RoboCop (2014)

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*. I’ve remarked before on how the remakes or re-sets of franchise horror films from the 1970s and ’80s in the twenty-first century were darker affairs. They lost any sense of humour and became grim tales of suffering and endurance.
*. The same could be said for other re-sets, including the transformation of Batman into the The Dark Night, Judge Dredd into Dredd, and RoboCop (1987) into this film. The first Robocop was an in-your-face, over-the-top satire. There are elements of satire here as well, but it’s an altogether nastier, more unpleasant piece of work.
*. You need look no further than the television programming. The light and bubbly infotainment program from the original has been replaced by an angry-looking Samuel L. Jackson berating us for being soft. And there are no funny commercials!
*. This lack of humour upset Paul Verhoeven, who noted the same thing about the 2012 remake of his 1990 film Total Recall. Had pop culture outrun satire?
*. I wonder what else might have caused this shift in sensibility. Are people just more bitter, jaded, or disillusioned than they were twenty or thirty years ago? Were the re-sets targeted at audiences that grew up watching the originals on VHS and who now wanted more “adult” fare?
*. Or perhaps instead of “adult” what was really being sought after was “cool.” Note that when corporate menace Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is preparing to launch his new action-crime fighter he has only one recommendation for the marketing, which is to change the shiny silver armour for something in matte black. That’s black as in the new black.
*. Another shift that I’ve talked a lot about while commenting on other films is the way what may be called a video-game aesthetic has taken over action films. In short, the shooter’s point-of-view and use of CGI has turned nearly every firefight into another level in a first-person shooter video game. This is taken about as far as I’ve ever seen it taken yet in RoboCop, as the RoboVision in his visor even pops up targets and health levels and all the other screen clutter that usually accompanies such games.

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*. The politics seem as though they might be interesting. We begin in Tehran, now occupied by American stormtroopers and their mechanized drones, with suicide bombers being presented as heroic freedom fighters. That’s actually pretty bold.
*. But after this intro the idea never gets developed. The whole issue of the morality of drone warfare is raised without ever really being dealt with. In much the same way the matter of free will is brought up for discussion, but without any point being made. Murphy’s will can be made subordinate to his programming if his brain chemistry is adjusted enough, but the idea that he becomes less human because of this seems like a trite conclusion.
*. I like the cast. Joel Kinnaman is slightly alien and intense. Gary Oldman is an actor I never recognize, which is a good thing. Michael Keaton is less obviously slimy than the usual villainous CEO.
*. Speaking of villainous CEOs, they’re the one thing that never seems to change. Over the years they’ve always remained with us. It’s right that Keaton is more likeable, as this is the way such creatures have tried to brand themselves in our day. Not that they’re fooling anyone.
*. Of course RoboCop is made in China. I wonder how long before his movies will be made there too.
*. I didn’t think there was enough here that was new and interesting. Apparently director José Padilha was hoping to push the envelope more but the studio was trying hard for a PG-13 rating because the production was so far over budget. What we’re left with are some teasing hints of a serious political message buried under a very conventional superhero action movie. Or video game. It comes to the same thing.

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