Although there are some movies that I avoid because I know I’m just not keen on the genre (torture flicks jump to mind), I try not to judge anything before experiencing it myself. That said, I think we can all be forgiven for wondering whether a Robocop reboot was necessary and whether it would miss the satirical point of the original, described by producer Jon Davison as “fascism for liberals” – a politically liberal film done in the most violent way possible!
I wondered also how they would handle the setting of Detroit. In the original movie Detroit is nilistically futuristic, but scarily not far off from some part of the Detroit of today. I hoped that, if anything, the setting of a city with so much on its plate these days, would be sensitively handled. Aside from this, I had no strong thoughts going into the movie. And once reviewers started to declare that they thought it was actually quite good, I began avoiding the reviews in order to go in with a fresh mind and my own opinions only.
And at this point it has pretty much been reviewed to death, though I still have read none of them (rectifying this shortly), I’m sure there is little I can add that gives any more insight than those already out there. So I’ve decided to go a bit off reservation in the format of my reviews on here and the way I look at movies, and Robocop, as it happens is a great place to start.
Overview: The good and the bad
In brief, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t my favourite genre movie of the last 12 months, but it was a solid effort and watchable. The main thing that lets it down is that it just isn’t as strong as the original and I will say right now that watching this as a movie without comparing it to the original is probably a more enjoyable experience and makes for a better film. However, if like me, you grew up on the original (1, 2 and the TV show… I think we’re all happy to forget 3), then you will be hard pushed not to compare the two.
These are the things I particularly enjoyed about the movie…
- The casting – this was pretty good. I really liked Joel Kinnaman as Murphy/Robocop and it was good to have someone a bit unknown in there to emphasise the character rather than the actor.
- Samuel L Jackson as Pat Novak and in particular the opening scenes of the movie and use of the original theme tune were spot on!
- The ED 209s were AWESOME!!! And I particular loved the fight scene with them.
- Many of the action scenes felt like video game footage, which is quite cool, but what was really interesting was the subtle change from extra shaky hand held camera action whilst still Murphy and then steady but tight camera work as Robocop – nice touch.
- I liked that the technology was futuristic, from phones and computers to prosthetic limbs, making the potential technological progression to cyborg clear. This is something the original lacked in some ways.
- Deconstructed Robocop was pretty cool… I was all “Oh my god!! BRAINS!!!! Awesome”.
- “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar!” Wouldn’t you? Really, I know someone who would!
- Gary Oldman was pretty well used and great in his role as good man of science pressed to do bad things.
- Red assets – interesting update on OCP Directives.
Not so much 😦
- Michael Keaton is an amazing actor and on some level is perfect for this role, and yet it was kind of taken in another direction. It wasn’t especially clear (ignoring the original) whether his character, Raymond Sellars head of Omnicorp, was a good guy or bad guy.
- It is really unclear who the antagonists are here, in part because of the point above. The original movie was much more cartoony in this sense, and it was clear who the bad guys were regardless of their actions – this is something Keaton would have been able to do without much of a stretch and without making it seem cartoony, but it didn’t happen. Seriously, I spent the whole movie waiting for him to do one of his gone nuts type scenes.
- I really loved Novak, but the fact that he was the only cartoony part of the movie (perhaps as a nod to the tone of the original) felt jarring and out of place. Shame, because on the flip side he was one of my favourite things about the movie!
- “Dead or alive your coming with me!” iconic line, placement and context of delivery… not so much.
I’m on the fence about the fact that he is Alex Murphy rather than Robocop (only mentioned once and by Novak as a nickname rather than an official designation), it feels a bit like they are trying to make the movie more grown up by doing so. Same thing happened in Man Of Steel with Superman vs Kal-El, but here it didn’t feel quite necessary. Also, Mattox (played by Jackie Earle Haley) was awesome in some parts (“if I only had a brain”!) but felt really underdeveloped and of questionable motivation in others.
Further views, both good and bad…
Over all it is probably best enjoyed as a leave your brain at the door sort of movie, which is a real shame as that is really not the case for the original. And despite touching on many of the same themes, like what it means to be human for instance, these were not explored in any depth. An interesting element they brought up was Murphy just being a passenger of the robot when his visor was down, but again, this didn’t build up into anything noteworthy.
The social commentary and its often satirical delivery is something that made the original Robocop (and Robocop 2) so memorable, made as it was in a future imagined by the 1980s, the age of the yuppy. OCP (Omni Consumer Products) was the villain of this piece – a mega corporation that owned pretty much everything in the city of Detroit, including their police force. It was a terrifying look at a future that was not overtly scary in the way of zombies or over the top villains, but in the break down of social order and the decline in human rights and welfare.
This is something that is almost completely absent in the remake, and yet is no less poignant now than it was then. Try as I might not to compare the two, it felt like there was something very important missing because of this – Omnicorp was selfserving and money grabbing, but not an obvious villain.
The closest it got to something along these lines was instead a satirical mention of America as the Imperialist and this was exclusively portrayed in the Novak show segments. Using the EDs overseas was really interesting and drove home the idea of the assumed “white man’s burden” of this storyline, but again it went no where outside of the Novak segments.
Something I did find a little jarring was the use and portrayal of Detroit. Since the making of the original movie the city of Detroit has faced social and economical turmoil. In the movie Keaton’s Sellars looks out over the city scape and calls it “beautiful” and “peaceful”. It is lovely to think that Detroit of the future is the economically thriving home to successful corporations. But on the flip side, it didn’t sit quite right with me because we saw so little the city itself outside of warehouses and car bike chases. Other than the obvious drug running, there wasn’t anything in particular that made Detroit look as though it was in need of Robocop or a whole bunch of EDs if Sellars had got his way. It was not the dystopian city it needed to be in order to plant that seed.
As an aside – there’s also a part of me that finds it a bit crappy that (as far as I know, and if any of you know different please do let me know because I am actually interested), no money from the movie went into the Detroit economy. This is kind of sad, because the city could do with the boost, the original is famously based there, so filming even a few bits somewhere in Detroit might have been quite cool. After all, these people love Robocop enough that they are getting a statue – part of which has been aimed at economy boosting!
Race and Gender
If you have read more than one of my previous posts, you will know that the portrayal of gender, racial and sexual equality and diversity is one of my big bug bears, and rightly so! So, I need to tell you that two things on this front really let it down for me.
Firstly (although I appreciate the racial switch – which I will come to shortly), I was gutted that Murphy’s partner was no longer Anne Lewis (played by Nancy Allen) but Jack Lewis (played by Michael K. Williams).
As a young girl growing up, I like most people, saw Robocop waaaaaay before we were meant to. Back in a world before the PG13/12A certificate movies were either kid friendly (PG), teen friendly (15 – but we all snuck in from around the age of 12) or adults only (18). Believe it or not, when it first came out in the UK Robocop was an 18 certificate. The fact that this rating meant naff all in a world fueled by memorabilia and kids toys explains why it shortly was turned into both a family friendly live action show and an animated show. Regardless of whether I should have been watching the film or not, I was, and one of the things that I really thought was awesome was Lewis. Sure, Robocop was cool but my brother never let me play with the action figure. But Lewis, she was something else. She was a female cop!! She was such a badass that she got to partner with a cyborg! In a movie genre that is often divisive amongst feminists, Lewis’s credentials as a smart, tough and honourable role model cannot be denied.
Not only is it terrible that she has been effectively erased from the remake, but it also means that I can’t imagine that this movie in any way passes the Bechdel Test, which in 2014 and a movie set in the future, well that kind of sucks. Although there are four named female characters, only two are prominent and their only conversations are specifically about Murphy. Suckage.
Ok, so racially, it was great that they made Lewis black, but female and black would have been even better! Which brings us to Secondly! the lack of racial diversity in this movie. Sure there were a few background cops, the aforementioned Lewis, a smattering of criminals and of course Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the Chief of Police. But, again, for 2014 that’s a bit crap. You could possibly go as far as to say disturbing when you consider that this movie is set in a city with an increasing African-American population that at present make up over 80% of the population. Except, it would seem, in the future. Terrifying implications.
There we go. My thoughts, good and bad. Not a great film but watchable if you can keep the original from your mind and ignore the poor representation of gender and race (which I find more and more difficult these days – after all, other movies seem to manage it).
I also spent an unusual amount of time wondering if Keaton and Oldman spent their downtime trading stories about being in Batman movies…