Monday, February 10, 2014

Robocop (2014) remake review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Flawless special effects, human drama focused, tackles deeper themes, retained elements of satire from the original film.

The Bad: shaky-cam directing style, overuse of close-ups, generic soundtrack

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: extreme closeups and shake


Robocop, the fondly remembered super violent piece of satirical science fiction from the 80s, has been remade. While not exactly bigger, it is debatable whether the remake is actually better.

Wait wait. Before I am burned at the stake for heresy, hear me out. Robocop 2014 is essentially the same plot as the 80s original. A good cop and loving family man gets fatally wounded in the line of duty. A greedy corporation decides to turn him into an unstoppable crime fighting cyborg in order to drum up publicity and public support, eventually to turn a huge profit. Amid a future crime ridden Detroit, Robocop wages a one man war on crime while seeking vengeance against the crime lord who attempted to murder him.

With this premise, the 2014 remake of ROBOCOP retains many elements of the original, while updating the premise for contemporary audience. It got the satire down very well, firstly in the form of extreme leftist show host Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson), then among other things, the revelation that the "all American" Robocop was made in China. Although not as dark a dark comedy as the original movie, the satire here works, as with many of the subtle changes.

The most obvious being the design of Robocop himself. The original design from the 80s, that bulletproof unstoppable machine, became painfully obsolete in this new century. Anyone with common sense to take cover and shoot accurately could take out the original plodding, stiff Robocop. Our new Robocop, played magnificently by Joel Kinnaman, changes that. If Peter Weller (the original Robocop) was a tank, our new Robocop is a Stealth Bomber. ROBOCOP 2014 shows money well spent on the special effects. He's sleek, fast, he's strong, plus he does not just stand there and get shot at. Best of all, he retains his heart and struggles with his humanity.

This is the most welcome change which is a more personalised plot centred on Alex Murphy and his family. The film deals with the consequences of being turned into a commercial product, where every
change in your life is dictated by focus groups and monetary decisions. Choice is no longer your own and you are duped into the illusion of free choice. If the public thinks your emotions are getting in the way of your professionalism, your emotions have got to go. Slowly but surely, everything that made you human is slowly drained away. Then once the company decides to "pull the plug", are they just terminating an asset? Or is it attempted murder?

In focusing on the fallout on both Murphy himself and his family, something that the original films barely glossed over, it creates a more tragic angle to the Robocop mythos. In the original, it is told to
us that Murphy was a loyal family man and a loving father but we never actually saw that. Here we do, moments before that ideal family life is ripped away in fire and ash. We see Murphy's bittersweet reunion with his wife and son, tragic in the fact that he can never again be the husband and father he once was. We see how the media attention on the family slowly drives the son into anxious isolation. And we see how his wife becomes a victim of biased media coverage.

These are all elements that lends much needed emotional weight to what could have been another bland sci/fi action thriller. You can be told that your body was reduced to "a couple of chunks on a coroner's table", but to actually see yourself as said chunks in all their gruesome glory...........that's heavy. Especially for a PG-13 movie.

Despite the rating, ROBOCOP 2014 pushes the boundaries on PG-13 violence. You have scenes that will make you squeamish, people are blown up, shot, zapped and ripped to shreds in a hail of bullets. Or at least, it would have been pretty violent if you could see half of the action that is filmed.

Ruining the experience is director Jose Padilha and his obsession with extreme close-ups. tight angles and shaky cam. Like a graduate from the Michael Bay school of filming and the Neveldine/Tylor institute of camera-work, Director Padilha's action scenes are a jittery mess. Heck even during normal conversation scenes, his cameramen seem to be getting a relapse of Parkinson's'. That combined with a painfully generic soundtrack by Pedro Bromfman undermines what could have been a more epic looking and sounding movie.

Nevertheless, ROBOCOP 2014 does not disappoint. Once you can get past the shaky camera, and once you leave your prejudices of "will never be as great as the original" behind, you will appreciate this tragic new take on the classic. With excellent performances by Joel Kinnaman and veterans like Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton, this is Robocop with less blood, less violence, less dark comedy, but with an equal measure of brains and a lot more heart.
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Acting: A-
Characters: A-
Music: C-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": B+