RoboCop – a review

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RoboCop is a well-judged and competent reboot. Joel Kinnaman does a decent job as Alex Murphy, the ‘Cop’ who is put inside the ‘Robo’. The CG on the suit is naturally very good and there are some impressive action sequences, especially when put under scrutiny on the ‘biggest screen in Britain’, the BFI IMAX.

OK, so this is a reboot of a very popular cult classic. Which means we can’t really look at it in any other way than with Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original stamped indelibly to the back of our retinas, looming as a fond referential backdrop. So, let’s begin…

In 2014, they’ve gone for a cleaner, sleeker and more slimmed-down suit for RoboCop, as compared to the more chunky mechanical feel of the original, with the focus here more on superhuman cyborg than big bad mechanoid. In fact, the whole tone has been set more family-centric, reflected by the 12A certificate, whereas the ‘87 progenitor was very much an 18. This may open up a whole new world of profitability for the studio, in terms of audience demographic, but it robs the film of its core beauty: unadulterated violence.

It feels, at times, a bit like watching Dredd meets I-Robot and it sadly lacks any of the soul of the 80s original. It‘s solid enough to make it work as a modern revamp and does include one very nicely shocking scene when we get to see the full extent of Murphy’s transformation. However, it’s a shame that this is the only moment of anything approaching originality in an otherwise fairly reserved interpretation.

Take away Samuel L. Jackson‘s central cameo to keep the plot moving along and it’s unclear if the narrative stands up as well. However, he is there and so does his job of progressing the overtly tongue-in-cheek pro-America script with standard relish and aplomb.

Relying heavily on the gravitas leant by Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton, the film gets by on taught action sequences and stylish CG. But as a big budget, popcorn blockbuster that’s all it’s really supposed to do, right?

Wrong. Too much exposition and not enough time with Murphy means a missed trick. Big, stunning CG-fuelled action set pieces, at the expense of any real connection with the characters, means this film suffers the curse of the modern day action blockbuster: all huff, no puff.

Gosh darn it, Hollywood! It’s a shame you can’t recreate that 80s flavour: originality, ultra-action-violence, satirical humour and great visuals. But you can’t, can you. Films like the aforementioned Dredd, however, show that it is possible to try. This one simply doesn’t. Look, it’s good as a slick 12A action blockbuster for all the family with lots of cool action and great CG, and it does doth its cap with a couple of pleasant homages, but it doesn’t come close to the original.

The strength of that original was also its weakness: the special effects. As the era rendered them limited then we got more time with the story. The 2014 edition has no such limitations and, as most big budget action spectacles do nowadays, revels in its own glorious computer-generated universe.

That being said, can you blame them? The ED-209s look mean and impressive, just as they should, and the CG is used to lend believability to this near-future Detroit and US-controlled Earth. Although, again, in the original even these 209 death-machines had some personality to them. It’s an era thing, I guess. In the 80s all this robotics stuff was still fresh and original, so the robots needed character to grab an audience and make the vision of militarised machine control genuinely terrifying. Now, we’re so accustomed to technology and love big CG action so much that we aren’t too fussed about character or compelling narrative as ingredients in our movie-going experience.

Another modern (and worryingly developing) trend this flick seemingly adheres to is the necessity for repetitive and overt plot exposition, usually by one or more cast members saying out loud, on numerous occasions, what we have already been told, can see happening and should really be trusted as an audience to understand is going on!

Still, an entertaining Robo-Reboot worth catching on the big screen if you get a chance. Just a shame they didn’t have the (blood and) guts to keep it as an 18.

Thank you for your co-operation.

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