Sunday 20 March 2016

RoboCop (2014) - a quick review...

What's it about?
Remake of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 sci-fi action classic, remoulding the tale of Alex Murphy - a Detroit policeman who, after a vicious attack and on death's door, is transformed by a robotics corporation into a man/machine crime fighting hybrid.
Who would I recognise in it?
Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael K. Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, and more.
When will Hollywood realise that remaking beloved and iconic classics is never going to work? It's a fool's errand that is only going to generate angry fans of the existing film/franchise, and an inferior product. At worst you'll end up with a bomb that is creatively bankrupt and tarnishes the good name of the original. At best - in the rarest of cases - you might actually come up with something worthwhile which still doesn't match (let alone surpass) what came before. This unasked-for remake of RoboCop (so beloved that the citizens of Detroit petitioned for - and won - a statue of Peter Weller's original RoboCop for their city), sits somewhere in-between...

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Flirting with intriguingly modern ideas of drone warfare and the twisted politics of a blatantly biased media, the corporate aspects of producing RoboCop also add some satirical bite (they assess colour schemes based on focus group responses). However, the exceedingly slick production - rendering Detroit as a gleaming and, quite frankly, not particularly dangerous-looking urban sprawl in no real need of high-tech policing droids - oftentimes leaves the viewer cold. In typical "post-9/11 film" style there's plenty of furrowed brows and moral murkiness on offer, but the neutered violence (a rather safe 12A versus the hard-as-nails 18 of the original) robs the film of any true punch. The extraordinary aggression of the original painted a bleak picture that desperately needed RoboCop - the remake tends towards a clean veneer and videogame-like pizazz.

Murphy's story, while upping the emotional turmoil a notch, is frustratingly messy. Murphy's partner Lewis (now in the form of Michael K. Williams) is cast to the peripheries of a 'corrupt cops and gun runners' conspiracy side plot that never settles into the main thrust of the film. Indeed, the vagaries of the moral murkiness, and the somewhat muddled plotting, leaves the film in dire need of a clear direction in which to head. Furthermore, this is a film endlessly searching for a strong villain. There are numerous contenders, but all lack screen time, charisma, and clarity. Not even a clear viewpoint, through which to filter the wide range of disparate ideas, is made available. In the 1987 original we had a clear POV - Murphy's - through which to view the troubled situation (out of control crime, a struggling and near-mutinous police force, a vicious corporate shark pool up on high). In the 2014 remake, however, we have a series of viewpoints all fighting for our attention, none of which take the reigns and provide a clear pathway forwards.

There are interesting ideas at play here, but the focus on fancy CGI-filled action sequences - such as a third act face-off with a squad of ED-209s (the new design is naff, lacking all the menace and character of Phil Tippet's original design) - ultimately leads the film astray. Indeed, come the surprisingly limp climax, the promising aspects of the first half have all but disappeared during an increasingly uneven second half. The leads do well with the material they're given, Kinnaman and Oldman in particular, and certain aspects that were sketched in the original film are given more life and complexity here, but the flaws - and the clinical-feeling degree of slickness - ultimately outweigh the good things this unnecessary retread brings to the table. 29 years on from the release of Verhoeven's original and we're still talking about it, and still watching it ... somehow I doubt the same will be said of this remake. Alright.

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