By Heath McKnight (doddleNEWS)
Filmmaker José Padilha’s RoboCop remake is a fun movie, and I didn’t hate it. I want to say that upfront, because I was a huge RoboCop (1987) fan in the 80s and early 90s. More on that later. The problems I have with the 2014 RoboCop is it is inconsistent with its storyline, plus the ending gets a little muddled, and in some ways anticlimactic. But the lead actors are terrific, and the action scenes, while sparse, were well done and entertaining.
The new RoboCop joins a long list of remakes and reboots, such as 2012’s Total Recall and The Amazing Spider-Man, and like those films, it follows similar story elements with the original. So much so that original screenwriters Edward Numeier and Michael Miner were given co-writing credits with new scripter Joshua Zetumer.
Before I go further into the plot, I want to say I was a big enough fan of Paul Verhoeven’s classic with Peter Weller as RoboCop, that I should’ve been storming Sony’s gates with a pitchfork and torch over a remake. But having sat through RoboCop 2 (Irwin Kershner couldn’t do much with a story that felt like scenes strung along, by Frank Miller and Walon Green) and the awful RoboCop 3, when both opened, I actually applauded a chance for a new RoboCop that started fresh and wasn’t beholden to the original, like the sequels, TV shows and TV movies were.
The film opens with the always-great Samuel L. Jackson as a Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews-type guy (depending on your politics) named Pat Novak of the Novak Element, who wants robots patrolling America. The opening of the film shows such robots, including the famous ED-209s patrolling the streets of Tehran alongside Terminator-esque EM-208s, but it’s illegal in America. There’s some interesting commentary and satire going on here, much like in the original.
Enter Omnicorp and CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) and his team (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle and Jackie Earle Haley) work to make robots legal to patrol America, despite a Senator’s law that keeps them off the streets. Hence putting a man in a suit, and that’s how RoboCop is born.
We follow along as Detective Alex Murphy (The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman) tries to fight crime and corruption in old Detroit, though this Detroit didn’t seem as horrible as the original made it out to be. It felt safer. As seen in the trailers, Murphy is killed by a car bomb by a powerful arms dealer named Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) and corrupt cops out to protect Vallon.
Dr. Dennett Norton (played very well by Gary Oldman) works to save Alex with a full-body and cybernetic prosthesis, and he’s reborn as RoboCop. I found it amusing that this iteration of the “part man, part machine, all cop” was made in China, a subtle jab at the outsourcing of U.S. jobs. At any rate, we see a lot more of what’s underneath the RoboSuit, and let me tell you, for years I wanted to know, and it’s pretty shocking to see.
They handle Alex’s emotions well — this RoboCop’s brain wasn’t wiped like in the original, and we get a greater handle on how he feels to be Detroit’s Cyborg Savior. His family is more involved as well in the remake, initially, as wife Clara (Abie Cornish) signs off on the RoboUpgrade, and son David (John Paul Ruttan) has to deal with a badass RoboDad. As a side note, I liked seeing Alex’s entire face with the flip-down visor; the outcry over it was similar to fans’ hatred of Optimus Prime’s mouth being seen in Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Before you know it, Robo has all crime data from the Detroit Police Department plus CCTV footage uploaded into his brain, and he has a meltdown trying to figure out what to solve first. The good Dr. Norton dulls Alex’s emotions, so he can go out and fight crime without the meltdowns, and he immediately becomes a hero for Detroit, thus swaying America’s opinion on robots in America, so Omnicorp can create new “revenue streams.”
My biggest issue with RoboCop is the so-called primary villain (Antoine Vallon) wasn’t developed enough, and while Murphy trying to solve his own murder is all well and good, there’s no clear central villain like in the original.
Having said that, I actually liked the movie, despite some ‘handicaps’ going into the film’s opening… A delayed release from August 2013 to February 12, 2014; a leaked first draft script that was awful, according to those who read it; the director supposedly having issues with the film and studio; two different RoboCop designs (one that harkens to Rob Bottin’s original and a sleek, all-black look); Murphy’s partner Lewis becoming a man; some plot holes and less action than I’d like; and that muddy final act. Overall, Joel Kinnaman’s Murphy and Gary Oldman’s Norton save the film from collapsing in on itself with those issues.
Final rating: ***/*****
Here’s the trailer: