On the search once again for a newer film to review, I found what I was looking for this time on Vudu®: RoboCop, the new-for-2014 version. While I fondly remember the film version of yesteryear, I was interested to see if my biggest complaints with the previous version – namely, the crappy ED-209 special effects – could be brought into the new century. Would this remake be the answer I was looking for? Or was this just another soulless, money-making remake?
Joel Kinnaman takes over Peter Weller’s role as both Murphy and cyborg in this new version. Surprisingly, his character starts off even more wooden than Weller, and viewers may find it difficult to discern when this new film turns the cyborg’s “emotions” off – only to be saved by some obvious shots (he didn’t look at his family! he must be a robot now!) that try to hammer the point home. While Weller seemed wooden in his turn at the role, Kinnaman makes him feel positively fluid in comparison, and viewers will find themselves wishing for Weller to take over again.
Surprisingly, this remake has managed to pull in several heavy-hitters, including Samuel L. Jackson as a biased TV host (who gets much more screen time than expected), Gary Oldman as the scientist bringing the idea of RoboCop to fruition, and Michael Keaton, replacing Ronny Cox in the corporate CEO role. All of them do a decent job. But, as usual, with this amount of star power, the film gives each of them a short shrift, with Oldman getting the best out of the deal. Abbie Cornish seems to get a fair shake in her role as Murphy’s wife, but again, the film seems to have gnat’s attention span, and it’s constant flitting around never lets it really land on a character for very long.
A few other recognizable faces, like Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen (2009)), Jay Baruchel (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)) and Michael Kenneth Williams (Triple 9 (2016)), to name a few, also pop up. Sadly, they are wasted as well, their appearances amounting to little more than cameos.
The plot, while trying to reinvigorate the story for a new generation, feels too muddled and dull. Part social commentary, part exploration of Murphy’s emotional state as he adjusts to being RoboCop, part mindless action flick, part special effects extravaganza, RoboCop seems to try to cover everything, and ends up covering bits of pieces, rather than a complete film.
With the inevitable comparisons to RoboCop (1987), this new version falls flat on it’s face. While the plotline was a bit cheesy in the previous version, it at least had a goal in mind – create a violent, superhero origin story with a bit of heart. In this new reincarnation, the film can’t seem to decide what kind of film the viewers are looking for, and doesn’t seem to have the clear vision of it’s predecessor. Although the cheesy sequels delved into more and more ridiculous plots, one would think this new version could have done a better job in their rehash of the original.
The special effects are about the only thing this new RoboCop has going for it. Sadly, since it’s story is lacking solid direction, watching RoboCop blast his way through quickly introduced – and then discarded – bad guys gets old too. Even the ED-209’s get shorted here, gaining barely enough screentime for viewers to admire their new configurations. On the other hand, watching the new cyborg disassembly in all of it’s special effects glory is easily one of the most memorable moments of the film.
While the effects of RoboCop (1987) may have been ravaged by time, the clear vision of it’s director is still evident – and clearly lacking in the new RoboCop. With Kinnaman giving us a straight-on wooden performance, the film is already lagging in the viewer-caring department. True, Samuel L. Jackson pops up in interspersed vignettes, Gary Oldman still steals the screen in his scientist role, and Michael Keaton plays a low-key bad guy. But even they can’t save this bloated remake from itself.
Sadly, even with actors like those and top-notch special effects, this RoboCop comes across as a direction-less money-making rehash with a fresh coat of paint, rather than the needed revitalization it could have been. Sadly, that will make viewers long for the days when Paul Verhoeven was directing Peter Weller. After all, the ED-209 seemed to be Claymation, but even that is preferable to the muddled mess that this new version turns out to be.