Written by Barrett Johnson
When the internet told me there would be a reboot of definitely 1980s tagline ‘Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop’ franchise film ‘RoboCop’, I thought, “Oh good! Another Iron Man movie, but this time without Robert Downey Jr! So handy, since I found all that charisma and fun really gummed up the works last time. “
[This is the face of failure]
“No, no!” you cried, during the final trailer before the show (which featured, inexplicably, Russell Crowe as Noah of the Ark), “it’s nothing like Iron Man,” you said, “you’ll see!”. And as the film began, and Samuel L. Jackson (aka Director Fury) stepped out into Scene 1, see I most certainly did.
["We need to wrap this industrial-sized flag commercial, Thanos is stirring up shit."]
It’s at this point, I’d like to say how nice it must be for Samuel L. Jackson, to be at a point in his career in which he need only speak condescendingly at a camera for 15 minutes in order to be paid millions of dollars. Yes, Samuel L. Jackson plays now – and will forevermore play – Samuel L. Jackson. Just as Michael Keaton, another veteran making an appearance, sticks with his tried and true approach as a character I’m surprised isn’t credited as, ‘evil sweater Dad’.
Really the only surprise in casting was Jay Baruchel, more commonly known as “not Seth Rogan” from “every Seth Rogan movie”. Jay plays a version of himself if he had decided to make his life about cocaine and money instead of weed.
["I need to go to rehab." "Well I need to hug you until you literally die."]
As for Mega Man the Almost…Joel Kinnaman starts Alex Murphy like he’s in an episode of Southland as “rogue cop, Sgt John Vigilante”, but as soon as they get the part-machine/grossly-tiny-part-man armor on him, the Swedish-born (not-muppet-chef) unhinges the acting chops and clamps down like an incredibly emotional Rottweiler (Editor’s note: not your best metaphor).
I don’t know what it is about the Swedes: Let the Right Ones In, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tallest Man on Earth…if I realized earlier that shitty grey weather gave people creative super powers I would have moved to the Northwest in 1994.
Anyway – the story:
Tuxedo Judge Dredd traces relatively the same lines as the original Robocop: generic evil corporation makes crime fighting machines, public wants humans instead, Robocop is the happy medium. Act 2: the Alex Murphy side of Robocop rebels, evil corporation tries to shut him down, Robocop don’t stand for that shit, the end. I hope I haven’t spoiled it for anyone. Oh wait! Also like the old movie – Detroit is still the worst place to live ever. Bit discordant from reality, I think. Asking a bit much on the suspension of disbelief front, I think!
Is it good? It’s not bad. The shootouts are awesome, despite no one ever having a chance at besting Murphy. It’s a lot of fun seeing all those big names together, even Gary Oldman is in it. Wait, didn’t he play Commissioner Gordon recently? ARE WE SURE THIS ISN’T A DC/MARVEL MASHUP? Bah. All in all…it’s a much slicker thing than the original was, but you would be too with that many more millions of dollars in your budget. “So what’s the hangup?” I hear you ask. Here’s where I’m torn:
First, the increasing and decreasing of chemical levels in Murphy’s brain, directly affecting how “human” he is…FEELS like bullshit, despite how handsome Gary Oldman is when he says it. The bigger problem being that now a key plot point is reduced to us watching a percentage chart like it’s a scene from The Godfather.
["My god, his serotonin level’s at 24%. I bet he kills Fredo."]
My other problem is that in the last…I dunno, how many years has it been since 9/11? 13? In the last “that many” years, our nation has taken some fairly aggressive strides in the bolstering of homeland security at the sake of civil liberty (you may have seen the news). The drones, access to private records, media pundits, vested corporate interest…Robocop is now actually a MORE relevant film than it was in the 1980s. Like wow, how easy must it have been to go through not changing that social commentary.
[You know what? This is crazy but the robots can probably stay.]
The problem is that the way Robocop delivers this commentary just feels like bells and whistles. A picture frame. Like a man wearing a dress, standing and waving his arms, but he always stays in your peripheral vision because you keep getting distracted by a guy-robot shooting a robot-robot. And while I don’t expect tremendous conscious insight from my robot action movies, the dystopia is a sad truth that keeps being set up and NEVER driven home and it’s distracting!
This is what good science fiction movies ARE! They address our current social anxieties by engaging them in a distanced, separate-space universe experiencing those same issues. They’re non-confrontational because they’re set in the future, or amongst the stars, or with weird aliens, but the issues are still engaged. When it succeeds, you’re left with identity crisis in Blade Runner, technophobia in Videodrome, xenophobia in District 9, the list goes on, and this is the key issue that makes Robocop “not bad” instead of “great”. Take away the guy-in-the-suit, you’re left with a lot of setup, some giggles, but no punch about the sensationalized, corporate-military world we live in. It’s like blue balls.
And I know what blue balls are like; I write about science fiction movies.
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Image 2: http://mmogamerchick.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/tony-stark.jpg
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Image 4: http://www.fansshare.com/photo/michaelkeaton/new-robocop-michael-keaton-robocop-1440969547.jpg
Image 5: http://www.discovermarble.com/engineeredstone/technistone/gobi-grey.jpg
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Image 8: http://www.thetimewarriors.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/20130803-235911.jpg
Image 9: http://cdn.mos.totalfilm.com/images/n/new-robocop-trailer-presents-the-future-of-american-justice-watch-now-149101-a-1384932945-470-75.jpg