Serve the Hollywood Remake Machine, Protect the Innocents (12 or above), Uphold the uninspired CG actioner law
It’s hard to be objective about remakes, even at the best of times. The word has so much stigma surrounding it now, that we often forget there are actually a few good ones out there.Heat? The various Body Snatchers and Living Dead incarnations? The Thing? Ocean’s Eleven? They’re certainly not unheard of. The trouble is that Hollywood has so wholeheartedly jumped on the remake bandwagon that cynicism towards The Next Remake is almost impossible to abate. Carrie, Oldboy, Total Recall – one has to wonder why these films exist. There’s nothing overtly wrong with them, particularly to new audiences – which I guess is the point – but there’s also an intrinsic flaw in their very existence. They’re utterly redundant. Four simple words should be cried out from the rooftops to all the youth of today. Just Watch The Original.I found out something I didn’t want to know about my twentysomething brother-in-law the other day. He hadn’t seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic sci-fi crime satire Robocop. He was talking about 2014’s Robocop remake as if it was some new thing, an original, inspired idea of a movie which was about to hit the cinemas. Arguably more shockingly, my 9 year-old cousin said that he was trying to persuade his dad to take him to see Robocop because it looked ‘amazing’. I felt slightly old, and increasingly angry.
Verhoeven’s Robocop is a classic. There’s no question about it. Over a quarter of a century on and it still has teeth; still remains eminently watchable, thoroughly entertaining and bitingly relevant. Even today. It’s funny, smart and has resounding punch. It’s brutal, relentless, and distinctly adult.
Robocop didn’t require a remake. And yet, here we have one.
It’s 2028 and multinational tech conglomerate OmniCorp is keen on having its robot drones implemented on home territory, in urban pacification scenarios. They’ve seen great results overseas, as their drones tear up the landscape, but the publically-popular Dreyfuss Act has prevented armed drones from being deployed within the US. The solution: the Robocop programme, which is designed to combine man and machine in an effort to circumvent the troublesome law. Enter Alex Murphy, whose dealings with a local crime boss see him car-bombed and left a perfect candidate for the programme. With reluctant consent from his wife, OmniCorp bring Murphy back to life bigger and better than ever, only with programs driving his mind, and metal dominating his body. Will Murphy’s human side be able to resist the programming and start to determine his own choices? And will he be able to get to the bottom of the seedy underbelly of both OmniCorp and his very own police force, whilst elements of both seem determined to stop him at all costs.
There was a time when a Robocop remake actually held some slim possibility to turning out well. It was when the name Darren Aronofsky was attached to the project, carrying with it the lasting weight of the likes of Black Swan, Pi and The Wrestler, and giving you the impression that, had he retained control of it, we may have had a new, unusual, and unique take on the Robocop tale. And, undoubtedly, it wouldn’t have been for kids either. Unfortunately Jose Padilha, the acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker behind the Elite Squad movies, did not stand a chance against the might of the Hollywood machine. Robocop should be nobody’s debut Hollywood outing (and it’s not only the director’s US debut, but also the writer’s first official screenwriting credit!!), and you can tell that Padilha has been pushed and pulled at every turn, delivering a product which looks slick and manufactured to specific instructions.
Ironically, given the subject, this is a distinctly corporate Hollywood remake, first and foremost, rather than a Jose Padilha film.
Sure, it does everything by the book, but that doesn’t leave much room for inspiration. It does throw a couple of nice new flourishes into the mix, which fans of the original are sure to appreciate more than newcomers, losing much of the bite in its satire, but adding the extra dimension of US foreign policy and overseas drone deployment, which happens to be pretty damn topical at the minute; losing the impact of the fall of Murphy and his partner (this time not a woman) but spending more time than either Robocop 1 or 2 did delving into the relationship between Murphy and his family, pre- and post-op.
The good new ideas are few and far between, however, and we are more often reminded of what they’ve done to the old ideas. And not in a good way.
What the hell happened to ED-209? It used to have personality. And don’t even get me started on Robo’s new slick black colouring, bike transport and CG fly-through-the-air antics. What exactly was the point in keeping his hand? What happened to his visor? These may seem insignificant, but they’re changes which must have been made for a reason. Unfortunately, the reason feels like little more than change for change’s sake. Rather than fiddle around with the aesthetics, though, perhaps the filmmakers could have spent more time tweaking the story to seem more original.
In the process, they could have given us better characters too. Sure, it’s nice to see Michael Keaton back on the Big Screen, and he handles the corporate psychopath OmniCorp CEO position well; Gary Oldman lends the movie further credibility the scientist behind Robocop; and Samuel L. Jackson properly chews the hell out of the scenery as an eccentric TV presenter and supporter of armed drone deployment – big names to be sure, and well implemented – but the villains are not served anywhere near as well. The mobsters are utterly throwaway, and even Jackie Earle Haley’s OmniCorp military tactician, Maddox, doesn’t stand the slightest comparison to the Boddickers and Dick Jones’s of the original. But viewers may not even get as far as not being bothered about the villains when they don’t give a damn about the hero – Joel Kinnaman is no Peter Weller, and, where Weller brought life and soul to every movement, every word, Kinnaman spends more time out of the helmet and still fails to make any kind of distinct impression.
The action, too, is very anticlimactic, with not a single memorable sequence in the entire piece. Sure, the effects are generally excellent, but effects alone are far from enough to secure your interest these days – we’ve simply seen it all before, and without the depth behind it, it simply lacks any kind of impact. And the rating? Well, suffice to say, they shoot an entire action sequence in the dark. Yes, this one is designed for the kids, with Robo’s conflicts often being against other robots, and never leading to any kind of bloody outcome.
Honestly, there’s nothing really wrong with 2014’s Robocop, but you are still likely to make it to the end feeling a little bit meh. After a while, it just feels so... boring. A classic, this will never be.
Much like 2012's Total Recall, it's a shiny piece of precision engineering. But it’s still soulless and, ultimately, redundant.
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