Friday, February 14, 2014


RoboCop is a remake of the 1987 classic sci-fi film of the same name. Actually, it's more a reimagining than a remake - there are a number of very significant changes to the plot. This review features extensive spoilers for the original and moderate spoilers for the new film. Skip to the last paragraph before the numbers for the spoiler-free summary.

The original RoboCop movie operates on a single-city scale: Detroit is overrun by crime, and all other plot points flow from there. The city government hires Omni Consumer Products (OCP) to run the police force, and as payment allows OCP to raze part of the city and construct an independent city-state. When the police object to being bought, OCP first proposes replacing them with a large war machine, the ED-209, but when it malfunctions and kills a board member, they fall back on a cyborg design, the titular RoboCop. For the biological part of the construct, OCP uses Alex Murphy, a police officer whom OCP intentionally placed in danger. RoboCop is a success until Murphy's memories start to surface. When he discovers that the criminal who "killed" him is connected to OCP, he confronts them.

The 2014 version operates on a global scale - while much of the action does take place in Detroit, there are also scenes in Iran, Washington D.C., and a TV studio. In this version of dystopia, OmniCorp contracts with the US military to use robots, both big ones like the ED-209 and small humanoid ones, to replace US soldiers. However, they are barred from using the machines in the US. The rest of the plot flows from OmniCorp's desire to break into the American market. They decide that using a cyborg will both evade the law and sway the public to their side.

The original film focuses on themes of greed, corruption, gentrification, and the role of corporations in society. The new one loses the gentrification angle and adds commentary on American foreign policy. Both films are satire, but where the first one had nicely focused messages: that corporation-enabled greed is dangerous, and that humans are preferable to machines for any task requiring reason, the second film is a bit muddled. Where the first film showed the fallibility of machines, especially with the ED-209's bloody malfunction, the machines in the new movie appear to actually be infallible. The original RoboCop worked in large part because there was a human inside there to add intelligence to the system, and OCP tried to hide that element. The new RoboCop's human parts operate demonstrably less well than the machine alternative, a point which the film makes at length, eventually disabling most of his humanity in order to make him function up to spec.

This is a problem. If you want to have a humans-are-better-than-machines theme, which this film does, then the humans should in fact be better than the machines. But there is no point at which the drones make a mistake of any kind.

In other respects, the movie works well. It takes hard shots at the media in the form of Samuel L Jackson's demagoguery. It points out the futility of pacification by forceful occupation. It highlights the power of large corporations. It explores what it means to be human. This is does quite well, actually. In another departure from the original, in the new film Alex Murphy's family is present throughout to lend a humanizing touch.

Joel Kinnaman is adequate as Alex Murphy. Abbie Cornish as his wife is much better. Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are vey good as the owner and head scientist of OmniCorp. And Sam Jackson is the same as always - massively over-the-top. Yes, he gets to drop his f-bomb.

The visual effects are quite good (with the exception of some shaky-cam), but the sound effects are surprisingly clumsy. RoboCop makes the same heavy thunking sound on any surface, and sometimes is audible from camera placements where he really should not be. All the mechanicals make annoying whining motion-sounds.

I really wish that at some point any character had said anything about RoboCop's motorcycle, or his driving habits. The thing is really cool, but it just appears from nowhere, with no comment, and he drives it with no regard to traffic laws or safety. All the time.

In the end, this is an ok but not great action film - the action sequences just aren't that interesting. It is a decent satire with a serious thematic flaw. It is a pretty good exploration of humanity, with one serious problem at the end. If you are a big fan of the original, the remake will probably be a disappointment.

Performance: 3/5
Plot: 2.5/5
Production: 3/5
Overall: 2.5/5
Bechdel: Fail
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Fail
What are these?

1. Lone Survivor
2. The Lego Movie
3. Lust For Love
4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
5. I, Frankenstein
6. Monuments Men
7. Knights of Badassdom
8. RoboCop
9. The Legend of Hercules

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