RoboCop (2014) review

Banana Rating: 2 out of 5

Remem­ber that Total Recall remake with Colin Far­rell? No? It was all nice and shiny, but ter­ribly bland, and not a patch on Paul Ver­ho­even’s grimly funny ori­ginal. Most people have already for­got­ten it exis­ted, which is prob­ably for the best.

And now here we are, with another remake of a Paul Ver­ho­even action clas­sic, Rob­oCop. And whilst it does try harder than most, the res­ult is still an insipid, low-fat ver­sion of the ori­ginal. But should we com­pare it? Some might argue that the film be judged on its own mer­its. They released the ori­ginal close to thirty years ago, and there’ll be a whole gen­er­a­tion who’ve never even seen it, or pos­sibly even heard of it.

Many didn’t com­plain when Bat­man got rebooted by Chris­topher Nolan. That series had crashed and burned in an explo­sion of neon and rub­ber bat nipples, thanks to Joel Schu­macher, so there was prob­ably a col­lect­ive sigh of relief when Nolan got his hands on the fran­chise. Sim­il­arly, Rob­oCop suffered when it came to sequels. Rob­oCop 2 is prob­ably an under­rated action film, but still lacks the smart satire of the ori­ginal, des­pite its best efforts. The less said about Rob­oCop 3 and it’s robot ninjas and jet­packs, and the ter­rible Rob­oCop TV series (yes, a TV series!!), the better.

The out­cry over a Rob­oCop reboot arose — even before they announced it’s child friendly cer­ti­fic­ate – because there was an inev­it­able feel­ing that no new film would ever be as bold as the ori­ginal. The Hol­ly­wood remake machine prefers to oper­ate by dial­ling back on viol­ence (unless it’s a film from the hor­ror genre), and pol­ish­ing away the rough edges, before spit­ting out a charm­less, focus group tested movie that sat­is­fies no-one bey­ond the ninety minutes runtime. Least of all, the fans.

So let’s be hon­est. Given that a film has the same name, and the same cent­ral char­ac­ter, com­par­is­ons are impossible to avoid. If they called it Jump­ing CGI Cyborg Police­man, then fair enough, I’ll judge the film on its own mer­its. But it’s not. It’s called Rob­oCop. They called the main char­ac­ter Murphy. He gets killed by some scum­bags, and then rebuilt by an evil corporation.

The film’s biggest crime is not Murphy’s death (or near death in this reboot), but BOREDOM. The dir­ector, José Padilha, said he wanted to focus more on Murphy dur­ing the after­math of his attemp­ted murder, and how he comes to terms with being a man forever trapped inside a machine. As if that was some­how dif­fer­ent to any­thing the ori­ginal had already done, yet much more effi­ciently. Padilha wastes end­less amounts of the film’s run time mis­tak­ing emo­tional depth for dreary melo­drama. As an example, Ver­ho­even’s Rob­oCop has more anger, con­fu­sion, tragedy, and a sense of human­ity over­com­ing the machine, crammed into a mere five minutes of Rob­oCop walk­ing through his empty house, then this new ver­sion achieves in its entire 117 minutes.

For a lot of the movie, the story bounces back and forth between labor­at­ory tests, the occa­sional meet­ing with his tear-stained wife, and bor­ing kid, and Michael Keaton and Gary Old­man arguing about whether man and robot should be com­bined. Admit­tedly, Keaton’s more inter­ested in look­ing at col­our charts for RoboCop’s paint job.

I’m sure all of this end­less chat­ter about free will and stuff, looked super intel­li­gent on paper, but it’s laid out on-screen in such an obvi­ous, and tedi­ous way. Mostly, it’s all tell and no show. Gary Old­man’s doc­tor is nearly always watch­ing Rob­oCop on a bank of screens, provid­ing a handy com­ment­ary, should any­one fail to under­stand this film’s very ser­i­ous themes (as well as per­tin­ent plot points such as, “He’s solv­ing his own murder!”). Themes that were all in the ori­ginal of course, but clev­erly woven into a tight, funny, satir­ical, action-packed story.

By con­trast, new Rob­oCop almost for­gets it has a story until the final third where the film kicks into some sort of life. It’s all pretty rub­bish though. One shoot out in a ware­house is an unex­cit­ing mess of thermal ima­ging, designed more, I sus­pect, to dis­guise as much gore as pos­sible and keep the viol­ence nice and safe. That no real char­ac­ter ground­work has been laid for some of the movie’s vil­lains, also makes the action scenes feel kind of bor­ing: they have a lot of energy, but very little ten­sion, and what feel like very low stakes.

And it’s shock­ing really just how for­get­table the vil­lains are in the reboot. Every vil­lain in Ver­ho­even’s Rob­oCop is col­our­ful and mem­or­able, from Clar­ence Bod­dicker and Dick Jones all the way through to the lesser vil­lains such as Leon and Emil.

I think, really, that’s the ulti­mate dif­fer­ence between the two ver­sions. Rob­ocop 1987 is wild, untamed, col­our­ful, and unfor­get­table. Rob­oCop 2014 is dull, drained of life, and made to order.

I wouldn’t even buy it for a dollar!