didn’t realize I stepped into Star Trek.

There is little to no blood to speak of in this film. A lot of the action sequences outside of the opening and ending are predominantly RoboCop fighting other robots, or using stun weaponry. As cool as all of this is, the movie simply has no balls. Short of the perceived murder of a child in Tehran by an E.D. 209 following its set rules of engagement. I also don’t feel the depravity of the city of Detroit, I don’t feel the dangers of the hyper-violent crimes that the city is supposed to be experiencing. None of that story was developed. The argument can be given that it’s all propaganda by Omnicorp, and that’s really what came through in the story, or so I’ll speculate this as intended.

I personally disliked the “Tactical Black”, not because I thought it was uncool, but simply because of the way the lighting in the film worked with the suit. Of which (nearly) its entirety was matted black with some piano black gloss in some areas. You simply couldn’t see it well enough on the screen. While I make this minor complaint, there was a definite purpose for it, and it becomes clear at the end of the film, but in my opinion, at the loss of visual detail throughout the movie itself.

The Ugly

This is yet another film using the Middle-East as a whipping child. I’ve been to the Mid-East (when I served in the military) and it is a beautiful place with a wonderful culture, and constantly using these people in films as the example of bad guys, seems stereotypically unfair. While this is a small argument point, I later realize in the film it’s Padilha’s subtle political message, in a very Alan Moore kind of style. While I’m not sure it was delivered properly, or for that matter, well; the picture painted for this particular political message is not completely unnoticed. I do like the aspect within the same set of political Easter eggs painting the picture of a corporatized America. But isn’t this an over-the-top no expense-spared-on-blood-squibs movie? Or is it RoboCop as written by Tom Clancy with Michael Crichton as a story editor? While that thought swirls in my mind under the category of “How awesome would that be!?” It’s still not the kind of RoboCop movie I was expecting, and in the end, is partial to the watered down PG-13 version this movie resulted to be.

The original movie attempted to kill Alex Murphy in such a way that you really wanted him to get vengeance and justice against the perpetrators. You can almost say that Clarence Boddicker, played by the awesome Kurtwood Smith, defined Murphy as a character through his tragedy (like some of our other beloved comic book characters). Something that was not really felt in this film, at least not with the simplest of car bombs; the deed was done quickly, and the audience is left with the torment of his family to define the situation. The enemy, Antoine Vallon, was a very normal, boring, and one dimensional mix of both Boddicker and Kain, from RoboCop 2. If anything, the real villains you felt more anger towards in this remake were Raymond Sellars and Officer Andre Daniels.

Equally as one dimensional, and underdeveloped, were how RoboCop gets nearly destroyed in his quest for vengeance against the men that killed him. In this case, the man who wanted Murphy's death, as Vallon had to be convinced to kill him by other cops. It’s a bit of A.D.D. when it comes to what the story was trying to develop and convey in terms of who is really the antagonist.

I attribute much of these issues with the fact that the film is PG-13, and when you can’t simply sprawl the enemy with a number of bullets, you have to creatively tell the story in other ways to fit the pieces. Which isn’t a bad thing, telling a story. But it can get muddled in the need to add twists and turns for the sake of adding them, and for the sake of maintaining a PG-13 rating.

The Great

“Dead or Alive, You’re coming with me!”
I expected some explosions, action, more “GET DOWN AGAIN!” style action. But I got a very-easily-stated-to-be-exciting set of action sequences that were not necessarily jaw dropping, per say. However, they were extremely satisfying. Specifically, the opening combat sequence, and the late in the film re-envisioned battle sequence with the E.D. 209’s…yes, that’s plural. There were a few of them for Alex to fight, and it did not let up, or let down, as both terms seem to work in this description.

In general, the action, and the faster moving, more agile RoboCop in the film were exciting to see. The suit was gorgeous, as were the other Mechs, including the E.D. 209 designs. My hats off to the digital artists that put all of this material together with such detail and beauty.

…and, Amazing?

“I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar!”
Samuel L. Jackson in this film is pretty much a stroke of genius, as far as name drops are concerned toward marketing the film. He fits in “his” role perfectly. Rather I should say Stephen Fry’s character from “V For Vendetta” which almost aptly could describe Mr. Jackson’s, Pat Novak, character. While I can almost with certainty see this for what it is, I have no proof. I did mention the director possibly using Alan Moore as an inspiration, perhaps there is a bigger pattern. But there is something to be said about how the character was played. You can see this archetypal character in a variety of films. Most recently, in the “Hunger Games” franchise with Stanley Tucci. In the 80’s with “The Running Man” with Damon Killian, played by Richard Dawson, (a film released a few months later from the original RoboCop in 1987). Among other characters played in this manner.

The production even let Mr. Jackson say “Motherfucker” and “Bullshit” in his signature scream! That has to count for something.

Jackie Earle Haley also seemed to sometimes channel a character from one of his fellow co-stars. That of Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg. Don’t remember the character played by Gary Oldman in the 1995 “The Fifth Element”? The inflections in Mr. Haley’s accent, the slightly higher pitched voice. Perhaps it’s that I’ve worked with voice actors and have done voice work myself that things like this seem apparent to me. But knowing the usual voice we hear Haley using, it’s too easily dismissed as coincidental that he ends up working with Mr. Oldman, and uses the same vocal inflection and accent we heard used by Mr. Oldman (so interestingly) in that particular cult classic.

While his voice was interesting, Mr. Haley was also a fantastic character that wasn’t necessarily a villain, but wasn’t really a good guy either. He played this character beautifully.

What Might have Hurt This Film…
I’ve played the Devil’s advocate plenty of times arguing both sides of the R vs. PG-13 debate. I’m not necessarily sure if it is going to hurt the film, because the argument at its core would lose more of the hardcore fandom, not the mainstream. However in terms of the artistic value of retelling a story that’s been already done; the argument itself is whether or not it should be done, and artistic value is not really the strong point. I would have preferred an R rating for many reasons. But I like my violent action movies violent. I think that while this is a good remake, it's a satisfying action flick. It could have been far better if it maintained a variety of the key elements that made the original movie; while cheesy yes, still a great film. From the stoic, specific, and purposeful speaking Old Man, the interactions Murphy had with his fellow officers, the awkward tension built up with his partner Lewis, and the struggle to be human, to eventually reconnect with his family.

While it may not have hurt this film much, I wonder why a minor cameo by Peter Weller, the original RoboCop wasn’t in place. Hell, I’d have cast him as the new Old Man! Maybe we’ll see him in a sequel.

The 80’s are gone, and so is the magic that made many of its movies great. This one will probably be fine, if it survives the box office, but I think I’ll be re-watching the original more often than I would this one.

Overall Verdict?
I enjoyed the film, it has a lot of potential as a revival of a franchise for a modern audience, and I expect if it can muster the box office numbers to justify two more sequels, that those sequels will definitely improve upon the franchise. Even RoboCop 2 was an amazing film and cult classic in itself. I’d only hope if this rebooted franchise can make it to its trilogy, that it ends up being a much better third installment from the original, which was a bit of a stinker.

It’s missing some key elements that I was hoping for, but it still provided for a great movie going experience. New and younger audience members that have no ties to the original, like us old fogeys, should relatively enjoy the film without too many qualms. More than likely, calling us (the older generation) crazy for holding onto the nostalgia of the original.

If you don’t like to spend money at the theaters, wait for the Blu-ray, it is at least worth the Redbox rental fee. If you love the theater experience, this movie is perfect for IMAX and DBOX viewing. EDIT: If you're like me and like your violent movies to be violent, and prefer an R rated 'Action Sci-Fi' experience, you may think this one is a pass at the theater.

3.5 out of 5 Comic Book Movie Geeks will love it, the rest of us would rather watch the original I-II

Have you seen RoboCop yet? Are you planning to? Did this review help you? Do you agree or disagree? I want to hear from you! Comment, share, tweet, pin, form your words, “Dead or Alive, you’re going to share your opinion!”, whatever tickles your fancy. @EmanuelFCamacho
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