– Summary –
Director : Jose Padilha
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earl Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Aimee Garcia, Michael K Williams, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow, KC Collins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Zach Grenier.
Approx Running Time : 118 Minutes
Synopsis: After nearly being killed by corrupt cops protecting a crime lord, Detective Alex Murphy is resurrected by technology company Omnicorp, to become Detroit’s newest police presence – a robotic human symbiont capable of empathy and understanding with a heightened ability to protect and serve.
What we think : If you take away the fact that the 2014 edition of RoboCop is a remake, and squeeze your eyes tightly as this film shits all over the film it’s remaking, RoboCop is still an enormously unsatisfying film. It stumbles considerably with both its human and action elements, and lacks any kind of tense or exciting climactic moment in the third act; RoboCop is a bland, uninviting, unexciting modern-day actioner that strives for social and moral interrogation, only to come up seriously short. Once again, the question must be asked…. why remake a classic, especially if the remake is a dog turd?
Because you demanded a remake of RoboCop.
Paul Verhoeven’s 80’s classic, RoboCop, is widely considered the director’s most popular film – if not his best in almost every creative aspect. While my personal favorite, Starship Troopers, remains number 1 on my all time view list, RoboCop – starring Peter Weller, Kurtwood Smith, Dan O’Herily, Miguel Ferrer and Nancy Allen (among others) – is, and probably always will be, Verhoeven’s defining film. It’s certainly his most visually, tonally and aesthetically cohesive effort, a redolent hodgepodge of social, racial, political and moral commentary that to this day remains as prescient as it did on initial release. Cut to 2014, and the ongoing era of vacuous, slick, CG-enhanced remakes, and the stillbirth canal of Hollywood’s “reboot” brigade is running red with fluid on this bad boy, a tizzied up tart of a film pretending to accomplish with $130 million what Verhoeven and his team did with just $13 million. The 2014 RoboCop is a soulless, emotionally entropic void of a film, the kind of saturated, shiny, overproduced production of the kind Jerry Bruckheimer might be proud, if only it was louder, faster, and infinitely more stupid. It’s the kind of film that once again begs the question as to why the original Verhoeven version needed to be remade, and if it did, why it needed to be remade so damn poorly. The question of remakes for the sake of giving a modern audience a new take on an old film (which I guess is why George Lucas tried to update Star Wars with those horrendous prequels, right?) is an argument with no spine – if a film is a classic, an audience will find it and enjoy it, regardless of vintage. A “young, hip, modern” audience doesn’t need to be dazzled by gormless, vacuous special effects or nonsensical plotting for the sake of an action sequence – no, an audience needs a good story first, great characters second, and if neither of those two things are available, then a good director to give the eye-wool a good tugging.
In the near future, multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is America’s preeminent military and police supplier of automated robotic defense. However, due to a Congressional Bill passed, the company is unable to provide their services to people living inside the USA, a fact CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is trying to have repealed. Stung by criticism that his completely automated robotic sentinels lack “the human touch”, Sellar’s tasks his science division, run by Doctor Dennet Norton (Gary Oldman) with putting a man into the machine, to provide American’s with the security of having a human finger on the trigger. Cue Detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Chicago PD inhabitant who has recently been seriously wounded by an explosive device planted on his car thanks to his provocation of a local crime boss; Murphy is the perfect candidate for transforming into the new robotic police officer (RoboCop), although due to his injuries, he will never be a complete man again. All that’s left of him is his upper torso and his head, while the rest of his body is replaced with cyborg parts. Now controlled by OmniCorp, and trotted out as a way of facilitating better policing throughout America, Murphy must balance his duty as an officer and his ability to solve crimes at an unprecedented rate, and his loyalty to his now estranged family – wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan). So when his mission to uncover who was behind the bomb planted on his car, it leads him to a circle of corrupt cops who will stop at nothing to ensure RoboCop is merely a blip in the history of Chicago PD.
I mentioned the three things any good film needs – story, characters and a great (or competent) director. RoboCop has none of those. Comparatively speaking, this remake has almost zero heart when it comes to its characters (other than Gary Oldman’s Doctor Norton, who is as close to a human soul as you might find in RoboCop’s misfiring narrative), and the story lacks cohesion thanks to poorly written and developed subplots and beats that offer little but fizzy-drink highs compared to the more serious ethical issues the film throws up. Whereas Verhoeven’s film was vicious in its subtext of militaristic policing, fascism and the power of propaganda, here, RoboCop seems unable to generate any real buzz or heat in its narrative kitchen thanks to poor, second-rate scenery chewing by Samuel L Jackson’s vitriolic (and bipolar) television USA-evangelizing host, Pat Novak. Novak’s hip-hopping between popular opinion (which was obvious and trite, at least to me, as an attempt to drive the audience into a hate-hate relationship with him, and I’m not entirely sure why) is all the film offers as a pedagogic free-for-all on this “near future’s” current sociopolitical climate; we’re meant to accept that America has all but taken control of the world, and that everyone embraces this new overlord regime (supposedly), but Jackson’s Bill O’Reilly-esque spew-vomit character lacks even the merest glimpse of humility or depth other than that of a puppet – bending to whichever power structure might keep him in… what, exactly? Ratings? Money? Not sure. It’s not clear.
The whole concept of the RoboCop is sadly all but outdated in today’s society. With military drones capable of destroying entire cities from the push of a button half a world away, and more and more technological advancements of weapons and information, the kind of societal problems uncovered or discussed in RoboCop’s disdainfully shallow narrative on the subject lacks even the remotest pretense of plausibility. Sure, the 80’s enshrined the militaristic principles of the USA as something to be feared, borne out of the Cold War and America’s own then-fearfulness of exactly what freedoms it would need to give up to safeguard it’s own… safety, which is largely why Verhoeven’s film worked so well. Here, today, a robotic dude feels less like science fiction and more like soon-to-be fact – how far are we from human/cybernetic integration, really? Another decade? In any case, the very concept of a RoboCop doesn’t have the iconic significance or emotional resonance it once did, and considering television and sci-fi has been doing this half-man/half-machine trope for the last thirty years anyway, the well is all but dry. You need to have a really convincing story to make something like this work now.
Much has been changed from Verhoeven’s film too, and a lot of it doesn’t work. Murphy’s family are actively involved in his return to society after his transformation, albeit in abbreviated form once the proverbial hits the fan. While this might seem good in theory, the practicality of having Murphy’s family as potential victims down the line isn’t developed well enough by the script to counterbalance Murphy’s own interior battle to remember who he really is, or what he’s about. Not to mention that the film doesn’t even try and have Murphy restricted in memory (something which gave the original film a tense, nearly heartbreaking tone throughout) and he’s fully aware of who he is, and how he got there. Which, if the story and script had been better, or the film spent more time focusing on that instead of lining up Jackie Earl Haley’s cheap-ass henchman character, or the tone-deaf corrupt cop angle (I mean, really?), the film might have worked. But the script is all over the place, the film is uneven throughout and the end result is substantially less than the sum of its admittedly expensive parts. Oh, and the film is decidedly bloodless – a creative decision which certainly riled up the franchise fanboys, including myself – which, when you consider where the film originated, seems somewhat baffling if only to appease a demographic or some peckerhead board-members. There’s plenty of carnage, but no gore (and certainly no blood other than the occasional sprinkle) – RoboCop neuters itself by design, a factor which goes a long way in turning this promising entity into simply another PG-13 action flick nobody will remember in five years.
The cast all try valiantly (Gary Oldman is the only one who succeeds) but thanks to Joshua Zutemer’s inept scripting (and director Jose Padilha’s dire direction of it) the film just lumps along, content to skip from one expositional sucker-punch to the next. There’s no meaning to the words on the screen, no matter how hard the actors try, and although Joel Kinnaman is a valiant actor for trying, he lacks Peter Weller’s eyeball-soul in the role of the man-turned-machine. As mentioned, Sam Jackson’s vitriolic TV host is truly abhorrent in both tone and complicity in this story’s failure (they even bleep out some patented Jackson Cursing late in the film, yet another eye-rolling moment of wishing this film had a less restrictive rating than PG!), while Abbie Cornish (as Murphy’s wife) never – never ever – seems to connect with us as the audience. I never buy her attachment to Murphy, they seem to live in a vacuum of love and dedication only because that’s what the script demands, instead of an organic, meaningfully prescient relationship that earns its stripes on the screen. Michael Keaton chews the scenery in the Dan O’Herilly role of the president of OmniCorp, and although he comes off as some poor Lex Luthor type, he is never really truly menacing, or truly charming, or truly cruel – he’s supposed to be, I think, but Keaton can’t make it work. Minor roles to Jennifer Ehle (as one of Sellars’ underlings) and Jay Baruchel (as another) provide some breadth to the film, but even the secondary characters feel constructed and inserted for wasting time, rather than any meaningful, truthful story.
Jose Padihla’s direction is slick, brilliantly colored, and afflicted with the same ADD-inspired editing that ruins many a great modern action film. The action is breathlessly fast and utterly incoherent – RoboCop’s “training” session in a massive deserted warehouse, where he takes on (and defeats, because he’s f@cking RoboCop!) some vast number of robotic training combatants is a case in point, a dreary cobbling of CG enhanced set design, rapid-fire editing and underexposed lighting effects. When the story bogs down with “character development”, the film turns into a ECG flatline on the screen, lacking energy or momentum as the stilted, dull dialogue spews forth like something Shakespeare might have shat out while suffering diarrhea. RoboCop’s “twists” and plot machinations lack subtlety or surprise, every moment telegraphed by rote, generic scripting and boring, bland central characters. Murphy might as well be a block of wood for all the emotional resonance he had with me, and if your main character isn’t worth watching, there goes the film. Padihla might have an eye for composition within a frame, or mastered the art of putting together an action scene, but the dude is just flat-out killed by the lack of interest this borderline sleep-apnea resultant production has going on.
Crucially, the film lacks a decent third act – one might forgive a slow opener (we open the film with a five minute speech by Sam Jackson about how awesome-but-rudderless America is….) or a stumbling mid-section, so long as the third act ties up all the loose ends, gives the Bad Guy the death he deserves, or at the very least resolves enough plot threads for the audience to be satisfied (yes, even leaving room for the obvious sequel bait, which this film does), but RoboCop’s third act is a dull, confusing, badly threaded chore of a thing, and the “finale”, where Murphy confronts the big Bad Guy (naturally) whimpers to some sudden, “wait… is that it?” conclusion and you leave the film filled with a sense of increasing disappointment that you’ve been gypped nearly two hours of your life for nothing. Fans will probably appreciate the small nods to Verhoeven’s classic, from the “I’d buy that for a dollar” line, to the appearance of ED209 (here, a fully CG rather than stop-motion effect), but they feel almost out-of-place even within the context of this movie, because they seem bludgeoned into the script. There’s no sense of organic development here, and that’s a major problem for the film.
RoboCop is shit – it’s a textbook remake failure on nearly every storytelling level: the producers lacks the intelligence to “get” the subtext Verhoeven had in his movie, and somehow transplant it to this version, and the fact that it tries to be modern and cool to kickstart a new franchise is an obvious circle-jerk. The story is poorly written, the characters lack empathy or heart, the production value seems to be at odds with the intimate nature the script seems to impart (it’s all Star Trek when it needs to be Star Wars, if that makes sense!), and a lot of what happens just falls apart by comparison to the original movie. RoboCop 2014 is a remake nobody asked for, nobody wanted, but we got anyway. Just do yourself a favor and stick with the original, and stay the hell away from this stinking hot disaster.