Monday, June 2, 2014

Droning On (About RoboCop)

One of these things is not like the other.

RoboCop continues the tradition of rebooting franchises and not giving us the common courtesy of some form of subtitle so that we can differentiate between the new one and the old one. Seems like filmmakers hope that by sticking to the original name they can completely overwrite the original so that nobody remembers how much better it was. Fortunately, in this version Alex Murphy becomes a black cyborg with a single organic white hand so I can refer to him as RoboJackson and anyone who’s old enough to remember the 80s will get the joke.

RoboJackson is about everything except this Alex Murphy guy who gets turned into a cyborg and the family that has to live with that new reality. It’s about drones, corporate greed, businesses in bed with government, modern news coverage, and did I mention drones? It’s like the filmmakers saw all the wonderful satire of the original film and felt like if they didn't stuff this one full of social commentary, people would think they didn't get it.

The difference between their film and the original in that regard is that the satire of the original film was window dressing. It was just the backdrop to a story about a man trying to regain his humanity after being turned into a robot, and then that man getting some sweet revenge with his new robotic body. This movie is too busy cutting away to Samuel L. Jackson doing his best Glenn Beck impression and Michael Keaton’s evil corporate machinations to focus on that part. This guy doesn't know how to go home to his family because Gary Oldman brought him back to life as only a head and a hand. Who needs all the drone crap when you have any number of PTSD and wounded warrior allegories right there?

Joel Kinnaman was doing a perfectly fine job of acting, why not let him take a crack at that? It actually would've been an interesting way to retell this story, and thus perhaps justify itself. That’s not to say doing the drones vs. human police thing couldn't have been interesting, but it’s so on the nose in this movie that you might as well have had Sam Jackson shouting “Drones, motherf***er! Do you want them!?” (I’d totally watch that movie, by the way.)

Then you have the corporate greed thing, which the original film already handled. Not to mention pretty much every other movie since then. In the 80s it may have seemed like privatization run amok was the dystopian future to which we were headed, but now one would expect the construction of RoboCop to be the Hail Mary of a corporation trying to survive the squeeze between health care costs and government regulation. Michael Keaton’s character should have been a man desperate to stay in business and distraught that he can’t afford to keep enough officers on the payroll to protect the citizenry. Instead he’s just another CEO who’s so anxious to make money he’s willing to outright murder people.

Then again this is the sanitized, PG-13 version so they keep the murdering to a minimum, to the point of having RoboJackson zapping people with a taser instead of perforating their genitals. That was a result of the budget exploding and the studio getting nervous they couldn't recoup their money on an R-rated film, which only serves to reinforce what I said in the Godzilla review about filmmakers not having to worry about and work within their limitations.

So rather than the comically gratuitous violence that was a hallmark of the original RoboCop, we get a CGI Michael Jackson cylon dancing around the screen to blast apart equally non-existent robots. It’s not even Alex Murphy deciding which robots to blast most of the time since Gary Oldman's character somehow wires him to let the robot part make the decisions without him noticing. Does anyone else miss the days of an actual guy on an actual set with actual props doing actual things?

Thus yet another perfectly good cult classic becomes a bloated big budget CGI action fest complete with all the usual tropes and continuing the trend of watering down everything that’s unique about a franchise in pursuit of the all mighty dollar. Perhaps Hollywood loves that greedy executive plotline so much because they can relate to it so well.

Overall, it’s not a terrible movie, it’s just terribly average. If you’re looking to waste a couple hours with the upcoming Blu-ray, it’ll do the job adequately. Otherwise find something else to buy with your dollar.

*this post cross-posted at

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