Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: 'RoboCop' remake really, really ... meh

My expectations going in to the new “RoboCop” movie were pretty low to begin with as I walked into a matinee show yesterday.
                I didn’t read any reviews or anything like that, but some of the recent TV spots and the PG-13 rating didn’t do much to get my hopes up.  
                So it’s not exactly accurate to say I was disappointed by what unfolded. In a lot of ways, I got pretty much what I expected, which adds up to my “meh” feelings about this one.
                It’s 2028 and OmniCorp is a giant, Halliburton-y corporation specializing in robotics, more specifically in drones built for warfare. The drones have mostly worked in the Middle East, so it wants to bring the technology home to America.
But the American people don’t like the idea of putting life or death decisions in the metal hands of machines, at least not American lives anyway because duh, so Omni’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) decides to meet everyone halfway, by sticking a man – or parts of one – in a robotic suit.
                Just so happens that right around that time, Officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is critically injured by a car bomb in the line of duty. In an effort to give him a second chance, his wife (Abbie Cornish) signs Murphy’s body over to Omni, thus giving us RoboCop.
                The biggest problem I had with this remake is one that was nagging me after watching a few of the movie’s trailers. Even the good ones didn’t seem to have a big bad, supervillain-type. If you knew the old movies, they you could guess that Omni would fill that role in some way, but the trailers weren’t pushing anything.

                After watching it, I can safely say none of the villains in the movie are really worthy of a RoboCop. They easily all could have been handled by a RegularCop.
Omni is a company trying to exploit politics to further its agenda. Nothing ground-breaking. And honestly, its agenda doesn’t even seem all that bad. The drones are pretty effective. They aren’t the very glitch ED-209 robots from the original movie. The drones can be brutal, but they do work.
Really, the only evil-y things Omni does is in its treatment of Murphy and his family. The rest of what they do is just stuff I assume every company that has more than four employees is currently doing in US politics.
And maybe because it’s not PC to say it these days, but Detroit is hardly the crime-riddled hell hole that it was portrayed to be in the old movies. There seems to be an average amount of crime. Hell, the gun runner whose gang killed Murphy is barely a presence in the movie. Although his gang does get one great shootout with RoboCop, he could have been bested by your standard gumshoe.
The lack of a worthy villain leaves the movie feeling kind of one sided. Again. RegularCop. That would have been sufficient.
There are some good things here. The action, although needlessly heavy on the CG and mostly bloodless, is a plus. The showdown with the main gun-runner’s gang is one and RoboCop’s storming of Omni headquarters is another. Although, the latter delves a little too far into the first person shooter for my liking.
The acting is enjoyable, headed by Gary Oldman as the conflicted, peace-loving scientist in charge of creating RoboCop. Kinnaman’s take on Murphy is a little too douchy for me personally, but otherwise, I have no qualms with the man. Sam Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Jackie Earle Haley are all in the movie, basically playing characters we’ve seen from them a thousand times. Keaton was an interesting choice for the head of an evil company, I just wish his company was more evil.
The remake throws a few interesting curveballs in there that I appreciated. For one thing, Murphy actually gets to interact with his family as RoboCop, as opposed to just seeing them in memories like in the old one. As a result, we actually get a pretty sweet scene with him and his son at one point.
Also, in the old movies, Murphy was a pretty bland, robotic dude even before he went into the suit. In this one, as I mentioned, Kinnaman is cocky and emotional and that carries over into his Robo-persona a little.
Really, the movie never justifies RoboCop’s presence. Detroit doesn’t seem to need him. He mostly exists to get revenge on people who’ve wronged him: the gun runner’s gang and then later, Omni.
And that’s its greatest failing. RoboCop, like every action hero, needs a villain of equal - or preferably greater - stature. Otherwise, the hero at worst seems like a bully or at best, wildly unnecessary. That second one is the case here.
Oh, second greatest failing? The very, very sparse use of the classic “RoboCop” theme song.
There’s some fun to be had, but not enough. It mostly just makes want to watch the old ones again. Could be worse, I suppose.

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