Thursday, February 13, 2014
“Robocop” – This is how you make a remake.
Admittedly, I had very low expectations going into the new Robocop for the reasons mentioned above and because of its February release. When I heard about the remake, my initial reaction was “Who asked for that?” So, you can imagine my surprise when it turned out, not only to exceed my expectations, but also be a very solid movie.
The biggest reason the remake far exceeds the original is that it isn’t a straight retread of the original and goes much further in its social commentary. The film begins with a news show parodying a Fox News/MSNBC/CNN talking/screaming head show in which the host, Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), is ripping the United States for not allowing robots and drones to police its streets and cities. In between diatribes, live footage is shown of robot peacekeeping forces in Tehran while Novak’s on-the-scene reporter is telling us how “cooperative” the people are and how “they only want peace.” It’s a great riff on the absurdity of cable news shows as well as taking a swipe at the equally as absurd attitude of some politicians towards Iran. Plus, who better than Samuel “mother fuckin’” Jackson to portray the ridiculous blowhard hosts of those shows? It’s a great scene that sets the tone of the film as well as setting up the plot – and they were just getting started.
During that opening scene, we are introduced to the maker of the robots – Omnicorp – headed by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton). Sellars and his cronies are trying to figure out a way to beat legislation barring robots from America so they can tap into “a $600 billion market” (making corporate greed the next motif/target). They find their loophole in the form of “putting a human into a robot,” as Sellars puts it, and the perfect candidate drops in their lap in the form of recently blown-up detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Omincorp’s chief scientist, Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman), is tasked with saving Murphy’s life and turning him into Robocop, kicking off the second act of the film and easily the most interesting part.
While some people will find the second act slow, it engrosses people like me by showing us the evolution of Murphy through various stages of man vs. machine. It’s exactly the kind of character development I’m constantly pleading for, but almost never get due to the pandering to the audience in the form of mind-numbing action. It’s a fantastic piece of storytelling that not only builds Murphy/Robocop, but also develops Dr. Norton, Sellars, Murphy’s wife (Abbie Cornish), and using all of that development to propel the plot forward. As I said earlier, it was quite a shock to realize a movie called Robocop could deliver such competence.
The other great thing about the film was how well it paid homage to the original without being overt about it. As nearly unwatchable as the original has become, everybody remembers “I’d buy that for a dollar” and “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.” You’ll also notice they’ve reinvented “the fourth directive,” kept Detroit as the location, Robocop’s movement, aesthetics (for a little while at least) and noises, and kept the part where Robocop/Murphy decides to investigate his own attempted murder. Conversely, they got rid of the excessive blood spraying (to the point where you might actually believe humans are incapable of bleeding), including the melting-man windshield wiper fluid and replacing Robocop’s extremely lethal weapons with non-lethal versions that seem as deadly, built Murphy’s family into something that actually mattered and was visible (and, wow, is Cornish worth seeing), and build Omincorp into something you truly don’t like by the end. Between these things, I don’t think the writers could have chosen what to keep and what to throw away any better.
As easy as it is to say the original’s special effects were kind of hokey, it pretty much goes without saying that the special effects in the remake would be far better. The attention the writers paid to the details like Robocop’s software and hardware in both concept and visuals while explaining those things so the audience could understand them was a major component in making the film far better than its predecessor. Of course, the best effects come in a scene in which Murphy insists Dr. Norton show him the remaining human parts and the camera slowly revolves around his “body.” While it’s not nearly as disgusting as the splattered man, it’s just as unforgettable.
The day before I saw the Robocop screening, I caught a few minutes of Ghostbusters and realized that there are several movies from the 80’s screaming for a remake, though not necessarily Ghostbusters. Movies like Robocop lend themselves well because special effects allow them to be far closer to their original vision and are easily adapted to whatever the current sociopolitical problem might be. Well, except maybe Robocop 2.
Rating: Well worth your time and money, especially for a February release. Let’s be honest – there’s no way you thought this movie was going to be anything but sucky.