Spoilerific Robocop Review

The new RoboCop movie is out and once again Hollywood has decided to reboot a classic film franchise.  Now, to be fair, RoboCop was a pretty good candidate to be rebooted and re-introduced to film goers since modern special effects could really do a lot with this type of film (just ask Iron Man). 

So with a reboot worthy film, how did Hollywood and MGM do?  Honestly, they did okay.  Better than I was expecting, to be honest, but not without problems and yes, as other reviews have said, they definitely did not live up to the original.  Some have said to go into the film without thinking about the original and view this as its own film, but it’s very difficult to watch RoboCop and not compare it to the predecessor and other recent films as well.  Now, bear in mind, I haven’t watched the original RoboCop in a couple years, so it’s not fresh in my mind, but I still remember impressions from it.

The film opens with our immediate introduction to the Novak Effect, a show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak.  The Novak Effect, a political talk show emulating shows like the O’Reilly factor, actually worked quite well in the film.  Jackson seemed to be enjoying himself playing the part of the character who opens the film to present the question of why robots are being used throughout the world to help maintain peace, but aren’t being used in America.  The correlation to today’s current events is the use of drones in the military and discussion of use in America.  The robots are extensions of the drone concept, a robot without human thought or emotion that follows the directions of its programming, which in the opening scene identifies a child with a knife as part of a threat when they come under attack and ED209 opens fire on the child on national television.  The execution isn’t shown as the dust and debris hides anything from a distance and the feed is quickly cut off for “national security reasons” according to host Novak.

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I will admit the new modern design of ED209 was absolutely fantastic and the opening scene was really cool to watch.  It did make me really want to see Metal gear Solid in film as the whole scene had a very MGS4 vibe to it with machines both small and large walking the streets and submitting people to ID checks at gunpoint in Tehran. 

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I did think the ED-208 was clearly a bad design (in-movie continuity I mean) on OmniCorp’s part.  They looked very aggressive and threatening in the head’s facial area and the overall body had a prototype RoboCop look to them.  They did look pretty cool and could certainly be a cool enemy to reuse later.

This is all before we get to the title screen of the film, but it does a fair job setting the tone.  This is a 2014 PG-13 film…most definitely not the R rated film of the 80s.  I felt this did actually hurt the film a bit, but more on that later.  At least they kept the original RoboCop theme for the film, which was more cool to hear than it should have been.

Our next introduction in the film is to Michael Keaton’s OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars, whose name says it all.  Keaton plays the part perfectly, not quite seeming like a despicable guy and definitely not a typical villain. Instead, he’s a more modern day villain that most people have come to identify as a collective enemy; the CEO who cares about one thing: profit.  Sellars represents the CEO that only cares about his company’s profit and making more money, regardless of what laws need to be bent, what politics need to be manipulated, and what lives need to be used or cast aside in the process.

Sellars wants to make the his robots a common sight on US soil, a goal that his marketing team explains would bring billions of dollars a year.  A law has prevented them from doing so and public opinion is against the idea of robots policing Americans, so the solution is to create a product they can sell to the public to sway support for his proposal.  By creating a robot with a conscience, a human element, they will be able to gain public support and the money will start to roll in.  Now again, OmniCorp isn’t a stereotypical villainous company as their mechanical limbs and robotics are also being used to give amputees advanced prosthetics, even allowing a man to start to play guitar with his robotic hands (though emotion causes trouble with the programming….foreshadowing plot point!!!).

Finally we’re introduced to Alex Murphy, a police officer whose partner is in the hospital and he himself was involved in an unauthorized shooting in downtown Detroit.  What happened to them is told in flashback as Murphy explains what happened to his lieutenant.  Essentially, Murphy and his partner were tracking weapons to a known criminal which were stolen from the police evidence room.  He suspects corrupt cops on the inside, but we also see that he’s made an enemy of our big bad villain, Antoine Vallon.  With a little help from his corrupt police allies, Vallon has a bomb planted on Murphy’s car and that night when the car alarm goes off and won’t turn off with the remote, Murphy goes out to turn it off and the car explodes when he opens the door.

While the end result is the same, I felt that this method of permanently injuring, crippling, and disfiguring Murphy just wasn’t as powerful as the original RoboCop.  The original film’s extremely gruesome attack on Murphy was brutal, cruel, even borderline sociopathic in how the criminal took a sort of joy in blowing the officer’s limbs off with a shotgun, shooting him in the head, and his gang filling him full of lead.  Murphy was alive and conscious as he lost his arm, his legs were destroyed, and he was essentially tortured with a shotgun and left for dead.  Watching it is still cringe inducing, despite years of action films and violence supposedly “de-sensitizing” me.  The new method was a basic car explosion and a crumpled Murphy laying on the side of the yard with barely a glimpse of the injury.

We see his injuries afterwards in a photo as OmniCorp explains to Murphy’s wife the life he can expect without their help, convincing her to sign the consent forms to turn him into RoboCop.

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Three months later and Murphy wakes up to find himself in his new robot body.  He first refuses to believe it’s real and is shut down by the man responsible for creating him, Dr. Dennet Norton played by Gary Oldman (another great addition to the film), but once he’s awake again, they show him what’s left of his body.  Dismantling his robotic body, we see there is nothing left of Murphy except his brain and head, throat, heart and lungs, and his right hand.  This was actually a cool look at just how little of Murphy’s body was kept in order to make RoboCop and is actually fairly aligned with what is seen of his main torso from the original RoboCop films.  However, the biggest problem with the new RoboCop suit is entirely on the head.  Joel Kinnaman looks like he’s wearing a wetsuit and ready to go diving where Peter Weller genuinely had an almost inhuman look to his face.

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Honestly, we never see anything to suggest the new Murphy is just a face on a robot.  He’s always got that black diver suit head thing on.  It just looks kind of ridiculous.

Tests show that Murphy still thinks, delaying his reaction time against a robot comparison suggesting he isn’t as preferable to the standard OmniCorp robots, so they essentially tamper with his brain to bypass his thoughts.  His programming makes him think he’s making decisions, but it’s just the program running; the illusion of free will.

When we first see RoboCop, he is the traditional silver, and he’s silver during his initial tests.  Focus groups suggest he’s frightening to criminals and kids love the suggestion of having him able to transform to have red and blue lights on his shoulders.  Sellars rejects the foolish idea (though it’s amusing to see) and argues that the public doesn’t usually know what they want until it’s shown to them and suggests they make RoboCop more “tactical” which apparently just means “make him black and look like he’s not a robot.”

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No, the black suit does NOT look as bad as people made it out to be.  It doesn’t look all that bad in action and honestly it really works for what the film’s transitions are conveying.  Essentially, while under the control of OmniCorp, he’s black which does give him a bit of a more sinister look more akin to the robots used in the beginning of the film, and he is back to the classic silver in the final scenes, suggesting he’ll be such if there’s a sequel.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a great suit either.  I almost would have preferred a dark blue with gold badge, giving a robotic police uniform look.  The all black does have a bit of a look that suggests a mix between Iron Man and Batman rather than a robotic police officer and I still don’t know why his right hand was kept human.  It’s also difficult to not compare the film to the better done Iron Man films with Murphy having a HUD showing him information on the people he sees and accessing computer information readily.

Much like the opening scene made me think of Metal Gear Solid 4, the scenes with Murphy accessing CCTV and identifying people really made me look forward even more to Watch Dogs.

OmniCorp then presents RoboCop to the public after downloading the entire Detroit criminal database into his brain as well as all CCTV feeds and records in the city.  He starts to have a break down and they shut down his emotions, making him more robotic and showing no recognition towards his wife or son.  Upon his public reveal, he identifies a man wanted for murder in the crowd and apprehends him.  I did notice, however, another man close to him looking down wearing a white hoodie went entirely unnoticed by Murphy.  It seems in 2028 Detroit, the Assassins are still avoiding the eyes of the Templars!  (Seriously, if you see this movie, watch for the very Assassin’s Creed worthy hoody avoiding showing his face in this scene)

RoboCop goes on to begin fighting crime, tracking down criminals and bringing them to justice….we can assume.  We get a scene where he tells his lieutenant what case he’s going to work on, but we actually never see him pursue any crime.  He’s quickly sidetracked and pulled back to investigating his own attempted murder, reconstructing the crime scene and overriding his programming to continue to pursue it at his discretion.  Next thing we know, we get a single shoot out with our villain Vallon (did you forget about him? Because he sort of hasn’t been important) while OmniCorp is trying to determine what to do with him next.

Vallon is tipped off about RoboCop coming after him and Murphy pieces together the evidence at the scene to prove the officers he believed were corrupt really were, but his lieutenant was also part of it and was the one who tipped off Vallon.  He shoots both the corrupt detectives (one in “self defense” even though he’s not going to be injured from a simple police pistol, and the other just in cold blood) before he confronts his lieutenant and tries to coerce a confession out of her at gunpoint.  To be honest, while it’s central to Murphy’s store, his own attempted murder and the corruption within the Detroit police department (all of 3 cops) seems almost like an afterthought amidst the control vs free will plot with OmniCorp and Sellars wanting to market his robots to the public.  In fact, RoboCop being a police officer almost seems to be a sidenote.

We get a short scene of Novak on his show spinning the entire incident as proving that RoboCop has uncovered corruption where it had been present and how robots, unlike humans, are incorruptible.  Sellars sees the anti-robot bill revoked in the Senate to allow for robot police on US streets and OmniCorp claims to Mrs. Murphy that despite their best efforts, Murphy died after suffering a mental break and seizure.  The idea is to make Murphy a martyr hero and orders him to be killed, further making Keaton a really well written villain.  Again, he’s not stereotypical evil, he’s just very amoral in pursuit of his profits.  The scientist/doctor that’s been working with Murphy manages to rescue him and Murphy goes after Sellars.

At OmniCorp, RoboCop faces off against a handful of ED-209s, assisted by his former partner who shows up late, but saves Murphy.  Making his way to the roof, Murphy confronts Sellars and, despite his programming to not harm Sellars, he overrides it and manages to shoot him.  The film closes with Novak stating that the President has vetoed the repeal of the anti-robot law and has some very Samuel L. Jackson inspired words on his opinion of this.  However, he notes that cell phone footage of Murphy at Detroit PD indicates that he is still alive, despite Sellars announcement he had died, and still on duty.  So of course, if it makes enough at the box office, we’ll get a sequel.

RoboCop is a decent popcorn action flick.  It has a few jabs at current trends in our media and puts a very modern villain at the head of things.  Unfortunately, it misses a lot of opportunities and makes some decisions that felt a bit flat.

I’ve already commented on how the suit seemed unimpressive compared to the traditional silver, which actually looked pretty good in this film as well, and that Murphy looks very much like a man in a suit where the original film had an almost inhuman look to Murphy without the helmet on and how Murphy’s injury is less gripping than the original’s brutality, but the environment and relationships suffered in this film as well.

Murphy’s partner, who was injured at the beginning and has been pursuing Murphy’s attempted killers while he’s away being turned into RoboCop, has an almost nonexistent role in the film.  In fact, RoboCop has very little interaction with the other police officers at all upon his return, which is very different than the original film.  Murphy and his partner are exactly that in the original and they work together after he returns as RoboCop.  She is the real link he maintains to his past self and his humanity.  That role is shifted to his family still being there in the new one since they didn’t erase his memory of them at all.  However, his interaction with his wife and son are minimal and don’t seem to have a lasting impact on the film, though it is the reason he overrides his programming and pursues his own murder investigation.

The lack of involvement by his partner also contributes to another problem with the film: The setting.  In the original, and in our modern times, Detroit is definitely on hard times.  The city recently filed for bankruptcy and though it’s a supposedly run down city in 2028, nothing really indicates it.  The city looks pristine and has an optimistic feel to it with occasional crime like any other city.  While Murphy accessing criminal databases and sees crimes picked up on CCTV (surveillance is everywhere), we never get a real impression that Detroit is being dragged down by crime.  The only criminal intervention we see is the apprehension of a murder suspect at RoboCop’s unveiling and his shoot out with the man who tried to kill him, which is rather short lived and has a very video game quality to the filming.

With his humanity tied to his family rather than his partner, they seem terribly underutilized.  Essentially, he sees his wife via Skype shortly after waking up, meets his wife and son once after coming back, then after he’s reprogrammed he’s kept away from them for the rest of the film other than one encounter where she tries to get through to him and then when he sees them at the climax on the roof of OmniCorp.  It just felt like they were wanting to do more with that, but it wasn’t fleshed out and explored.

This last one is a bit of a nitpick and entirely personal preference, but I wasn’t crazy about his dual guns.

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He has his usual hand cannon from the original, which can be used with lethal force, but is also a taser gun for nonlethal force most of the time.  His left hand uses a semi automatic mini-rifle of sorts.  While there’s nothing particularly wrong with him having both options, and a nonlethal weapon makes sense for him to carry in today’s modern film, it just didn’t feel as cool as the automatic burst pistol of the original.

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My only other personal nitpick was the voice.  They didn’t roboticize it as much as Wellers voice in the original and it came off a little more man than RoboCop.  I personally think there’s two reasons for this and the face being just in a suit: actor recognition.  This is a big budget film and they want the lead star to be recognized and noticeable, a trend I don’t approve of in modern movies.  Focus on the character, not the actor.  Hugo Weaving did an entire movie without his face ever being shown and he was awesome in it.

While these areas fell short, I did feel like it was a decent “origin” film to introduce RoboCop to a new generation.  The black suit wasn’t my cup of tea, but it worked for the “corporate control” RoboCop.  It did feel like they should have transitioned him to the silver classic look for the final battle rather than afterwards, but at least the implication is there that the classic look will be used if there’s a sequel.  Honestly, there’s a lot of potential for the new series and a sequel could even come off better than the first, but the box office will determine if that happens or not.

All in all, though, even if you don’t like the new RoboCop, it’s a good film to have been rebooted.  At the very least, it introduces RoboCop to a new generation that may have never otherwise seen the character and many of those modern movie goers could very well decide to go watch the original film after seeing the new one.

 

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