What? Were you hoping for a review on Robocop 3? Too bad, I refuse to watch it again. Why waste my time with it? Besides, the remake couldn't be any worse. Actually speaking of...
The funny thing is, I kind of wanted to remake Robocop myself when I was younger. Mind you, it was a fantasy conjured up by a 15 year old but in any case, it turned out there was an actual remake in the works. Around 2008, I found out MGM was set to commission a remake with Darren Aronofsky directing. Which is a choice that does seem very ideal and the prospect sounded promising. But then he left, apparently due to creative differences (interesting enough, he left directing duties for The Wolverine for a similar reason. Dude can't catch a break when it comes to directing installments for established IPs, can he?).
But MGM and their new partner Sony didn't give up that easily. Instead, José Padilha of the Elite Squad duology fame was chosen to direct instead. His intentions sounded a bit promising and it could have been a very solid remake that can rival the original...except, he had constantly fought with the studio on the project. Ouch. So despite the behind the scenes problems, did it even work? In some ways yes, other times no. Before I get into specifics, I'm going a different way looking into this film so I won't compare this to the original 1987 classic, at least not much as a remake should stand on its two feet and not live in the shadow of the its previous counterpart.
Now this film has a lot of good ideas, these are obviously very promising high concept ideas. The American public is wary of robotic law enforcement as is a US senator whose arguments involve the lack of emotion. We're given a taste of this with The Novak Element, a replacement for the news breaks from the original. This Bill O'Reilly-esque dude basically telling his opinion as it is but also chews out the American public for being so "Robo-phobic." Then there's the scene where there are ED-209s and robotic drones searching for armed suspects in a foreign country which I don't think they specified so we're left to assume it's somewhere in Pakistan. It no doubt wanted to be a satire on the state of America in a Post-9/11 world but it didn't dig deep into that enough unfortunately. It pretty much culminated to the greedy business man getting his just desserts. In some respects, so was the original but that was just one dude. In the remake, Raymond Sellers, played by Michael Keaton, is the brains behind the commission of the project and wanted to achieve his goal by any means necessary.
Then there's the fact that there doesn't seem much of an impact after some of its side plots like Murphy solving his own murder were apparently resolved but not much were done. Hell the dude who murdered the guy in the process was nothing more than a prop. He was just there, kind of a wasted opportunity really especially since said crime boss had an extra scene of him plotting to kill him. Hell the climax while entertaining, just feels kind of typical. I guess what I'm getting at is, it can be generic at times. Like it doesn't have much of an edge to it and just kind of goes for the easiest resolution at the end of the day. But there are some good moments. I mean the acting is one of the strongest elements.
Joel Kinnaman is not bad as Alex Murphy, but he's at his best as soon as he becomes a cyborg. Given that the character is now fully aware of what he has become, he conveys the right amount of emotions to express whether he'd be angry at what he's become or distressed to the point where he wished he died as he could not live with the fact that his wife and son seeing him as a cyborg. He doesn't try too hard to a point where his performance is laughable, he does hit it just about right so to speak. Hell, he looks pretty cool in the new Robocop suit. Which I'll get to in a moment.
Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton were the strongest actors in the entire film. Oldman as Dr. Dennett Norton was more of the sane one type of character and he probably didn't seem much on page but Oldman really made the character his own and made him more sympathetic than what was probably intended on screen. He was pretty likeable and in a sense, he makes for an interesting contrast to Raymond Sellers. Where as Norton wants for what's best for Murphy and even can reach his own breaking point, Sellers is a guy who does not give a flying fuck and he wants to win and beat his opponents no matter what.
Speaking of, Michael Keaton was a bit of a scene stealer, wasn't he? He obviously had fun playing the villain of the best and sold it like no tomorrow. Again, like with Oldman; he probably wasn't much in the script but when Keaton was cast, he no doubt made the character much more than he was on the page. He can be very insistent and flippant about what he wants but can be serious when he's too insistent on obtaining his goals. The rest of the actors did a very good job as well.
Abbie Cornish was given an expanded role unlike in the original and actually it seemed to have taken a cue from Robocop 2 which is the scene where Murphy's wife finally meets Murphy after he became Robocop but unlike that film, she knew about it the entire time and played a part in keeping him via the Robocop project. The one piece of acting I'd like to point to is her watching The Novak Element, shaking and kind of angry at what had happened to Murphy. Two other bright spots in the acting department include Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson. Haley is a charming asshole and Jackson like Keaton really sells his role in spades. He really nails how news pundits act and I can only assume he had been watching Fox News and other news channels as a reference to prepare himself for the role.
Other actors like Jay Baruchel and Michael K. Williams, they did good, just not enough to make an impact as much as the others. T
he visual aesthetic; in terms of production design of the world and its designs, they're not bad, nothing spectacular on the look of the film save for various forms of lighting such as a the shoot out between Murphy and the flunkies of his murderer which used strobe lighting in the form of bullets. And I liked the look of the drones and the redesigns of the ED-209 even if the latter was just for decoration and for a few action set pieces. And most of all, I really like the action scenes and of course, the RoboCop suit itself. The black suit and new visor is an appropriate update and I didn't mind the human hand that much, I even forgot it was even there. The action sequences are well filmed and they're very energetic.
And a random note, considering the original film was influenced by Judge Dredd, it's only fitting he gets to drive a motorcycle in the remake. But the true moments of brilliance come from a few factors. Despite the satire being downplayed, when it does show up; it works. There are plenty of take that's at news pundits, the government and even the corporate system with the scenes with the OmniCorp executives.
For example, there is a scene where they showed Murphy's Robocop look to focus groups. While the suit put the fear of god in the prisoners (they actually say that) and they talked about putting sirens on the guy's shoulders and make him some sort of Transformer because the kids would love it. Then there are odd music choices that really work in scenes people think they shouldn't. Like Andrew Page's If I Only Had a Heart and Focus's Hocus Pocus during testing and training sequences. I haven't watched much of Padilha's work but these particular moments had me convinced of his personality shining through. Also for anyone who is a fan of The Clash, their song I Fought the Law appears in the end credits. Kind of fitting really.
And there's something I want to note, the opening theme is kept a bit and after the title, the familiar notes are played during Joel Kinnaman's first scene as Murphy when he's in the police station about to talk to the chief. I felt it was a nice touch.
And yes, there are nods to the original but thankfully they're underplayed and just kept to lines of dialogue and familiar designs that are updated. This is the thing I admired most about the remake, it is its own identity as a remake should be. It shouldn't be a slave to the original material just because it was there or fans will hate you if you differentiate it too much. A remake should just do its own thing, you want to keep some elements, that's your choice but it's important to put your own spin.
And my personal favorite; the visual image of Murphy outside of the suit. When he doesn't have the armor, it reveals what was left of him besides his face; an exposed brain, lungs and of course his right hand. This is an image that wouldn't be out of place in the original film and it's a genuine shock moment to a point where you can understand why Murphy would prefer to die.
Even with those specific moments, does the remake work as a whole? Yes and no in some ways but I have to applaud it for trying what it wanted to be. Really, they should have let Jose Padilha to basically try his own thing and maybe it could have been one of the greatest remakes ever.
I don't dislike it, I enjoyed but it really could have been so much better. I probably like it as much as the original but not enough to praise it completely. It tried, and really considering the guy is directing The Brotherhood next, I hope he doesn't have much problems making that movie as he did with this one. If you're a fan of the original, maybe you'll appreciate it; at least approach it with an open mind. If not, then well, you might not like it.