Thursday, February 20, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Robocop (2014)

Let's get this out of the way first: I Didn't Hate It.

Believe me, no one's more surprised by that statement than I am. I've been a big fan of the original film since I saw it in the theater in 1987, and in my mind nothing could possibly top it. Ever since this remake was first announced I've been anticipating a disaster, fully prepared to hate it. The trailer that debuted last year did nothing but confirm my fears. I'm happy to admit I was wrong about the film. It's not better than the original of course, but all things considered it's actually pretty good. It's definitely leaps and bounds better than the abomination that was the execrable Total Recall remake from a couple years back.

In a way I kind of feel sorry for this film. No matter how well it turned out, no one will ever be able to judge it without comparing it to the original. It just can't be done. It might have been better if they'd changed the names of the characters and called it CyberCop or something like that.

Robocop (2014) was directed by Jose Padilha and written by Joshua Zetumer. Believe it or not, the remake was first announced way back in 2005 and was delayed numerous times before finally being filmed. Wow, nine years in production? Somebody really, really wanted to make a new Robocop movie!

Even though the film is better than it has any right to be, it's not perfect. It lacks the over the top violence and satirical edge of the original, and worst of all it has no memorable villains.

Maybe those changes are for the best though. Maybe the filmmakers realized they could never make a better movie than the original, so they decided to make a different one instead. To approach the story from another angle and explore other aspects of it. If Hollywood insists on remaking everything, perhaps that's the way to go.


The Plot:
It's RoboCop. Surely by now you know the story. Honest cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is grievously injured and turned into a robot designed to be the perfect policeman. Gradually his humanity overcomes his soulless programming and he brings his "killers" to justice.

• The original film was initially rated X due to its glorious, outlandish comic book violence. It had to be edited several times before getting an R rating. This version is rated PG-13 so the whole family can see it and pump up the box office take. 

The violence may have been toned down, but it still contains its share of disturbing imagery that's unsuitable for kids. That didn't stop the Parent Of The Year I saw bring their four and five year old kids to the theater when I saw it though.

• This film is set in 2028, which is a dumb move in my opinion. Placing your sci-fi movie too close to the present is just asking for trouble, especially when your predictions don't come to pass.

The original was set in a vague and unspecified near future, which seems like a much better solution to me.

• In the original film Murphy's partner was a white woman named Lewis. Lewis is back for the remake, but is now a black man. Sigh... 

So why the change? Is it White Guilt, or are the filmmakers trying to appeal to the widest possible audience, believing that blacks won't see a movie if there's no one of color in it?

Either way, it's a step back. The original Lewis was a capable, ass-kicking cop who took audiences by surprise back in 1987. There's nothing unusual about New Lewis, and he's about as exciting as spent dish water. His main skill seems to be getting shot in the gut, which he does twice (!) in the film.

• In the original (Sorry! I told you it's impossible to not compare them!) Murphy is horrifically tortured by sadistic criminal Clarence Boddicker before being killed. Here Murphy's simply and plainly blown up real good by a car bomb. Yawn.

That said, this time around we see the aftermath of the attack on Murphy's life, and it's suitably gruesome.

• According to Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), Murphy suffers from fourth degree burns. You don't hear about them often, but believe it or not they're a real thing. They generally affect deep tissue, muscle and bone.

• After Murphy is transformed into Robocop, he believes he's been encased inside an armored suit. Dr. Norton demonstrates that this is not the case by removing his robotic parts, revealing that all that's left of Murphy is his brain, part of his head, his heart, lungs and right hand.

This scene was absolutely horrifying, and pushed the PG-13 rating to the limit.

This is one area where the new version is an improvement. The original film was always kind of vague as to just how much of Murphy was left. We saw the skin of his face stretched over his robotic skull and got a line or two about his "extremely simple digestive system" and that was pretty much it. I'm betting the producers of the original would have loved to have filmed a "reveal" scene like we get here, but were limited by their budget and the technology of the time.

• In the original film, when project leader Bob Morton is told that surgeons were able to save Murphy's arm, he tells them to lose it. In this version they've inexplicably salvaged Murphy's right hand. I can't for the life of me figure out why. Is it so he could still use touch pads? So he'd have a physical link to his humanity? Because they thought it would look kewl?

Keeping the hand makes no sense on so many levels. For one thing it's constantly bare and unprotected. Seems like an easy target to me. They don't have gloves in the future? And how is it even still "alive?" When Norton removes all of Murphy's robotic parts, the hand is just kind of laying there on the table. Are there real arteries and veins that thread from Murphy's heart, down through his robot arm and to his wrist? Lose the hand!

• At the beginning and end of the film, Robocop's body is silver. This new design echoes the 1987 version, but updates it for 2014. I liked it quite a bit.

Unfortunately they couldn't leave well enough alone. OmniCorp president Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) says he wants RoboCop to look more "tactical," and suggests a sleeker black armor. Unfortunately Murphy sports the black armored look through the majority of the film.

Whether it was intended or not, this scene felt to me like a dig at fans of the original film.

Try as I might, I don't care for the black armor. I don't know what it is about the design, but it looks absolutely nothing like a robot. It looks like exactly what it is— a man in a close fitting armored suit. It looks more like an all black Iron Man or Batman suit than a robot. 

They can foley all the clunking footsteps and servomotor whines into the soundtrack they want, but it isn't gonna convince me I'm watching a robot.

It doesn't help that Murphy keeps raising the visor on the black helmet, revealing Joel Kinnaman's incongruous baby face within.

If there are any sequels to this film (which seems likely) I hope they leave him silver.

• Speaking of Raymond Sellars, he's obviously meant to be an evil Steve Jobs analog. He even says, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them," which is an actual Jobs quote.

• One huge thing that's missing from this new version: a main villain! The original film had a very colorful and memorable bad guy in Clarence Boddicker. This version has no one who even comes close. There's a drug kingpin named Antoine Vallon, but he's dull, unremarkable and a very, very poor substitute for Boddicker.

Instead of one main bad guy, here we get a series of lesser ones. With the exception of Murphy's family pretty much everyone in the film is a villain to a degree. Even Dr. Norton isn't without sin. He lies to Murphy and treats him like an experiment instead of a person before becoming more sympathetic toward him late in the film.
• Murphy's wife and son have much bigger parts in this film, even going so far as to meet and have contact with him after his transformation. In the original his family pretty much disappeared (except for the occasional flashback) once Murphy "died." 

I didn't mind this change. It put a different spin on the story and kept it from being a complete cookie cutter remake.

• I miss the satirical elements of the original film. Where's Bixby Snyder, star of It's Not My Problem? You know, the guy who constantly said, "I'd buy that for a dollar!" Where's T.J. Lazer? Where's the 6000 SUX?

Instead we get Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a Bill O'Reilly type of TV blowhard who's trying to sell Americans on the idea of robotic drones for our protection.

I suppose this was an inevitable change. The original film was a product of its time, and poked fun at the issues of its day. It's only logical that this aspect would be updated for the 21st Century. I just wish they'd have have done so a bit more colorfully. 

• I may have to retire my Samuel L. Jackson Hair Rule. A while back I posited that when Jackson is bald in a film, it has a high chance of being good. When he has a bizarre hairstyle, chances are it's gonna be bad.

Jackson has odd hair in this film and it's not that bad. Maybe my Rule was wrong after all.

• The ED-209 robot in the original film was big, blundering and dumb. It had a lot of personality for a machine.

These new updated ED-209s have absolutely zero screen presence. They look OK, but just aren't as much fun as the originals.

These new ones are just as dumb as their predecessors though. Robocop hides behind one and tricks the other ED units into blowing up their kin. And this despite the fact that their readouts consistently said, "SEARCHING FOR CLEAR SHOT."

• The first film was full of quotable lines that people are still uttering today. I can't think of a single one worth repeating in this remake. 

Rick Mattox (Jackie Earl Haley) offers a weak homage to the original when he says, "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar," but the line thuds to the ground like a sack of wet laundry.

• They used parts of Basil Poledouris' original RoboCop theme a couple of times in the score. 
It made me positively giddy to hear the old score, but it may have been a mistake. Hearing it made me want to see the original movie on the big screen again, instead of this version.

By the way, last year I examined the official trailer for the film and posted my predictions and assumptions about the plot. So how'd I do? Eh, not so well. Out of the 18 predictions I made, 12 of them were correct. 12 out of 18 sounds pretty good to me. However, that's 66%, which the test grade calculator tells me is a D. Really? More than half right and I still get a D? No wonder I hated school.

An unwanted and unnecessary remake of a classic action film, RoboCop (2014) turned out much better than it had any right to. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I give it a B.

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