Robocop (2014)

robocop-movie-first-look-poster-2013-2014Cyborgs were pretty big in the eighties. And ninjas. And cyborg ninjas (I’m looking at you, Cyber-Shinobi). Of all the movie efforts at capturing the robot obsession of that decade, there are two stand-outs: James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987). Robocop went on to have several less intelligent, and less successful sequels and spin offs. The 2014 re-boot was the first serious, big-budget attempt to re-launch the franchise. The production was beset with problems, director Jose Padilha reportedly described it as ‘hell.’ Key actors leaving the project, producers rejecting 9 out of 10 of his ideas, and the pressure of delivering a film that would appease the originals fans took its toll, and Padilha may be reluctant to take on such a big project in the future. Everything pointed to the film being a disaster.

So what did we end up with?

Robocop (2014) is a very intelligent, well made and interesting film. The strain of creative differences is apparent in places, and the writing is sometimes inconsistent, but overall this is a good, solid movie.

The film can be seen as a (very direct) metaphor for examining Americas role in the world, the use of drones in conflict, and the constant, sometimes vitriolic, debate between liberal and conservative America. The film also touches on the nature of free-will, and the use of technology in the modern world. These are themes that are not often explored in blockbuster movies. I can see where Padilha would have liked to have gone further, but the fact that he managed to get so much of this stuff in is impressive.

Samuel L. Jackson shines as an ultra right wing political talk show host and Michael Keaton is on great form as the super rich villain of the piece. Gary Oldman does his best with some at times clunky, and repetitive dialogue, but still manages to add something as the morally conflicted Doctor, the ‘creator’ of Robocop.

Where the film falls down a little is Joel Mckinnon’s  Alex Murphy, the films protagonist. Comparing him with Peter Weller, who played Murphy in the original is unfair, but difficult not to do. Weller played the role with nuance and finesse. He felt like an everyman, a tragic hero. Mckinnon’s Murphy is one note: A tough detective. It’s not McKinnon’s fault, the character is written as a tough-guy. But he seems at odds with the black humour of the movie, and the deeper themes Padilha is toying with. He has some good moments, but these are too few to save the character from being just another action hero.

I tend to forgive films if I can see what they are trying to do, and they are trying to do something cool and different. If you can forgive Robocop its flaws then it is an enjoyable action movie with more to say than most other movies in the genre.

 

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2 thoughts on “Robocop (2014)

  1. I have to say I liked the film and thought it got far more flak than it deserved. One thing I did think was missing was the violence and brutality of the original- would you say that was a downside of the reboot or was it fine without it?

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    • I thought it captured the spirit of the original in that it was a dark satire. How I view violence in films has changed since I watched the original. I think that violence is too often used as a get out of jail card for average films. Tension, suspense and even horror can be intelligently and effectively constructed without using graphic imagery. Having said that, Robocop 2014 is still a pretty brutal film; The car bombing is intense (though not on a par with Murphy’s demise in the original), the brain surgery scene and some of the gun violence is borderline 15 rated. Where I think the film keeps on the 12a side of the line is the computer game visuals of much of the action. I’d say it’s closer to the original in terms of violence than, for instance, a Marvel movie. Hmmmmmmmm…..Thinking about it, the ED-209 ‘demonstration’ by Jones in which a junior executive comes to an unhappy end is great, and works as a metaphor for corporate greed and ruthlessness. That’s a good example of brutality in a film with meaning and purpose.

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