RoboCop (2014)

RoboCop (2014)Synopsis: Crime has a new enemy in this “sleek, stylish and smart” (Silas Lesnick, ComingSoon.net) action-thriller starring Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton! In the year 2028, greedy conglomerate OmniCorp uses robotic technology to transform critically injured police officer Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) into the ultimate crime fighter. He’s part man, part machine…he’s RoboCop! Back on the streets, Murphy is hard-wired for law enforcement, but the mind and memories of the human inside long to take over…and the results could be catastrophic.

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RoboCop (2014) 7.5

eyelights: the update. the quality of the production. the credible performances.
eyesores: its lack of thrills. its limited satirical content.

“Americans don’t want a machine. They want a product with a conscience. They want something that knows what it feels like to be human. We’re gonna put a man inside a machine.”

When a big budget remake of ‘RoboCop‘ was announced, I immediately dismissed the idea. Firstly, for at least a decade now, I’ve been bloody sick and tired of remakes/reboots/re-imaginings. Does this stream of reheated crap ever end? Create something new, Hollywood, I say!

I also felt that ‘RoboCop’ was a product of its time, something that doesn’t necessarily translate well to the current environment – especially since much of what it forewarned has since become a reality. That the production was continuously delayed didn’t lend it any credibility, either.

I wasn’t planning to ever see it.

However, one of my best friends one day recommended it to me. Not with a capital R, but with a small r, saying that they had done a decent job of revamping the franchise. That stuck to my mind and, when I decided to watch the original trilogy, figured I might as well watch this too.

2014’s ‘RoboCop’ is a picture that is a reboot more so than a remake; it takes the original concept and spins it in a new way – as opposed to basically redoing the original picture but with a new cast and more modern cinematic techniques. In other words, it’s more like ‘Star Trek‘ than ‘Psycho (1998)‘.

The core story is the same: set in Detroit of the future, it’s story of police officer Alex Murphy after he is reconstructed as a cyborg following a deadly attack by a gang. It explores the impact of his cybernetic form on society, his fellow officers, his family and, above all, himself.

There are notable differences in this version, however:

  • While the primary theme of “man or machine” remains, albeit approached in a different fashion, the secondary theme is no longer the corporatization of public resources, but the use of drones in peace-keeping. Sadly, the former is pretty much a fait accompli whereas the latter is a new concern that is becoming a reality. It’s equally valid and totally pertinent to this story. I just wish they had done both.
  • There’s very little satirical material in this version of ‘RoboCop’, and what little there is focuses primarily on the political and corporate spin machine, featuring Samuel l Jackson as the host of ‘The Novak Element’, an infotainment news show that sees him control the message with extreme hyperbole, drama and bias, going so far as to silencing intelligent counter-arguments. He’s obviously a caricature of recent right-wing anchors.

Anyway, it makes you wonder who he is working for, whose agenda he is pushing, as he tells us that Operation Freedom Tehran (which has ED-209s and other robots occupying the city while intimidating and screening everyone as they pass by), is creating an “environment of safety” when we can see that, in actuality, it has Tehran’s citizens scared s#!tless to the point of being radicalized.

It’s a good intro to the picture, setting the stage quite well. But the picture introduces a number of new elements with mixed results:

  • OCP exists as a parent company to OmniCorp, and they don’t own the police force. But they do work in conjunction with the police. They are making a fortune on drones, but haven’t been able to crack the U.S. market due to fears about the risk of turning security to inhuman machines. They develop the RoboCop project to bridge the gap, to make a dent in public perceptions.
  • The 1987 Alex Murphy was a nice guy, a new recruit just doing his duty. This one is a confrontational guy who is having difficulties at home with his spouse. He works undercover, buying black market weaponry.
  • The 1987 Alex Murphy’s partner was Anne Lewis, a kick-@$$ veteran. In this one, Murphy’s partner is just some dude by the name of Jack Lewis. And he’s the one who gets shot, not Murphy.
  • Murphy is blown up in retaliation for his involvement in an undercover sting operation; he’s not shot to pieces after being captured by criminals.
  • The violence is rated PG-13. Due to a ballooning budget, the producers decided to keep the rating low to make the picture available to a broader public. This is a huge change given that the original got an X-rating for violence. Having said this, times have changed and a PG-13 rating today is often an R rating from 25-30 years ago.
  • Murphy isn’t dead and isn’t the property of OCP. In this one, his spouse has to sign release forms for him to undergo the procedure that would permit him to have a more normal life. She relents after much deliberation.
  • Murphy is initially self-aware. Although part of his brain has been damaged, he retains his memories and personality. Consequently, he is also suicidal after discovering what’s left of his body.
  • The procedure takes three months, not days (or whatever it was in the 1987 version), and takes place in China, not Detroit.
  • RoboCop is sleeker and much more agile than the original.
  • Although initially metallic, like the original, this RoboCop is made “tactical black” for marketing reasons.
  • RoboCop can be shut down by OCP at any time with the press of a button.
  • Alex Murphy is closely monitored throughout the picture by Omni’s Dr. Dennett Norton (played by the ever-terrific Gary Oldman).
  • Murphy’s relationship with his family (which he isn’t allowed to see) plays a big part in his development. In the original, his memory is erased and he must recover them along with his humanity.
  • The picture focuses more on Murphy’s personal journey from man to cyborg along with everything surrounding this. Although there are action sequences along the way, it takes a full 67 minutes before RoboCop goes out on his first real mission.
  • Although RoboCop goes out on a revenge spree, this time it also involves a few cops – which he has no qualms taking down.
  • The actors’ performances are much more realistic than in the original; this picture is meant to be taken seriously. Interestingly, although I liked Alex and Clara Murphy, they made me think of B-list doppelgangers of Hugh Jackman and Charlize Theron.
  • The final showdown with the OmniCorp head is absolutely “meh”, as is the ending, which is totally uneventful or exciting. This is very different from the original, which had that satisfying moment when Dick Jones has his OCP immunity stripped by “the old man”… just as RoboCop comes after him.
  • Although the original Basil Poledouris themes are reused (and thank goodness for that!), in some areas the music has similar motifs to ‘The Dark Knight‘.

Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by this iteration of ‘RoboCop’. It’s a different beast altogether, but it holds up rather well. It’s only in the final act that my interest waned somewhat, with the dénouement lacking the punch you’d expect, something to make you cheer for our hero.

Still, it’s a higher quality, more realistic, motion picture than its predecessor. This is a double-edged sword because it’s more credible, but it misses the point. By being less violent and less satirical, it lacks the balance of humour and edge that made the original so thought-provocative.

But it sure beats the original sequels.

The viewing public seemed to think so too: this reboot grossed more than all of the original films combined (although, adjusted for inflation, this would skew the data). Will there be another film in this revamped franchise? Who knows. But I’d certainly be interested in seeing where they’d take it next.

As RoboCop might say to the producers: “Your move!”

Date of viewing: April 22, 2015

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