Monday, June 20, 2016

MR RoboCop (2014)

Movie: RoboCop (2014)
Directed by José Padilha  
Release date 2014
Genre Science-fiction/Action/Thriller film
Country USA

An all-time cult classic and a huge R-Rated hit from the 80s, Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop is the kind of film you can't simply redo nowadays. It was clearly the product of its time. Perfected by a master of a genre long gone.

But it's not like that would have stopped Columbia Pictures to try remaking this 1987 classic and completely reboot it for a modern audience.

A RoboCop reboot was announced as early as 2005, with several directors attached to it at one point or another such as Darren Aronofsky and David Self. But it kept being constantly delayed several times before the now defunct company Orion Pictures sold the rights of the original film to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. We finally got a name attached to it which actually gave RoboCop fans some hope when it was revealed Brazilian director of the Elite Squad films José Padilha would make the film. In fact Elite Squad is the perfect demo reel for someone asking for this job, the film featuring similar type of tone and themes.

But a director is as good as the studio allows him the freedom to be. And this reboot was to be a sanitized PG-13 blockbuster flick, stripped of its graphic violence and characters and dark humor...

The movie would just make double of its budget back internationally, being received to much mixed reception. While some enjoyed the performances and the style, the film actually really lacks what made the original great: violence, social satire and a self-aware gritty tone. Even the effects of the remake are already starting to look dated compared to the original despite being only a couple of years old...

The story of this remake follows more or less that of the original film, with a few updated details.

The year is 2028. (Just like the original, only a few years "into the future".) OmniCorp is a mega-corporation that has made a living building war machines to maintain the law the law outside the US in various conflicted zone like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. The CEO of OmniCorp Raymond Sellars wants to bring his robots to the US mass-market, but they have issues selling the same technology domestically - namely because of the "Dreyfus Act" which forbids the use of automated drones on US territories. You see, the American nation actually fears their own tech.

So they have a genius idea - they're going to sell their tech through a much more marketable friendly figure. This guy Dr. Dennett Norton is put in charge of a research team to build the very first cyborg police officer, but they need a test subject. That's where Detective Alex Murphy comes in.

Alex Murphy was a young father and loving husband. One day he is critically injured in the line of duty while investigating corrupt cops and crime boss Antoine Vallon. Vallon seeks revenge by blowing up Murphy in a timely car explosion in front of his own house. His wife Clara is forced to sign a wager to donate Alex's body to OmniCorp so they can try saving him. Alex Murphy is rebuild. Part-man, part-machine, all cop!

When Murphy finally wakes up in his new body, he starts running away in terror only to discover his new abilities.

RoboCop is given a field test with this trainer (Rorschach from Watchmen!) Rick Mattox to compete against OmniCorp's drones. Of course the machines win, since the human brain isn't able to keep up with AI. They start altering his programming to be more efficient and get rid of the human factor. Whenever he puts this helmet on, a drone programing takes over his controls. His wife notices the changes.

Murphy has a breakdown during the ceremony for his introduction to the city of Detroit. Alex goes looking for crime to stop. And he even starts investigating his own murder. Clara asks some questions, she wants to see her husband. Their son David's having nightmares!

Murphy finds the criminals responsible for his situation. He learns who the corrupt cops are and even the chief of police is involved. He's able to finally narrow down his suspects to the CEO of OmniCorp, Raymond Sellars. He attacks their building and faces a bunch of ED-209 drones with the help of his old partner Jack Lewis. The programming finally kicks in, stopping him from arresting the CEO.

Will RoboCop be able to take over his own body, defy OmniCorp's control and put a stop to the evil president of the company who, by this point is turned into a full-on over-the-top villain kidnapping his own wife and child as hostages!?! Well, guess what...

When you try reimagining something as unique and iconic as RoboCop, you're expected to try a bit more than just making the next big generic action film in a flash, otherwise you'd end up with a very forgettable product that won't stand the test of time. But that's how this 2014 RoboCop rolls. It's a calmer film in terms of action. It plays your usual themes of fear of the technological. But at the end of the day it just feels "current", not "timeless".

Even judging this film without any connection to the RoboCop series it still fails, being a pretty generic action film. The original was intelligent satire, full of dark humor.

They did several questionable changes for the sake of changing things, and not for the best of the film. Not anyone can simply remake a Paul Verhoven film without his fantastic touch. The 1987 film was a classic, with a ridiculous but fun premise. It was so bloody, a big satire of capitalism and authoritarianism. This sleek modern action film made just for "modern audiences" is just that.

I can compliment the film on its great supporting cast though, even though the rest of the film is not that great. The film stars Joel Kinnaman in the titular role, along Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish and Jackie Earle Haley in supporting roles. Kinnaman performs a decent delivery with the little he has to do, but RoboCop's role always been a minimalist performance and it does works for Murphy. The problem is they didn't even bother changing his voice, he has his memories intact. Is he even a robot in this version or just some guy in super-suit? They wanted the character more relatable for the audience, but it ends with a protagonist with less connection and emotion despite his less robotic approach. There's no similar sense of journey. Thankfully Michael Keaton and Samuel K. Jackson provide the film's only few good moments. Samuel L Jackson is a really fun TV personality. And Gary Oldman is even given the best subplot of the film, much more interesting than what transpires on the surface.

The real issues with the film revolve mostly around the plot and the narration. We are told there is a lot of crime in Detroit yet we never see any of it. The film suffers from a poor direction, José Padilha  is usually better than that but he's clearly no Paul Verhoeven. We don't get to see any riots, cops on strike, the city even looks super clean. They say we need robots in the US, but we don't get to see any war zones like at the beginning of the film. Only beautiful neighborhoods, no visible crime in this city, no need for RoboCop, nothing. In comparison the old RoboCop's or the actual Detroit look like a nightmare! Everything is so clean in this film!

They also completely missed playing the angle with the upper-class wanting robots kicking on doors of the middle-class. There's a lot of missed opportunities in this film. They even stopped short of making their point when robots were scanning people on the media. You would expected to see a similar harsh transition to the inner city and how it really is there, but we never get any of that. They should play it up and ask us "What happens when robots kill kids..." But the machines actually are never seen making any mistakes! The drones are never wrong, so they never prove any point and have us asking questions. They don't show robots making mistakes, justifying the use of a cyborg instead. I mean, even real human cops make mistakes in real life!

The other problem is that RoboCop is never shown stopping any crimes visually, we don't see him doing anything on camera. So why do we even need a RoboCop? There's no justification for a RoboCop since he could easily be replaced by computers and pretended to be human with facial recognition.

Also Lewis is somehow turned into a guy here.. Which doesn't bring anything, it's just... "there". Originally Lewis also served as his human connection, but here he also has his own family and Lewis does nothing to remind him how to be a person.

Cameras are shown filming everybody all the time in their privacy and yet they are worried about drones?!

We also never get to see the bomb, so Alex Murphy's death doesn't have the same impact anymore. And what if he never went into the car?! Michael Keaton's CEO never gets to be really threatening, OmniCorp/OCP is always shown working great, they even have these perfect prosthetics that work. Do we even need RoboCop, the ED-209 seem to work perfectly fine too. It's an amazing company, are we supposed to think they're the villains? No robot is shown killing innocents, released early for patching later.

The original struggle for Murphy's humanity is not even used right, here RoboCop seem to be just fine, he never properly reprogrammed, etc. The film has no actual conflict until they decide to just drop it in here later on. The original had his memories triggering his consciousness back, showing some growth through the movie, the new movie shows potential for exploring the horror burnt victims suffer through, like having learn to walk again...

The real problem is that the film feels completely different from the original, this is more of a superhero film this time than RoboCop, really. RoboCop never misfires, he always works perfectly, he never goes off rails, freak out nor escape. They also tried to add some satire in there, but it just feels so rushed,  unpolished and leading to nowhere.

It's a real big mixed bag.

On one hand it is a pretty bad reboot, a generic action film with some ok action scenes, a laughable final and generic robots design. But there are some redeeming qualities for the film, I did like some of its ideas.

They have a few funny attempts at satire with Samuel L. Jackson's character popping up here and there. Which reminded me how silly this whole thing was, the problem is that they played the rest way too straight.

A lot of missed opportunities really. They could have made Michael Keaton a real villain, if he had been shown blackmailing the scientist into building RoboCop or threatening him, but nope! That doesn't go anywhere, like most ideas here.

I blame too many rewrites. They probably abandoned the whole political angle. There are some ideas like how Murphy's not totally in control when that software kicks in when his mask goes down, but that is quickly dropped and not followed on either.

And yes, you have to compare the remake to the original, or else they should just have named this something else. In the original you felt more emotion and connection between the characters in one single flashback scene than the entire family scenes in this reboot. It feels like the remake can't pick a direction and stick with it. There's a program controlling Murphy? Ok, but he breaks from it instantaneously a second later!

Everything feels restrained, no doubt due to the PG-13 rating. The violence, the language, the satire, etc. RoboCop loses a lot from not having any clear "prime directives". And he's not really ever programmed to do what they want either. The whole watch gimmick feels improvised, you lose a watch you become a target, it's so random. Perhaps in better hands the same script and ideas could have worked. Maybe playing up the whole drone/warfare aspect.

The film feels like it went through various reshoots after test audiences complained about the film not feeling like the original RoboCop. The original classic RoboCop theme music seems tackled on, the track is simply recycled from the original why not even bother to rescore it seamlessly into the new music? There's a few scenes early on where RoboCop sports the familiar-looking grey coloring, but in those scenes RoboCop's always entirely CGi they didn't make that suit for the actor and it looks really bad in comparison to the rest of the film. Like they wanted to add more RoboCop flair way too late into production.

Between the PG-13 rating and the new slicker black redesign complete with 80s disco red visor it's like they just wanted to sell a bunch of new toys to kids (which is ironic compared to the bad sequel RoboCop 3...). Where the original did without a silly robo-car and other robo-gadgets because of the low budget, the new one fails for every single trap. Somewhat making the older film more adult, real and intemporal.

But let me precise the new film is not as bad as I feared.

There's some good, like the Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton characters. But most of the problems come from RoboCop, Alex Murphy and the story itself.

In a way, they could have made a much better film out of this material had it not been a full-on remake of the original (and therefore skip the origin story) but actually a modern-day continuation of the original series. They could have made up for it by playing up the rapid evolving technology and obsolescence of technology with the same good ol' original RoboCop forced to be upgraded with a sleek modern black redesign. And you could have made a much stronger film instead of this half-baked reboot that simply can't make RoboCop himself any interesting.

And worst of all Alex Murphy doesn't die! In the original Murphy died a horrifying death at the hand of a gang of thugs, humiliated by his murderers. But in the 2014 he's never really pronounced dead and only seems to suffer from sever burns over most of his body, which OmniCorp twists into only being able to save his head, brain, lungs and a hand (which actually never comes to play with either his son or RoboCop's classic gun handling). Blame the PG-13 rating constrains, the car bomb lacks all the visceral impact of the original scene and takes out the direct hand the main villain had in Murphy's demise.

And no, the cheeky references ("I Wouldn't Buy That For A Dollar") don't make up for it...

The original did better selling the fact we did need a new kind of cop to stop crime out of control. The new film should have played up selling robots to the audience, using RoboCop as the poster ad for robotics. And the test simulations quickly drop holograms as established to instead destroy more tax-payed robots with real guns and ammo! Why make RoboCop jump, it feels like he's just wearing an Iron Man-like exoskeleton armor. And why did they even keep the hand!? It's not even attached to any organs or anything anymore!!

Maybe this 2014 film would have worked better as a mini-series. They should have gone further, showing cameras everywhere, a dirtier city. No doubt all these issues come from studio interference since this was actually a decent director for a modern RoboCop film used to satire. If you remake a movie, even more so one so flawless as the original, at least try something new and different with it. The tone is kind of all over the place, they should have either gone for a proper satire or a more realistic drama.

And the music, like much of the rest of the film, felt so sterile, forgettable, bland and generic. Pedro Bromfman did reuse Basil Poledouris's classic RoboCop cue but aside from that this sounds like your fairly generic action flick music, it's not really bad but simply unmemorable with no decent action cue.

Overall, RoboCop (2014) is an attempt at remaking a classic movie from the 1980s, but it ends a much colder metallic showcase of modern special effects trying to make up for a weak plot shortcomings.

It's not unwatchable, and by that I mean it's just okay. Well executed enough, although with no sense of direction nor clear vision. There's a few decent action scenes. The pacing is ok as well. But it all just feels so flat. It feels like they upgraded the technology while downgrading the story.

Hey, not everyone can be Paul Verhoeven you know!

The film ends up a generic produced modern Hollywood remake of an R-rated science-fiction classic. In my eyes, I Can't Really Recommend this one. It's enjoyable but it suffers from too many issues. Dredd for example also went for a similar feel but at least it had a constant tone and went for a more realistic approach.

A lot of the film doesn't make much sense or is just dropped out and never explored. A lot of plot points are introduced for no reason. And I was honestly expecting his hand outside the suit to play a role in RoboCop's trademark "cowboy skills" with a handgun. Why did they keep that hand outside?! It just make it feel like it's just a man inside a cheap costume, not a machine despite some great effects when you get to see Alex Murphy head and remains exposed in the lab!

It's a decent film, but completely forgettable at the end of the day. Stay with the classics!

I give it:
1.5 / 3 UFOs!

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