FILM REVIEW: ROBOCOP (2014)

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Hey look! I’m doing a review about a movie that is actually in theatres at the moment! So much for being “10 Years Too Late”.

Well the reason i’m diverging from the norm here is because i was so pleasantly surprised by this movie that i really want to write a review on it before it drifts from my memory.

I really wasn’t looking forward to this movie. Like at all. My curiosity was sparked when i first heard Darren Aronofsky was going to direct it. He left and or got booted and then i saw the first pictures of concept art for how this new Robocop was going to look, and i thought it was awfully bland. Then i saw the first trailer for this and my eyes rolled backwards so hard i should’ve flown backwards out of my seat. I thought to myself “Why? Why does this need to be shown? Why are all of the people in the theatre so impressed by this? Don’t they realise they can just watch the original”?

But then talked into watching it by a friend (we suffered through Battleship together) i saw the movie and was just as honestly surprised by its quality as i was with the original.

 

THE STORY

Alex Murphy is a good cop in a bad city… No wait! I got one better: Alex J. Murphy is a straight cop in a bent city. He makes the wrong people mad and an explosion later he comes back part man, part machine, ALL COP.

 

THE GOOD

As any good remake should, the basic concept of the original should be used as a basis to do something a bit different with. It can be a change in tone (Harakiri: Death of a Samurai) or setting (For a Fistful of Dollars) that leads to the changes needed to separate the remake from the original but in Robocop’s instance neither can really done; you couldn’t really make it take place in feudal Japan and moving it to the distant future would hurt the contemporary feel, nor would the concept really work if it was turned into a murder mystery or romantic comedy. This dilemma resulted in the writers taking the original’s basic ideas and giving them a Yahtzee like shuffle and shake, and this results in a Robocop that is a homage to the original without being completely chained to it. As a result the film can be judged more or less as a separate entity, because as we all well know all stories are just a shuffling up of different pieces.

Thematically this Robocop also has a different agenda compared with the original, the film smartly brings into question how much privacy and/or freedoms we as citizens should be willing to give up for the promise of security. Now this conclusion can indeed be argued by bringing up the fact that without the advanced surveillance tools that Murphy uses he really would only be a glorified and highly expensive one man SWAT team. But its in the little details that give away the critique of the whole system of over surveillance; how quickly Murphy finds his suspects using video surveillance and facial recognition is rightfully unnerving, and how loudly Sam Jackson yells at us that this is in our best interests to let this happen, seems to be an attempt to get us yelling back at him in disagreement.

Speaking of Sam Jackson the entire cast of this film is more or less perfectly chosen, with all of the players being well suited for their respective roles, Joel Kinnaman gives us a good mix of thinking feeling man and cold machine needed for the role, Michael Keaton’s natural nice guy demeanour helps hide his character’s rather nasty agenda, and Gary Oldman turns in a typically good performance of the conflicted doctor.

Lastly a movie like this despite its thematic undercurrents and political agenda should and could only really succeed if it was a decent action movie, which it is. The fire fights are frenetic without turning into a complete mess of shaky camera work and over cutting, and the special effects are for the most part completely flawless.

 

THE BAD

Although a direct comparison between the Robocop of 1987 and the Robocop of 2013 is difficult seeing as the two are really quite different from each other it nonetheless can’t escape it completely. It fails in this comparison mostly on the fact that the Murphy that is “killed” at the beginning of the piece is (despite missing most of his body) more or less the same Murphy he is at the end of the movie. Now granted he has much of his humanity stripped away piece by piece (his body, his free will, his self-control, and then finally his emotions) but he gets them all back so quickly and so completely that this loss of himself seems more like a subplot then a main focus of the plot. This wasn’t the case for the original and sadly the film feels a little vacant without it.

A perfect example of this is while the original keeps the motivation (for a lack of a better term) for Murphy’s self discovery is kept hidden, here in the remake it is heavily suggested that it is his soul that drives him to disobey protocol and override their systems and controls, to which that suggestion is ridiculed by another one of the character’s. Doing that immediately makes me question and validity of Murphy’s soul indeed being the reason he is unable to be fully controlled. It just seems silly when it is brought into light and this is something that the original wisely left unsaid.

Basil Poledouris’ score although being represented by the main theme being heard at the beginning and end of this movie is unfortunately given an arrangement that i found rather disagreeable. It’s somehow too rock music like for me to accept. This is however small peanuts compared to the next point.

ED-209 doesn’t make a tiger roar… I’m serious. That’s a major blow for me, i honestly put the use of the tiger roar when ED-209 attacks Robocop in the original as perhaps the best use of the sound effect in all of the films that i have watched or ever will watch (a close second is Batman’s Bat Tank in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). Here its just that bassy drone that you hear in any other movie when you want a machine to appear intimidating (Terminator Salvation springs immediately to mind…).

 

THE UGLY

Despite its flaws, Robocop (2013) succeeds in being a little bit more interesting than it really has a right to be. Its thrilling because it makes us care about Murphy, and its contemporary in the questions it brings to light.

As a result if you’ve watched the original you really shouldn’t have too much to complain about here as this movie succeeds in being not only a good remake, but also its own separate entity.

*** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE

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