Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Robocop (Film Review)

Some time ago, the fact they were remaking Paul Verhoeven classic Robocop was announced to many groans. Given the failure which was Total Recall, many were immediately predicting a cash cow effort, total failure or a poor copy of the original. Well, before you pick up your torches and pitchforks you should know it's actually not that bad. It's not terrible, and only walking away with the bronze medal at best, but the film isn't the train-wreck people expected.

Set in the near future, the conglomerate OmniCorp completely runs security in a multitude of nations. Through its army of combat robots and actually competent versions of ED-209, it polices the streets of various overseas nations. Prevented from deploying their forces in America, they seek to make a profit and soon come up with a way to circumvent the laws holding them back: Put a man inside a machine to serve and protect. It just so happens that a victim of a recent car-bomb is the perfect candidate for their role...

Let's make this clear from the very beginning: This is a very much neutered version of the original Robocop. With a PG-13 sticker slapped onto the film, you get nothing like Murphy's gory death nor the more obviously horrific over the top moments such as the victim of toxic waste. As a result, they also lack a lot of the original's bite but at the same time feel like a parody of modern cinema problems. Intentional or not, he overuse of CGI, lack of physics and bloodless carnage all come across to display just how ridiculous they can be while offering some decent action at times.

Furthermore, following the Total Recall decision, Robocop opts to go completely the other direction of the original. Despite an large number of references, often to its detriment, it doesn't try to emulate what made the original work. Only enough, this actually works in its favour as you're not left complaining "the first film did this so much better" or something of the like.

The film starts with Murphy's identity completely intact and well aware of his family and past. We see his connection to them prior to the accident and are given a sense of his personality. As you may have seen in the trailers, the corporation itself lets him think he is in control and manipulates his actions over time. The points he starts to behave like Robocop are when the corporation begins stripping away his personality for greater effectiveness on the streets. An action they hope will eventually lead to the approval of their more traditional drones being deployed and the disposal of Murphy once he is of no further use.

A similar character who follows this path is Dr. Norton, the cyborg's creator. Brought on by the enthusiastic and morally bankrupt OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars, he starts of as a benevolent figure. Over time Sellars' influence and the politics of the machine begin to get to him and we see his gradual corruption. It's a role which is well acted out by Gary Oldman and proves to be oddly effective throughout the film. It might be territory previously trod many times, but it's interesting to see the themes brought up and almost openly parodied in as here.

Speaking of being openly parodied, one of easily the most effective scenes is what we have in place of the commercial products. A news report promoting OmniCorp's every efforts and spin-doctoring events is an obvious mockery of Fox News, but it hits home just about every time.

Unfortunately, there are a large number of flaws which remain evident throughout the film. Along with Garry Oldman often being used to bludgeon the audience with the film's themes, the writing for the characters is hardly great. Many feel flatly written and the dialogue often feels as if it needs to be stepped up a notch, especially with Abbie Cornish's role as Clara Murphy. The actors assembled are all talented and do their best, but there's only so much they can handle with what they are given. Admittedly, they're not all perfect with Joel Kinnaman feeling a little lacking, and that's unfortunate given the amount of focus placed upon him.

The action sequences also do become repetitive and undergo a number of very odd choices. This may be in part due to the low age rating the film is stuck with, there's only so much you can do without bloodless fights becoming samey, but the film tries to do things like copy the Equilibrium scene. You know the one, where the entire room is lit by muzzle flashes? That's turned into a full battle and Robocop's black form makes him very hard to pick out within the brawl. This and a lot of other elements end up giving it a much weaker final act than it deserved.

Combined with some very odd structuring and obvious efforts to outshine its predecessor in the battle department, and you have a lot of problems which hold the film back. It's unfortunate as it honestly feels that with a little more tweaking and creative freedom, this could have been something truly fantastic. Instead what we have is an alright action film for this year with decent social commentary.

You won't be left feeling that this is a shining moment for the film industry, but it's still the best production the franchise has seen in thirty years. Take that for what its worth.

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