Friday, June 27, 2014

Robocop (2014)

Back in 1987, a masterpiece of sci-fi was created by a relatively unknown director by the name of Paul Verhoeven which seemed like an accident at the time.  When released, hearing the title sounded like a bad science fiction B-movie that wouldn’t work and I don’t think anyone thought much would come of it.  But it worked and, very quickly, Verhoeven showed a signature style to his movie direction, becoming the go-to filmmaker for many other hits to come.

Unfortunately, that stroke of genius Verhoeven created was treated poorly in its sequels and television series (both live-action and cartoon)—not to mention that god-awful part three—allowing it afterwards to lie dormant for a number of years before the Hollywood trend of reboots, remakes and reimagining took hold and revived it for a retelling in the 21st century.  So…back in February of 2014, we’d received the reassembled and rebuilt version of Robocop.

Of course, just like all the countless re-creates we’ve been bombarded with from movie studios, I had cried foul when it was announced that this classic was going through the redo -ringer.  The 1987 version was—and still is—such an archetypal sci-fi masterwork (which I still remember going to see when I was 19 years old) and I can’t understand why studios keep green-lighting all these do-overs.  To hear that filmmakers are just going to start over and retell the same story again seemed asinine and redundant. 

What made the 1987 version so memorable was the hard ‘R’ rating it acquired upon release, nearly garnering an ‘X’ due to the graphic violence it portrayed throughout the film.  However, before this new version was released—and before the rating was announced—it was evident that the movie studio would be too chicken to go all out as the original film had with its violence-in-your-face filming and make sure to release a neutered PG13 film.

Now, this film seemed like it took forever to film and produce, making me think the filmmakers were taking their time to give us something with substance.  I started rethinking about my disdain for the reboot and decided to give the unseen film the benefit of the doubt.  I opted to myself that I would wait until I at least witnessed a preview trailer before I would give any type of criticism towards the film.  Although the photos leaked out—either purposely or accidentally—and showed us some unsatisfying views of the new crime-fighting character, I still held hope that the film might do well.  When Robocop started rearing its ugly head with a teaser trailer, I found myself agreeing with all the premature examinations of the film.  But before I get into all the drawbacks and shortfalls of this film, let me synopsize it.

The year is 2028 and most of the world is being protected by droids created by the world conglomerate, OmniCorp.  However, because of an act issued by a Senator Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier), OmniCorp cannot develop the same technology for law enforcement in America.  But the CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), wants to push their technology for police organizations and, with the help of Dr. Dennett
Norton (Gary Oldman), who works with robotic prosthetics for amputees, search for a way to incorporate OmniCorp’s technology with a human counterpart.  In this film, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is an undercover cop trying to get to the bottom of some illegal arms dealing that may lead to corruption in the precinct.  But after getting too close to the crime boss, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), an attempt on Murphy’s life is made in front of his house by setting up a bomb in his car.  The explosion leaves Murphy critically injured with loss of his legs, one arm, and blind in one eye.  Meeting with Dr. Norton, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish), is given a choice to save her husband by using OmniCorp technology and she agrees.  When Murphy wakes up, he finds that he has a robotic body and is now a cyborg they call…Robocop.

Now, there is good and bad about this film that I’ll point out shortly.  Before I do, however, I’d like to note that this movie is directed by José Padilha.  If the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’re not alone.  Looking over his résumé of films, I don’t see one—before or after this—that I recognize.  It’s almost as though the studio picked his name out of a hat and went with it.  From what I’d read, the guy went through some frustrations during filming, like how he was scrutinized the whole time by the studio to make sure he produced a PG13 film, and, overall, wasn’t satisfied with the finished product.  Anyway, whatever disparagements I give from here on out, I don’t blame on Mr. Padilha.

Okay, I’ve already denigrated the studio’s choice to remake this film, so I won’t retread on that too much.  But I’ll compare the hell out of both of them…so here goes.

In this new film, the way they deal with Murphy needing to be made into the cyborg is handled a little unthinkingly, going with less shock.  In 1987, one of the bad guys and some goons put a hundred bullets in him as well as shooting off his hand and putting a bullet in his head.  Now THAT was shocking!  In this one?  Car go boom.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to belittle the act of someone being unfortunate enough to be blown away by a bomb, because I certainly would never want that to happen to me.  But if I were to write a scene where our hero is critically hurt only to reemerge as half-man-half-machine character, I’d go with the 1987 scene. 

As for the revenge aspects of this new film?  It’s very unsatisfying when Murphy catches up to Vallon—the crime boss who ordered the hit on Murphy—to exact revenge on him.  The scene consists of a big shoot-out only to assume Vallon died in the barrage of bullets.  Later, OmniCorp CEO, Sellars, is made into a bad guy, but it’s sort of thin how they made him into one.  Yes, he was a douche bag and a typical head honcho of a big company, but in the great scheme of things he was only looking out for his company by shutting down the product of Robocop.  How they suddenly showed him as a villain in this film was sort of forced.  In the 1987 version, you knew who the bad guys were and there was no mistaking it—when the two baddies of the film are dispatched of, it’s very satisfying and gives the audience a reason to cheer.  In this new version, it’s a bit confusing.  Is it Vallon?  Is it Sellars?  Is it Sellars’ military consultant, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley)?  Who’s the big baddie?

So what’s my final “bit” on Robocop?

All in all, this film had superb special effects and excellent design in all the robotic technology.  I liked the 
angle on how OmniCorp wanted to get their robotics in America to help police forces fight crime and how it was a very political perspective.  However, it was pretty obvious how rushed this production was—even though they had a few years to perfect it—and that it was meant to be a castrated composition to keep it a PG13 movie.  Unlike the 1987 film, there was really nothing memorable about this reboot and they should’ve just left well enough alone.  2014’s Robocop is worth a look, but I’d wait until it shows up on cable.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

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