Going into this screening last night I was fearful of only one thing. Please God! Don’t let this be a horrible remake like 2012’s Total Recall. Despite the beauty of Kate Beckinsale in it, life is too precious and short for something of that immeasurable quality. So here we are and there’s really no way around it. The twelfth of February 2014 is happening whether we like it or not. We are living in it and because we are we have a modern day PG-13 remake of the 1987 hard-R Robocop to discuss here. And guess what? It’s only been off and on and delayed since it was announced way back in 2005. How bad can this really be? Sometimes, as we seen last year with World War Z, not all delays are bad. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt at least. So as the poster tagline for Robocop reads, “Crime Has A New Enemy,” I’m hoping by the crime they are talking about 2012’s Total Recall being made and that this film is the enemy attempting to kick its a$$! Come on! You have to be a little curious, don’t you? Read on!
Believe it or not, once upon a time, Darren Aronofsky was originally slated to direct this film, but due to delays Jose Padiha later stepped in. The remake stars Joel Kinnaman in the title role. However, Joel has a little help from his friends who includes no names such as Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel and Jackie Earle Haley. If you can’t tell, I’m being facetious. So at least on paper, this Robocop remake has some really good ingredients going for it, but will it become a quick distant memory or will this Tuesday release spawn a new franchise? That’s the story I’ve been tasked to report on and tackle in this review. Hold on. This could get bumpy.
Here’s what had me initially worried about this production going in. In September of 2012 Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles revealed that Padilha called to him during production to admit he was having “the worst experience of his life” and “for every ten ideas he has, nine are cut.” Padilha, according to Meirelles, says, “It is hell here. The film will be good, but I have never suffered so much and I do not want to do it again.” So needless to say, from that comment alone it doesn’t sound like the director was enthusiastically behind this project because of all the studio interference, but going into this last night I was sure hoping my suspicions were completely wrong and that this would prove to be yet another enthralling thrill ride in the PG-13 rating system like The Dark Knight and recent 007 films have enjoyed. A boy can dream, right?
So as I alluded to above, my biggest apprehension about this film was the rating. I know. I know. If I can’t enjoy a film for the story, then I have no business critiquing it. However, I feel haunted by the Robocop feature I know and love that grossed the hell out of me back in the day when he got all shot up (“he” being still in his human form). So to say the least, I had my doubts, reservations and fears here that they could ever top that and rightfully so, they did not. But on the flip side, they did something perhaps a little better. They changed things up! And I like that! Robocop’s origin story worked very well for me…despite the PG-13 rating. LOL. I know Brandon, I’m a snob in that respect.
I think one of the best takes on this film may have been from fellow reviewer friend, John Ary, sitting next to me Monday night. He said what works the best in the film was when it tried to do things on its own and not follow the original in certain scenes. Hey John! After having a day to think about this one, I couldn’t agree with you more! To me, what would have made this feature truly stand in a league of its own was if it completely dismissed the cheesy 1980’s logo it kicked off with and any subtle references or homage to the original movie. I don’t care if you remake a film. There are no such thing as original ideas anymore anyway. So dispense with the homages and just run with it, make it better, take it and by golly don’t look back. Whenever Robocop did this, it worked for me! I purposely did not watch the original before going into this just so I did not find myself comparing the two, and for the most part it work, but it truly never was forgotten. However, I digress. Let’s get back to that PG-13 rating one more time before I can let it go.
I have to give the filmmakers credit. For it being a PG-13 rating there is one scene in particular here that shocked the hell out of me that I did not see coming. And guess what? It grossed me out too. I don’t handle these kind of scenes well and I did not eat again until this morning. If I was 13-years old seeing this, I would be horrified by what I saw onscreen not to mention if I was even younger. So parents, if you are reading this, take that to heart. The action and graphic nature of onscreen events are quite intense for a PG-13 rating. That was the wow factor for me! And with that being said it completely erased my irrational fear of going into this and wanting to hate it for the rating alone.
So our story takes place in 2028 and we are somewhat dropped into the heat of the action via a hilarious newscast performance by Samuel Jackson. Like in the original Iron Man movie (you’ll hopefully see why I make reference to this film), I actually love this setup. We learn all about OmniCorp and robot soldier technology that protects the world, but is not permissible as a vehicle for law enforcement back in the States. That does not sit well with Michael Keaton’s character, OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars, and during a brainstorming session with his marketing team, headed by Jay Baruchel’s character, he decides that if he can put a man in the robot, then perhaps the people will come around, embrace it and as a result make him even richer. Let me stop for a moment and say what an interesting choice this was to cast Jay here. I like it! I like seeing him take on more than just his usual comedic roles. And what can I say about Keaton? It’s always great to see him play around in the mischievously dark roles, which he seems to excel at. That brings me to my next nod…Mr. Gary Oldman. He was spot on perfect, in my opinion, as the doctor responsible for making Sellars’ vision a reality. And now we get to the meat and potatoes, the character of Robocop. I guess it probably goes without saying that you can already infer from my title that there is going to be some corruption in the police force. And you probably already know that something bad is going to happen to the character of Alex Murphy (Kinnaman). So I will spare you the build up and suspense I normally would create around these certain types of events. I’m okay with everything here up until we get to the “Fun and Games” part of the screenplay. I selfishly wanted more. It felt like I was dropped to quickly into “The Promise of the Premise” and the Midpoint came too soon. But hey…that’s just my opinion. What is yours?
No one ever said Robocop was going to be perfect so let’s just roll with it for the time being. For me, Robocop bounced between being outstanding and mediocre many times throughout (some lulls here and there). What worked best for me were the original moments where it tried to be something new (we already talked about this above) and also the relationship dynamics between the actors. I loved Goldman in this! I also loved Keaton in this! And how can you not laugh at Jackson’s monologues throughout? This guy had me in stitches many times over. There are some really good things going on in here not to mention the action, but that’s also when things start to fall apart too. So when you tell me a 50 caliber round will destroy Robocop’s armor and then you hit him endless times with that caliber of ammunition, should he not be devastated and have more damage than just a few chinks in the armor? I would think so. There’s also a lot of loose ends in this thing that I would have loved to see things get wrapped up tighter and resolved better. For these reasons alone it left me with little satisfaction once the ending credits took over. Do they just want audiences to stand up and say give me more?! I was happy to have seen it, but I really don’t need anymore adventures in this reboot. Was it a necessary remake? Probably not! But it wasn’t a flaming turd like Total Recall was either. For me it was just your everyday run of the mill feature that was far better than expected, but since my expectations were so low going in anyway is that really a good thing? Why don’t you just ask yourself this? If going on a familiar 1980 adventure with a man in a robot body who fights crime, corruption and ultimately seeks justice for what happened to him sounds like a good time for you, then by all means you should go! There’s plenty to like in this action film. It hits the beats (for the most part), delivers on the action (even providing some mild gore and blood) and has some outstanding performances to boot in my opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a 3 to me. What’s it to you?