Review of Robocop (2014)

robocopRight off the bat I feel I should warn you that there will be spoilers in this review. I’m not going to go out of my way to provide spoilers and I don’t think the plot is one which is going to be ruined by discussion of the plot but if you want to see the film completely fresh don’t read this.

Also I have never seen the original Paul Verhoven Robocop so I am going into this blind without any nostalgia for the franchise. Although I suspect this might work to the film’s advantage.

The start of this film is gripping. The MGM lion appears and instead of the usual thunderous roar you get this weak growl. This certainly got my attention. What was happening? The ‘roar’ becomes vocal exercises and we fade in on Samuel Jackson.

So right off the bat the film has got my attention. I’m watching it in Imax. Middle of the row Friday midday and Samuel Jackson appears on the screen. Things are going great.

Jackson begins doing his Fox News slight parody. I say slight as it is not far out enough to make you laugh but is instead close enough to the truth to make you ever so slightly uncomfortable. Again well done film.

The Novak factor (Sam Jackson’s show) has an exclusive report inside the US Military’s Combat Machine program. Novak gets passionate but not quite ranty (yet) about how great the machines have been in bringing ‘freedom’ to the world and what a shame it is they cannot be used in the USA to increase freedom at home.

Again this is great. It is the kind of provocative stuff you wouldn’t see from a typical Blockbuster. It is at this point you realise that this film is set maybe at most a decade into the future if that. The exact date is never revealed but what you get is our world today but with electronics more interlinked into the home and holograms on TV. This is a smart choice from the film-makers. Given the increasing use of drones and technological surveillance in the world today. Setting the film a few years into the future is a great way to make it seem more believable and relevant.

A special report from downtown Tehran begins where the US military is “bringing unprecedented levels of freedom” to the area. The citizens of Tehran come out onto the street to be scanned by these machines.

Now this is the best scene of the film. Stealth drones rush over head and US military machines pour down the street. It is a scary display of force. Meanwhile the news-reporter talks about how happy the Tehranians are to have this force in their city. How it has increased their freedom. It is obvious 1984 ‘doublespeak’ and you see an attack begin to develop as the terrorists sneak along the roofs.

Their goal is to not kill the reporters but to “die on film”. They attack the machines and are just wiped out. The son of one of the attackers runs out brandishing a knife at the drone. He is just annihilated. It is shocking. It is great film-making. Like Hitchcock in Physco they have got you rooting for the ‘bad’ guy. You don’t typically want terrorists to win but I would have been quite happy to see the machines get blown back to circuit breakers.

This is the high point of the movie. The rest of the film never quite demonstrates just how powerful these machines are. As such it is never that great an action film or that great a film that is trying to make you think about the use of machines.

In large part this is because, the film draws back from the international side and world building to focus on the use of machines for domestic law enforcement. As it does this there is no focus on whether civil liberties and freedom are being crushed and the consequences. The politics is stripped out and we are left with a by the numbers action film.

So just a few thoughts about this. Firstly, Michael K Williams aka Omar from the Wire omarappears in this film as Robocop’s partner. I struggled to believe that Omar would get put in hospital whereas the guy from the Killing, who becomes Robocop, would survive long enough to be blown up. Omar would have been a much more better Robocop.

Secondly, Gary Oldman really does carry the film along and give you a reason to keep interested. His acting is fantastic. His acting is also necessary because after one Robocop action scene its all a case of been there done that.

Robocop fight scenes are essentially just massive amounts of force bullets flying everywhere as Robocop walks through the raining ammo to slay with brutal efficiency. This is all a bit dull after the first time. Plus this film is a bloodless so you don’t even get the pleasure of seeing bit of brain splattered everywhere or ridiculous over the top deaths. One scene in particular is just darkness lit by muzzle flashes. It wasn’t the most exciting.

Lastly, although the film does stray into the cliched man’s wishes versus the programming of the machine it did this better than most other films. Why it happened was explained instead of it just being a triumph of the human spirit; humanus ex machina.

I would give this film three out of five. It is decent but not good.

I wasn’t bored watching it but I was only gripped in the fantastic first scene. That first scene showed me why Robocop was worth remaking. If they have continued to push the boundaries of comfort by making the film explicitly political it could have been a great film. The action would have mattered more as there would have been stakes behind it. It’s hard to care too much about robots or faceless criminals.

It’s worth seeing for that first scene and Samuel Jackson though.

So overall, a missed opportunity. Oh and the Imax gave me a headache.

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