Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Robocop (2014)

As a human being who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, you may have noticed that I have a certain predilection for things from that period of time that encompassed my childhood. I love G.I. Joe, Macron 1, the Giffen era Justice League, Thundercats, Go-Bots, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Goonies, and Robocop. Ah, yes, Robocop, a film so delightfully violent and clever that quite perfectly satirized the 1980s way of life and pointed out many problems with things while giving us a cyborg police officer who took down criminals brutally and efficiently. I have long looked back at this film as one of the movies that should never be remade, as I felt a remake would miss the point and not have the charm that made the original such a classic. Then, the remake was announced and I tried to stop my eye from twitching when I saw Robocop was going to have a visible human hand.

Note to criminals: if you're wondering how to disarm him, try shooting the fleshy unarmoured hand holding the gun.

But, I don't want to judge a film before I've seen it because, as I have pointed out before, there are good remakes out there. Sure, this isn't really a remake that needed to happen, but let's make the best of this, yes? So, I have a few reservations going in, but I start the film and hope for a good surprise. Immediately the film opens and I find myself face to face with the best thing about the remake: Samuel L. Jackson playing a very (and I do mean very) thinly veiled Bill O'Reily. I felt immediately like it was Christmas or that perhaps Cousin Shy stopped by to give me an early Halloween gift.

If you don't know who Cousin Shy is then you'll just have to wait until next month.
As expected, Jackson's character is all about promoting the obvious villain's agenda, which is to bring robots to the streets stateside to act as law enforcement, much as they are doing over in the middle east. They want to do this because that means more money and power for the bossman, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of the company Omnicorp. Now, we all know that in movies corporations are always evil, right? I mean, I'm not saying that corporate entities are all that great in how they handle things, but in reality they're not really what one would call good or evil. They're what they are: corporations. They can have some pretty awful people in charge of them, yes, but that can change and the company's mandate can be altered. But no, in movies (especially ones from the 1980s) they're these big horrible monsters that seem to only exist to ruin the lives of others. But the problem with Sellars getting robots on the street over here is rather simple: people don't trust emotionless killing machines.

Well, unless they capture our hearts as they develop emotional bonds with semi-annoying kids.
It's then decided that what they need is something that does have emotions, which in this case means a cyborg cop. And not just any cop will do, it has to be an emotionally stable "big damn hero" sort of cop. That brings us to Detective Alex Murphy, who is played by an actor who seems to be halfway between being a robot and Mark Wahlberg. Yeah, I gotta say that Joel Kinnaman doesn't really impress much. I can't tell if he's not trying hard enough or if he's simply not a great actor, but either way he's rather generic as far as leads go. He has a loving family, a partner who loves him like a brother, and an exemplary record. Now, if only he was mostly dead...

Welp...that happened.
Yeah, Alex and his partner Jack went after a certain big crimelord type while undercover. Two other cops ratted them out and Jack got shot. The crimelord decided to handled Alex by giving him the full Michael Bay gift basket in the form of a bomb on his car that destroys most of his body as well as emotionally scarring his entire family. Obviously, he gets signed up to be Robocop and Dr. Gary Oldman saves his life over a period of three months as Alex undergoes the transformation into the ultimate cyborg bad-ass. Alex, understandably, reacts a bit poorly towards the revelation and runs away like an emotional teenager. Eventually, the doctor calms him down and tells him what happened in more detail and our hero asks to see how much of him is actually left. It turns out that it's really not all that much, as he's basically just a head, esophagus, heart, a pair of lungs, and a right hand.

Some assembly may be required.

And now, can we really talk about this? Because it is bugging the hell out of me. Why did they bother to keep his right hand? It's not an advantage, it's not even connected to the rest of his so it's basically a piece of meat that the robot bits make work. It's just this huge liability that, realistically, wouldn't been destroyed during one of the many fights in this film. It doesn't look good either, as it stands out from the rest of the design they go with. It doesn't really help matters that they make it his main shooting hand, because that's a great idea. Let's have our bad-ass cyborg have a weak fleshy hand that can get shot up or blown off in the middle of combat, rather than him having an armoured hand like his left one. Hell, couldn't they have at least covered the hand in armour? I know it might not seem important, but it's just so stupid the more I think about it. It'd be like Iron Man leaving his crotch unarmoured, because no enemy would ever take advantage of that, right? To be honest, this was the thing that turned me off the most about this remake when I saw the pictures and previews.

Well, at least I can fap away my...oh, right. That's gone now too. Shit.
But, yes, Alex starts to accept his new one handed existence and gets with the program as he learns to handle his new body. I mean, you don't just roll over one morning and know how to handled being a cyborg bad-ass, it takes training. And he learns that he can't go home until he masters it. But there is a big barrier in the way of his ever getting home, and that barrier is Jackie Earle Haley.

Because the last remake he was in was so well-received.
Jackie is here playing Rick Mattox, a drone controller and professional dickhead who thinks this whole idea is stupid and that only robots can be trusted in the field. And, because life loves to be a dick too, to robot does a better job in a simulation that Alex, seemingly proving that Mattox is correct. The doc decides that, as he wants Alex to go home and also wants to show up the dick while keeping his job, he will cheat by tweaking Alex's brain so the computer is the one actually targeting and assessing the enemy targets while Alex is merely thinks he is. This is a plot point that...seemingly has almost no relevance as it is never brought in the future nor does it come back to haunt anyone. How about that. Anywho, Alex kills all the drones and takes down Mattox, thus proving he's ready to go home to Detroit where he can clean up the streets. Oh, and did I mention that the badguy asks the doctor to paint him black, because why use the old colour scheme that looks so nice and makes the older fans undoubtedly more open to this new version when you can make your hero look like a character from the Nolan trilogy.

I'm the hero Detroit deserves. Now, WHERE'S THE JOKER?
Batma...I mean, Robocop gets a ride home and finally gets reunited with his family and his partner. But, during the preparation for his big unveiling he starts to seize as there is a problem while they're downloading the police deaprtment's file into him. It seems he ran across the file of his attempted murder and seeing himself getting blown up kinda screwed him up, so the doctor gets ordered to fix it. Sadly, the only way he can manage this is to turn him into an emotionless killing machine. Wait, isn't that the thing people didn't want? But who cares, because the public doesn't have to know! And when he immediately takes down a wanted criminal at the ceremony introducing him to the world, people seem all for what Omnicorp is selling and are much more willing to overturn the bill that keeps emotionless killing machines off of the streets of 'MURICUH! Because now the people are leaning towards letting the big corporate guy get his way, even though he's pretty obviously lying to the country.

It's almost like they're trying imply something about the people of our country.
Meanwhile, this doesn't seem to fly with some people like his partner who he's ignoring and his wife who the corporation is keeping from being able to see him. We get some nice scenes of him in action, taking down dirtbags efficiently, and then his wife manages to stop him by jumping in front of his motorcycle. She tells him that his family needs him and that his son is rather fucked up over the whole thing that's going on. He seemingly ignores this plea as he continues being an emotionless robotic cop and drives off. But then he looks at footage of his son at school looking very emotionally distraught and manages to regain emotions because of the power of love (or pity, as the case may be). He goes to his house and begins investigating his own attempted murder case and finally gets information leading directly back to the crimelord. The doctor is made aware of all of this and decides to let it happen, as he isn't a piece of shit and is happy to see Alex becoming himself again. Alex goes in guns blazing and literally kills the crimelord and all of his men to death. Yes, you heard me correctly.

That says it all.
As a result of that, he discovers the corrupt cops who set him up earlier also left their prints all over the guns said crimelord was selling, as those cops were supplying the guns to him. This provides him with all the evidence he needs, but he also happens to find a video from the day of his attempted murder where they're hanging out with the crimelord and discussing the idea of murdering him. Since they figure they're fucked at this point, one pulls a gun on him and gets killed (but not until he dies to death). The other one sings like a canary and it turns out that the chief herself was a part of it too, which explained why they got away with it so easily. As he is attempting to coax a confession out of her, he gets shut down and the villain decides to just cut his losses and put him down since he's already got the country eating out of his hand. The doctor isn't a fan of this plan and decides instead to wake Alex up and let him do his thing. We then get a massive finale action sequence as he takes on hired goons, many large robots, and ol' dickhead Mattox himself with some assistance from his partner Jack. He gets to the roof, manages to shoot the villain regardless of his system not wanting him to, and he saves his family.

And, to a lesser extent, AMERICA!
We then see that he's been fixed again after all that extensive roughhousing, his family gets to see him, and he even goes back to the classic colour scheme that the badguy didn't like (because fuck him). We also see that America changed their minds about letting robots patrol the streets, which seems to piss of Samuel Bill Jackson O'Reily to no end as he loses his temper at the close of the film. Oddly enough though, he still seems to dig Robocop, but that's likely because Omnicorp's parent company, OCP, probably still own him and most likely also pay his salary, so he must sing the praises of anything relating to his corporate overlords. Now, I must admit that I actually quite enjoyed this movie. I went into it expecting it to disappoint me, but ultimately it was very entertaining. The story was interesting, several of the characters were engaging, and the action scenes were exceptionally well done. I really liked it, overall.

I know, shocking, right?
But, as with all things, it wasn't perfect and I do have some gripes. And I won't lie, this is going to involve some comparison with the original film, which is something that is impossible to avoid when looking at any remake. Our lead actor, as I mentioned earlier, really didn't impress me. Peter Weller, the original, seemed to handled the element of hovering between man and machine rather well, even seeming to show emotion while underneath a helmet that obscured most of his face. He played the role calmly, but the tragedy of his situation was felt in full force as he regained his memories. With this one it felt too much like he was overly emotional, which can be good sometimes in a character, but here it just made him seem almost like he was going crawl into a hole and cry for the entire movie. I get that he had a lot to deal with, but I felt that it wasn't played up right. Especially considering that he's not that great at conveying any other emotion beyond apathy. There's a scene where he's with his family before getting blown up and I just looked a him with them and he didn't feel like a warm loving father. He felt like he was tired of being there and almost like he was already a robot in his delivery. Not a great vibe to get from the hero. The only time I felt something approaching a sincere emotion was when he saw himself sans the armoured body, when a tear rolled down as he took in the reality of what happened to him.

But hey, at least there's plenty of fan service!
Yes, there is a lot of fan service, but then it also feels vaguely insulting at points towards the older film. The villain outright mocks the original film's Robocop design when it is shown to him and the black colour scheme is played up as being so much cooler than the classic colours, which honestly felt right up there with them mocking the clockwork owl in the Clash of the Titans remake. But, getting to things that were also better in the original film, let's talk about the female lead. In this film we get his wife, who seems concerned (and sometimes angry)...and that's really it. That's as much of a personality as she really gets. She's not fleshed out, we don't really see her and the son trying to cope with the situation, and ultimately she's little more than a prop. She exists, much like the son, because the hero needs someone to go save in the finale. But in the original film they weren't really focused on either, as they were told he was gone and they needed to move on...so they did. Instead we got one of the best female leads in action movie history, his partner Lewis.

Come get some...
Lewis was a strong female character who both stood out as having a lot of depth to her, but also was the key to helping our hero regain his humanity. She relentlessly tried to reach him, only ever calling him Murphy while others treated him as a machine. Her role wasn't sexualized, she wasn't a love interest, and in the end she fought just as hard to take down the badguys as Robocop did. She was replaced with a male character who, much like the wife and son, wasn't given too much in the way of a character. He was a dependable friend and partner, but that was mostly implied more than actually shown. Overall the movie largely ignored him, which is a shame as Michael K. Williams is an excellent actor who I felt was horribly underutilized. To replace a well developed character with three underdeveloped ones is really a big mark against this film. Oldman, on the other hand, was excellent as the doctor who spent a great deal of the film conflicted as to whether he should toe the company line or save this man who trusts him. Haley also managed to be entertaining in his minor role as Mattox, which also highlights how I wish he had been a bigger focus as an antagonist in the film. Keaton, sadly, also felt underutilized. He did a fine job, coming off as a greedy bastard who only cares about his own motivations, but he never really felt like a threat. He just felt like an asshole more than a major villain.

He just doesn't measure up to Cox's Dick.
As I said, my favourite part was Jackson as Pat Novak, a completely new character who highlights how the media is often used to lead the public towards a certain opinion in our society, which I feel was the most successful thing this movie brought into the overall concept. In the end, while I enjoyed the movie, it still felt weaker than the original film and I don't think it really has the staying power to be looked back on for decades to come like its classic counterpart. It's a good way to enjoyably waste a few hours though, especially if you enjoy good action scenes but don't really care too much about plot or acting. The most I can say is that it is still far better than the last few Michael Bay projects, which is definitely a good thing. So, until ED-209 learns to walk up a flight of stairs, I'll be here writing for your amusement. Later days.

Take it slow, buddy. Just one step at a time...

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