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Review: Robocop (2014)

Robocop (2014)

Directed by: José Padilha

Premise: A remake of the 1987 movie. Set in the near future, a critically wounded police officer (Joel Kinnaman) is revived as a cyborg.

What Works: The original Robocop came out of the 1980s and it was very much a movie of its time both stylistically and thematically. Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film was made in the era of hard-body action movies like those of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and the Robocop character was consistent with that while also lightly satirizing the machismo of action films at that time. The original Robocop also critiqued the privatization of public services and the military-industrial complex as it existed in the Reagan-era. The filmmakers of the 2014 remake have retained the basic premise and essential themes of the original film, so that this is still recognizably Robocop, but they have successfully reimagined the character and the story for a post-9/11 audience. In that sense, this version of Robocop has less in common with The Terminator and much more in common with The Bourne Identity and it is a very successful update. The filmmakers tap into the politics and issues of the moment and the movie is at its best when it does that most successfully. There are several allusions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the filmmakers maintain the association between the Robocop character and the military industrial complex, reimaging the character’s armor to invoke the look of contemporary weapons but also the prosthetics used by injured combat veterans. In addition to utilizing today’s military styles, the filmmakers also add the gloss of contemporary political spectacle. The Robocop of 2014 is not just a product but an arm of the establishment’s propaganda machine and Alex Murphy’s loss and recovery of his identity amid that system forms the central conflict of the movie.
What Doesn’t: When it comes to remakes, comparisons to the original are inevitable but a lot was written about the new version of Robocop before it was ever released, with bloggers and fans bemoaning the PG-13 rating, objecting to Robocop’s new look, and prematurely reviewing the film before it was even finished. These complaints have poisoned the discourse around the movie but it deserves a fair evaluation, especially since the filmmakers of the 2014 version have made a good movie that respects the original picture. The new version of Robocop has plenty of gunplay but it is less viscerally violent than Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. That’s not really a fault of the remake, just a different aesthetic choice and the less gory approach works for the style of this film. That said, 1987’s Robocop remains superior in most respects and the new film has notable flaws. The biggest problem of Robocop 2014 is that Alex Murphy is not a very interesting character. The scenes of Murphy interacting with his wife and son don’t play very effectively and there is little distinguishing any of these characters. Another weakness of the remake is its compromised tone. The original Robocop possessed a vicious cynicism that was offset by a mordant sense of humor; in that movie Alex Murphy was murdered, reborn, and trapped inside of a military-industrial product and he struggled to reassert his humanity within a dehumanizing system. The ending of the 1987 film is nearly perfect, with Murphy reclaiming his identity while the overall system of corruption remained in place. The remake concludes with too much optimism and the filmmakers violate the cynicism that gave the original film and the early portions of the remake their credibility. The lack of humor also keeps the remake from being much fun. The dark comedy of the 1987 version alleviated the violence and worked in concert with its cynicism.

Bottom Line: The remake of Robocop is flawed but so was the original picture. In the very least the new version of Robocop is a better movie than the sequels that were produced in the 1990s and the 2014 picture is far better and more intelligent than most action pictures.

Episode: #479 (February 23, 2014)