A Droid Premiere: Robocop (2014)

A Droid Premiere

When sat down to I write this review a few days ago, it was with the intention of not focusing solely on the fact that this is a remake of a great film and a personal favourite. I tried to accept the film on its own merits and not to compare the two films. I finished a draft, but it felt a little unsatisfactory. Like I hadn’t looked properly at the film, and instead, glossed over the big issues. Anyway, what is written below is the same review, but draft two, which hopefully addresses some of these issues. It’s more critical, and it does directly compare the two films. A lot. But only because the remake forces me to. But I guess the important thing is that the rating hasn’t changed. There’s just more context to why I gave it that rating. Anyway…

{INSERT USUAL RANT ABOUT UNECESSARY REMAKES HERE}

Robocop-[2014]-Poster

It’s the future, and huge corporation OmniCorp have transformed the US military and international law enforcement into robotics dependent organisations. The good ol’ USA has brought peace to Iran, courtesy of the intimidating presence of a fleet of ED-209’s. Whether or not this is actually peace, or oppression, is a question the film’s opening sequence seems about to ask, before reality kicks in and the subject is dropped entirely. In fact, once the opening sequence finishes, the film relocates exclusively to a disappointingly Canadian looking Detroit. This is not the grimy, horrible, depressing steel and concrete hellscape of the 1987 original, but a Detroit in which you’d expect Michael Moore to show up, asking aboot your unlocked front door. One question that goes unanswered is why the interior of the police station is old and rundown during the opening scenes, and glimmeringly new when Robocop shows up. Presumably there’s a deleted scene laying around somewhere.

So post pre-credits sequence, the film treads much the same ground as the original ‘Robocop’, only it takes much, much longer to get anywhere, and is far, far less entertaining in doing so. For example, in the original film Alex Murphy dies, and a couple of minutes later Robocop is introduced, ready to go. In this film, Murphy dies and it’s at least 30 minutes before he’s out on the street fighting crime. In between there’s a whole lot of exposition, Alex coming to terms with his new existence, training etc. It slows the film down, and isn’t particularly interesting or entertaining, except for one part which I’ll get to in a minute.

RoboCop-[2014]-04The film is essentially satire free, instead replacing it with the occasional social commentary that it’s neither willing, nor interested in exploring. What little satire there is, is almost entirely centred around a right-wing current affairs show hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson). These frequent, and disruptive interruptions detract from the central story, and Jackson is horribly miscast. They mimic the original films segways to the news desk, which provided brief, blackly humorous news bites that were hilarious and served to establish the world outside of Detroit. The new films segways to the studio are mainly for exposition purposes, as the head of OmniCorp (Michael Keaton) tries to get amended the bill that prevents him from selling his robots for law enforcement in America. Apparently sensing the failure of these scenes, the filmmakers resort to begging for laughs by having Jackson lose it and call someone a motherfucker. Unfortunately this is a PG-13 film, so the motherfucker is bleeped. It’s all a bit pathetic.

One of the fundamental mistakes of the remake is to make Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) the dominant personality of Robocop. In the original, Alex Murphy dies, and is reborn as Robocop. Peter Weller plays them as two separate characters, which is an important distinction because a big part of the film is Murphy’s personality breaking through. Here, the character is only Robocop when the visor drops (apart from plot shenanigans), and he’s otherwise Alex Murphy, who remembers and reunites with his wife (Abbie Cornish) and kid (generic Hollywood tyke).

RoboCop-[2014]-03The one truly horrifying and effective section of the film is when Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) reveals to Murphy the true nature of his physical being. It’s a nightmarish visual kick in the guts that goes unmatched by anything else in the film. It does generate a lot of sympathy for Murphy, and it’s well performed by Kinnaman, who is otherwise satisfactory, if a little dull in the role. 2014’s Robocop is a far less tragic figure than 1987’s. The original Murphy lost everything. Wife, kid, PERSONALITY. The only meaning he had to exist was through his gradual realisation of his situation and his lust for revenge. In the remake he’s pretty much the same guy as before, except he is now a robot.

A couple of the action scenes are decent enough, although they’re over far too quickly. They also suffer from the fact that half of them are simulated training exercises, so there’s a bit of a “who cares?” factor to them. But they look pretty good. Gary Oldman seems to be actually trying to put in a good performance, which is commendable, but why cast Michael Keaton in the villain role if you’re not going to let him have any fun with it?

RoboCop-[2014]-05The original film was filled with so many hilariously evil scumbags, entertainingly played by Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer (to name just three of them), that it seems like an intentional decision on the part of the writer (Joshua Zetumer) and director (José Padilha) to try to play down the eccentricity. Presumably this is partly due to the constraints of the PG-13 rating, but Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley seem fairly bored by their roles. There’s no playfulness, no wit. The dialogue reflects the film as a whole. Direct, perfunctory and (dare I say it) robotic. It’s a lifeless film punctuated by the occasional, brief, efficiently realised action scene and one well-delivered visual. There’s certainly nothing to match the originals hilarious satire, like when the corporate villain played by Ronny Cox explains that the benefits of the ED-209 are the “Renovation program, spare parts for 25 years! Who cares if it worked or not!?” or Robocop visiting kids at the Lee Iacocca Elementary School.

What doesn’t help the remake is the deliberate nods to the original film. Here, the title card appears accompanied by the original films memorable theme. Later in the film, Jackie Earle Haley’s character says he “wouldn’t buy that for a dollar”, which is a totally random comment because there’s no context for it in the world of Robocop 2014. Most damningly, the design of the ED-209’s are exactly the same. If your intention is to limit the danger of direct, unfavourable comparison why would you lazily regurgitate major elements from the film you’re trying to avoid? These kinds of references only serve to remind us that we are watching an inferior version. The recent (even worse) remake of Total Recall was also littered with them. It’s not cute. It’s not clever. It just makes it more impossible to forget the original and accept the new version on its own merits.

RoboCop-[2014]-02There’s the argument that remakes are always judged against the originals, and that they shouldn’t be. Just forget about the original. Rate the new one independently. Sometimes this is a just argument. Here, the filmmakers don’t allow you to do that because they shove direct references to the original film in your face, therefore you just sit there thinking about all the ways the remake doesn’t quite stack up.

Ultimately, yes the film is unnecessary. It’s unnecessary because it drops the satire (which was probably a wise decision), but fails to replace it with anything interesting. It backs off from potential subjects, such as drone warfare, immediately after raising them. But beyond all else, it’s simply not entertaining enough. And that’s the biggest crime a Robocop film can commit.

I bought this for a dollar, now I want 75 cents back.

Robocop-2014-Rating

Cheers,

Droid

Droid Sig

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

39 responses to “A Droid Premiere: Robocop (2014)”

  1. Jarv says :

    One question that goes unanswered is why the interior of the police station is old and rundown during the opening scenes, and glimmeringly new when Robocop shows up

    I’ve seen the deleted scene:

    Now to read the rest of it.

    Typical, I finally get my shit together to post the Halloween 4: Fuck Originality review and you get your shit together.

  2. Jarv says :

    Right, this is a major fucking problem that remakes and some sequels have. You’ve actually torpedoed a LOT of my Halloween 4 review because I basically wrote this paragraph almost exactly:

    Just forget about the original. Rate the new one independently. Sometimes this is a just argument. Here, the filmmakers don’t allow you to do that because they shove direct references to the original film in your face, therefore you just sit there thinking about all the ways the remake doesn’t quite stack up.

    It’s fucking aggravating these little nerdy nods to fans- AvP:Rectum was littered with them as well, as was Prometheuseless. All it does, every fucking time, regardless of film, is make me think “why am I wasting my life watching this drivel when I could be watching Alien/ Terminator/ The Thing (although technically a remake)” and so on. It drags me out of the film, and makes it nigh-on impossible for me to pay attention to what the new version is doing.

    Other complaints about this:

    1) Why the fuck is Robocop PG13.
    2) Removing Clarence from this is as fucking stupid as Removing Richter from Total Recall

    Apparently they’re remaking Starship Troopers next. I may have to declare a fatwa on Hollywood.

    • Echo the Bunnyman says :

      Remaking Starship Troopers is not what they should be doing. Adapting Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is what they should be doing.

      Verhoeven’s film, while being wildly different from the source material, was a fun and unique take, but it wasn’t exactly a box office behemoth. Leave it alone and go a different direction. This is one case where Paul left them plenty of room to mine the other material.

      • Jarv says :

        They did use lots of Heinlen’s novel in the other ones. But no, no Casper, then no continuation of Verhoeven’s Starship Trooper’s universe.

        Starship Troopers 4 is fucking horrible.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        They used pieces here or there–ideas of the novel–but in all three sequels, including the piss-poor animated one, they still used Verhoeven’s universe as the template and that’s really the problem. Not that it was a bad one, but it’s purpose had been largely served within the first film.

        The reason Carpenter succeeded with The Thing is that he went back to the original short story, Who Goes There?, and imagined it as someone who had never seen Howard Hawks version–although, of course he had seen it.

        My vision of Starship Troopers upon reading the novel was nothing like Verhoeven’s, obviously, and I suggest–prior to the film–many others weren’t either. If you are doing a remake and not just another sequel, then I feel you’re stating up front you have a different vision.

        If you don’t, go away and don’t come back til you do.

      • Jarv says :

        Totally agree.

        Just don’t do it.

      • Jarv says :

        I hate that animated one. Orangutan material.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Agree. Disagree. It’s all good. Input at some shithouse pub so I’ll forgo an attempt at reasonable comment. Just that there are a lot of suspect wimple out there. Hopefully I’ll take one hone tonight.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        see above for best Droid comment ever.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        the animated one was such a complete bore. The only one that was amusing to watch was part three, and it’s was more diverting than anything. Van Diem was a hoot to watch in that. And as you’ve pointed out many times, Singing Sky Marshall FTW.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Want to make a good Starship Troopers movie? PUT THE DROP SHIPS AND BATTLE ARMOR IN DICK HEADS.

        Of course if you do that AFTER The Cruiser’s ALL YOU NEED IS KILL comes out everybody will accuse you of ripping off that movie the illiterate fucks.

      • Jarv says :

        I still hate that that title.

        I really like the original Starship Troopers, but if they absolutely have to remake it, then lest have Marauder Armour and Drop Ships. Do the book, and ignore the Waaaaaah Fascism crying. They’ve already filmed ENder’s Game by that despicable bigot Card, so Heinlen is a doddle in comparison. At least he’s not likely to actually say something stupid.

    • Judge Droid says :

      There’s a Clarence-ish character. But he’s barely in it, and nothing about him is interesting.

  3. Jarv says :

    Nice Review, BTW. Loved the last line.

    Isn’t an Aussie Dollar only worth 50 US cents anyway?

  4. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Good and critical review Droid, even if I didn’t quite come to the same conclusions I don’t disagree with any of your observations. I’d go one star more and make it two, for me personally, but that’s because I did like some of the things the remake did. It just didn’t do them far enough, and it should have removed the ED-209’s completely, or redesigned them. You hit on much of what was going through my mind while I was watching it.

    A few more observations:

    1) They should have studied the satire more OR dropped it completely. The Jackson scenes are the worst ones in the film. They are dull and broad and are lazy attempts at replacing the commercial and newsdesk programming of the original. Hell, even the sequel had a better satirical moment with that car security system that fries intruders upon entry.

    2) Moving further away from the original designs and ideas. Does it even really matter this is set in Detroit now? You would think considering how prescient the original Cop ended up being in regards to Detroit’s fate, that if you were going to set a 2014 movie there, you’d find some interesting ways to discuss this, or even show how the RC program was intended to renew Detroit in the wake of its troubles. I guess I can see why they didn’t leap into this, but that’s part of the problem. This version simply doesn’t have the balls.

    3) Back to the ED-209. The original’s design was actually brilliant, because it was supposed to be a flawed, not completely thought-out model. That’s why the original worked and the sequels that brought them back as functional units (or similarly clunky designs like the Noonan bot) seemed silly. ED is an example of a really stupid concept rushed into production. Why exactly is it bipedal if it can only strut around like a chicken and has an extremely limited line of sight? Even if the slightly more versatile “new” design worked in a foreign theater like Afghanistan why would it be good for a city like Detroit?

    The first Cop was constantly poking fun at the ED-209, and all I could think of during that big fight near the end of this one was, “Murph, you got him near the stairs, just a few steps more!” I’ll never forget the sight in 87 Cop of the ED laying on its back, rocking back and forth in frustration like a stranded turtle. Here, the images flee from your mind as soon as you’ve seen them.

    4) With the exception of one, when Oldman shows Murphy what really exists under the suit. That’s a great scene and as dark as anything in the original. Oldman and Kinnaman and his ties to his family should have been almost wholly what this movie was about. I don’t have any idea what Aaronofsky’s version would have looked like, but I bet it would have been an extrapolation of these dynamics, but would have delved into them instead of leaving them frustratingly on the surface.

    I just rewatched the original yesterday and realized that Weller is playing the role as Robocop–a brand new, fresh character, like Frankenstein’s monster, who is a patchwork quilt of ideas and feelings and programming–and Kinnaman is playing a guy named Murphy who has some really shit luck and is now struggling to hold on to himself as a corporation keeps paring away his autonomy. Those are two drastically different versions of the character, but the new movie keeps pretending like they aren’t.

    5) The wife and kid needed more definition and should have been bigger players in the story, and Droid’s right, the villains are lame here. Keaton isn’t even really a “villain” until an extremely unlikely and lazy kneejerk moment where he does something so foolish and uncharacteristic that it feels ported in from a different cut of the film.

    All that being said, I did enjoy the film to a point, and thought the action scenes were well done, Kinnaman played this version well, and the movie did keep trying ably to plausibly insert the idea of a Robocop into the real world. When it would flash on to some of the ideas, it would catch my attention, but it kept leaving them.

    The funny thing is this–the PG-13 rating mostly doesn’t hinder what’s onscreen in the film, except in a moment here or there–but it’s still inappropriate. To do this story correctly, you have to be willing to show the consequences of the gritty universe it resides in. Pretending this should be a film for kids is part of the problem. If that was the case, just give it to Stephen Sommers and let him make a Saturday morning cartoon out of it. At least you would have been being honest about your intentions and audience.

    • Judge Droid says :

      I’ll never forget the sight in 87 Cop of the ED laying on its back, rocking back and forth in frustration like a stranded turtle.

      The sound effect of the squealing pig always makes me laugh.

      One problem I had, which I didn’t really get into, is the setting. Detroit in this movie looks like Pleasantville. There doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to have cops, let alone justifying the need for robot replacements. Maybe what the story could have done is had Omnicorp funding the criminal organisation to drum up a bit of public support for robots. That way Keaton is a clearly defined, evil villain right from the start and Robocop actually has some crime to fight when he’s introduced.

  5. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Somehow, in that long-winded tirade I missed the one thing that really bothered me more than anything else. The easy-outs they kept finding for Robocop so that he never had to think his way out of situations.

    For me, my absolute favorite aspect of the original was watching Weller’s character use the flashes of human ingenuity to maneuver and trump his programming. The way he takes out the hostage-taker or the rapist, or finally dispatches ED-209, culminating in the very clever way he enlists O’Herlihy’s Old Man in helping him get around his limitations concerning Cox’s bad guy at the end. For me, that was really what caught my interest–watching the man emerge from the machine and arrive at this new character.

    At every juncture when they get to something that would call for cleverness, they shut it down, literally. There are three scenes here, where Robocop is going up against his programming and I got excited, wondering how they would solve it, and they take the easy way out every single time, culminating in a finale where they don’t even explain what happened. The worst case has him stomping his way through the precinct, on his way to a certain desk to what will likely be the shitstom or all PR shitstorms, and then, the filmmakers pull the plug on it.

    • Judge Droid says :

      The finale is a horrible, lazy cheat. Murphy just overrides his programming without explanation. The original, as you say, presents the problem Robocop must overcome, then shows him finding the solution. This movie presents the problem, then just says fuck it, we’ll have Robocop pretend it doesn’t exist.

  6. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    Jarv, saw a movie in need of your critical assessment. Nurse 3D. Although since its primarily in VOD format, not sure the third dimension is gonna matter much.

    • Jarv says :

      Watched half of Sushi Girl. Need to finish it. Mark Hammil is hilarious, but I’ve a feeling torture is coming.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Seeing Hamil in that film made me very curious as to how the hell they could bring him back in Star Wars without it being really silly. JJ’s gonna need a hella-big lens fare if he wants to suggest Luke’s still got the Jedi goods.

        I was also surprised that Fish is Atreyu from The Never Ending Story.

        I hated Sushi Girl, for being a Tarantino wannabe–keep watching, it’s coming– for the tasteless and narratively worthless torture –also coming, and pretty nasty–and for the obvious “twist” ending.

        Hamill is honestly the best thing about it, surprisingly.

      • Jarv says :

        See, I was quite enjoying it, but there’s a definite cokey mcfrankensteinhead feel to it, and the torture is horribly inevitable. Fuckssakes, he did 6 years for them, if he had the fucking cash he’d give it up.

        Tony Todd is miscast.

        Hamill, though, is outstanding. He’s channeling his joker performance, and you’re right, keep him the fuck away from Star Wars.

    • Continentalop says :

      I’m seeing that Tuesday in 3-D. Should I bring booze?

  7. Continentalop says :

    I actually had hope for this film. Slim, unlikely hopes, but still hope.

    I thought maybe, just maybe, the creators of this thought of a new angle which would justify remaking it. That it’d be like THE FLY, THE THING (Carpenter’s), THE CRAZIES, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, or TRUE GRIT, as examples of remakes that work. I mean, there is actual real world subjects this film could touch upon (privatization of police & military, drone programs, militarization of the police, automation of labor, etc). It doesn’t sound like it tackles any of this, or accomplish anything.

    Great review droid. You just saved me from losing 120 minutes of my life. And your final paragraph made me laugh.

    • Jarv says :

      I did too, because of the director. I rate Tropa 1 and 2. Obviously not as good as City of God, because nothing is, but still extremely good films.

      • Jarv says :

        Watching The World’s End- I want to punch Pegg repeatedly, which I suspect is the point.

        Meh, so far.

      • Judge Droid says :

        TWE is slightly better than Hot Fuzz, but it’s still not that good and way too fucking long.

        And Pegg is supposed to be an annoying dick.

      • Jarv says :

        Yeah, I got that.

        I called his suicide attempt really early.

        I’d rate it as about the same as Hot Fuzz.

        Not very good, and I think the best joke was during the argument with the network at the end.

        Spent far too long fucking around before the robots turn up.

    • Judge Droid says :

      Thanks Conti. Unfortunately all of those potentially interesting areas might be too difficult for the 14 year old demographic. Never mind I was 12 when I first watched the original Robocop.

  8. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I’ve seen enough reviews to say that I will not be actively seeking this out at any point in time.

    So you delay the “real” action and take away any interesting bad guy / threat?

    Horrible.

  9. tombando says :

    Yeah I agree pretty much Droid, liked it better than you, had no idea that was Oldman as the Doc, missed the satire and game show etc from the orig. bigtime in this. Best part was opening in Iran.

  10. ThereWolf says :

    ED-209 in the trailer… soon as I saw that I thought “wrong”. Just didn’t look right for what the remake was doing. Pretty much decided there and then this was gonna be a rental. Pity coz the trailer looked promising.

    Great review, Judge – nice to see you scribbling again.

  11. Toadkillerdog says :

    Hola R2!
    I hope you are enjoying being back home down under.
    I will not read this review until i ave seen the flick – although what kind of spoilers could there be?

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