By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L Jackson, and Jackie Earle Haley
There are times trailers show up online and garner such buzz that you get kind of sick of hearing their names. Enter any Christopher Nolan film from the last few years. However, I cannot remember the last time a trailer debuted to such bad buzz as the one to 2014’s version of Robocop. Even before people got the gist of what the plot was going to be, there were already proclamations that this film was going to be a disaster. That the missing element of incisive 80s commercialism is gone. That the suit didn’t look a thing like it ‘should have.’ What I like to tell these people is that the originals are still there. Go watch Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film for the reasons above. But if you are looking for an amusing way to pass two hours, Jose Padilha’s version of the story will do just that in a what I would call better than average retelling of the story.
From the outset, Padilha and screenwriter Joshua Zetumer’s intentions are apparent. Instead of satirizing our culture like 1987’s film did, they look at our love for it. All of our modern culture is revolved around technology, and once Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is put in the suit, his inner struggles of humanity versus technology can almost be seen as a mirror of our culture. Will Murphy’s humanity be drowned out by the technology instilled upon him? This was a daring place to take the character, and one that I myself completely enjoyed. Sure, the inclusion of Jackson as a loud over the top shrill Stephen Colbert-like character named Pat Novak can make some think of Verhoeven’s film. But this is its own creature.
As far as our new Robocop character goes, Kinnaman (The Killing) is instantly likable as Alex Murphy. The plight brought before him is a conundrum that I knew he could handle, given that he is both 6’7 and a veteran of dramatically themed concepts. Cornish, on the other hand, struggles with what she is given. This is a film that is very wet with tears, and her sometimes painful line deliveries & failure to emote (your husband has died and turned into a robot for Christ’s sake, tell us that!) sometimes brings the film down. Oldman is superb as the Dr Frankenstein of the story. Yet I was very taken by Keaton. A role that was originally cast as House’s Hugh Laurie, Keaton is great as Raymond Sellars, the head of Omnicorp who comes across as an almost dark version of Steve Jobs. A special mention also has to go to Haley, who chews up what little scenery he is given.
Of course, when you take away the brashness and over the top nature of what made that first Robocop so loved, you take away a lot of its appeal. Sure, this one is structured while 1987’s film was scattered. But Padilha’s decision to center the story also muddles it down. The action scenes are few and far in between, and when dealing with the themes Padilha has put forth, it feels safe. If there is one thing that distincts that last film from this one, it’s that Verhoeven’s was anything BUT safe. Of course, Padilha also had to work with a PG-13 rating as well. This tones down the violence, yet there seems to be even more bullets flying around this time. But while a PG-13 rating will let you get away with that, the danger of those bullets landing is absent. As a result, the action in Robocop 2014 is very good, almost great. But that notion of danger being gone completely hurts it.
It would seem to be almost a crime if I were to overly recommend Robocop 2014. Its themes are very well written & acted (except by Cornish), and for his first Hollywood production, Padilha does a more than admirable job in balancing those themes and the action they revolve around. Kinnaman is perfectly suited for the role, and I smiled with glee each & every time Keaton was on the screen. But there is something these core Hollywood reboots are completely not understanding. You cannot out Verhoeven Verhoeven. I did not find the remake of Total Recall to be that bad. Yet while this is an improvement over that film, it is also instantly forgettable. Robocop 2014 will more than admirably pass the time, but unlike 1987’s grainy predecessor, there is not one scene you will remember once you make it back to your car to go home. No toxic waste deaths, no maniacal thug laugh. But, this does have one thing going for it: Kinnaman is a more than likable hero. Let’s just hope if there is a sequel, it won’t be written by Frank Miller.