I'm embarrassed to say that like many nerds, I automatically jump to worst-case-scenario when it comes to news about adaptations to licences that I loved as a kid, and Robocop was one of them. When I heard that Hollywood was doing another movie about the murdered Detroit cop brought back to life by cybernetics to fight crime, my reaction was a less than stellar example of open-mindedness.
In fact, there may have been a generous measure of angry screaming, and some rather vigorous head-desking involved.
|NO MORE RE-MAKES, HOLLYWOOD!|
Paul Verhoeven's 1987 classic was probably one of the first R-rated movies that many of us in the 80's saw in theaters. In today's world of first-person shooters, YouTube and Rule 34, the content of R-rated movies isn't as notable as it was for us 80's kids. Back then, this film with it's dismemberment, disfigurements, and graphic exploding people was candy to kids who'd grown up on a diet of Reading Rainbow and Growing Pains. We didn't even really understand the director's message about the media and the decay of American industry, we just knew that this was fucking awesome!
The new version, helmed by Hollywood newcomer José Padilha, borrows a few of the original's elements, but replaces the B-movie fun with slick flash.
I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
On the one hand, I appreciate the filmmakers' and crews' effort in their uphill task of bringing this to the screen. The movie is done well, and the design of the props, sets, and costumes are high-quality and look reality-based. Any success this movie has is going to be because of the efforts from the cast and crew, who were all SUPERB.
The look of this film is really beautiful. I love the lab that he's built in and the look of the costume. When I first saw the black suit online, I scoffed. I couldn't help it, since the blue steel of the original felt so iconic, so symbolic of the city's industrial roots. While I still don't agree with the choice of black for the remake, and still like the silver prototype better, I have to admit that it looks far better in action than it did in the stills. And I love that it looks like much of the film was done practically, in-camera, with visual effects supporting rather than carrying the film.
I'd also love to see some of the concept art for this movie. The look of the lab was wonderfully creepy in that corporate-backed-science-is-evil sort of way. The robot designs remind me of how I imagined the drones in Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse would look like. If Steven Spielberg watches anything in preparation for that movie, I hope it's this movie's Mideast pacification scenes. I want to see more of that kind of interaction and ubiquitousness with the robots before they go taking over the world.
Which brings me to the synopses. The movie starts off in Tehran, where the US military is keeping the "peace" through use of automated drones. They patrol the city, scanning every citizen for contraband, and eliminating threats without conscience. Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, a talk show host with a scary Right Wing bent, who is convinced that these drones are the solution to America's rising crime problem.
This segment introduces us to OmniCorp head Raymond Sellars, played by Michael Keaton. Sellars is trying to get a law that prohibits the use of drones on US soil repealed. In order to do that, he needs something to sway public opinion and he recruits Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to build him a sympathetic machine.
In comes Alex Murphy, played by Joel Kinnaman, a cop who is brutally murdered and the perfect candidate for this little project. Only Murphy doesn't have the best reaction when he wakes up a multiple amputee with a computer controlling his body. Shit hits the fan when he finds evidence leading to his own killers and goes off the reservation.
There are several things that I loved about the movie, and first among them is the cast. Oldman, Keaton, and Jackson are old hands at this sort of stuff and really sell their characters hard in this one. Jackson especially makes you want to shoot him in the face with a shotgun. Keaton plays it kind of cool in the beginning, but by the end you want to lay him out right next to Jackson. And Oldman is just great in any role, good guy or bad. I believe him in anything.
While I still prefer Peter Weller's Robocop, Kinnaman did a good job here, especially in the scenes where they showed him what had happened to him after the explosion that killed him. His interactions with his wife were also a high point of the movie, and Abbie Cornish is fast climbing my list of actresses to follow.
I also love how the film isn't a huge Hollywood blockbuster with action set piece after action set piece. There are long stretches without any bullets or explosions and I never lost interest. In fact, those parts are actually what I remember most about the movie.
The new version eschews Verhoeven's satire about media and replaces it with a message about blind jingoism, which while very relevant today, brings a different tone to the movie. While the original had a kind of demented glee in it's ultra-violence, this one has a kind of dark fairy tale vibe, like a fable with a moral to teach. And that's where things turn for me.
The thing about the original is that it mixed it's serious message with a lot of humor. There were clear cut bad guys and watching Murphy lay down the hurt... there's a satisfaction to it, and the humor made it not be about the violence. It's a fun movie.
This re-make of Robocop isn't fun.
It's an entertaining movie, to be sure, but it's more of a drama than an action movie. The best bits aren't when he's bringing down perps with tasers or riding around on his motorcycle, or taking out ED-209s. They're when he's crying about his lost humanity. While I'd say that might make this one more, for lack of a better word, "respectable," it also makes it less remarkable.
I'd recommend seeing it, but see the original as well. They're apples and oranges, or cats and dogs. Only you decide which you like better.