Review: “Robocop”

RoboCop

Remember that time Hollywood re-made that iconic film and no one was upset by it. Me neither.

It feels a little silly to still be complaining about remakes, but it’s almost like the studio wanted to make “Robocop” fans instantly hate this film. Eventually I will move on to reviewing the 2014 film, but first I have to (briefly) explain what made the 1987 film memorable. If you don’t care, just move down two paragraphs. First, it presented a prophetic view of where technology and the infrastructure of cities like Detroit were headed. Second, it was one of the most violent films in mainstream American history, needing 12 different attempts to get the MPAA to grant it an R instead of an X-rating. Third, its satire of corporate life and America in general gave it a dark, humorous edge.

So how does this re-imagining compare? Like a film from a completely different franchise. The action is entirely impersonal and bloodless. There is no sense of the city of Detroit as the film bounces from the Middle East to Detroit to Washington, D.C. to China and then back to Detroit. Part of what made Robocop necessary in the original was that Detroit was in ashes, but in this film it’s just another American city. The satire has been completely removed minus Samuel L. Jackson doing his best Bill O’Reilly impression throughout the film. What are we left with? A generic action flick with a cyborg.

For those unfamiliar with the storyline, “Robocop” is the story of police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). Taken out by some criminals he’s pursuing, he’s left with roughly two appendages and little-to-no chance at surviving. In steps Omnicorp, seemingly the world leader in robotics, drone warfare, etc. who are having trouble assuring the American people that their machines can be trusted to keep the streets safe. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO, decides that in order to give his machines a friendlier face they need to put a man into one of their drone bodies. The doctor (Gary Oldman) in charge of the project believes that in order for Robocop to be as productive as his inorganic counterparts, though, they would have to remove what’s left of his humanity. Thus begins the biggest quandary of the film.

While it’s easy to compare certain things from this film to its 1987 inspiration, director Jose Padilha and first-time writer Joshua Zetumer at least tried to make this film its own entity by wiping out most of the characters from the original. Roughly the only characters to make the switch are Murphy, Lewis (now a male character played by Michael K. Williams) and Clara Murphy (Abbie Cornish), though in the original the latter didn’t have a name because she was only in one scene.

Padilha is a Brazilian director known for his action film series “Elite Squad” and, though I wish he had a better American debut, does pretty well transferring his talents over to this film. The main two problems of the film are a weak script and the weight of the film’s predecessor dragging around. Despite these shortcomings and pressure from the studio for the film to secure a PG-13 rating, Padilha does what he can to string along a decent action flick.

Although Joel Kinnaman is great on “The Killing”, it doesn’t feel like he did much to change his character from that to this cop role. Even though the filmmakers decided to give Robocop a visor that shows off more of the star’s face, they didn’t bother to make him particularly interesting. Instead they surrounded the star with a high-caliber supporting cast to make up the difference. Jackson and Jackie Earle Haley as the Omnicorp security expert Rick Mattox are easily the best thing about the film acting-wise, though it is nice to see Keaton and a not-so-annoying Jay Baruchel.

What most people unfamiliar with the series will probably care about is the action sequences. After all, if enough things go boom maybe we can get over some of the other problems. There is enough action in the film to where it doesn’t lull, but there’s nothing new or all that interesting about the sequences. One shootout sticks out because it takes place in the dark with only muzzle fire lighting the scene. It’s kind of cool but I think “Smokin’ Aces” had a better idea keeping the effect shorter.

“Robocop” isn’t a bad film, but much like the fourth installment of “Die Hard”, it feels like someone forgot what the film was supposed to be about. When a film loses its purpose like that, it feels like selling out whether or not that’s the case. With as bad as 2014 has been so far, though, you could do a lot worse than this remake.

Grade: C+

Happy viewing.

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Batman Countdown: 1989-1997

One day closer to “The Dark Knight Rises.” Time to talk about the most popular Batman films back when no one knew who Christopher Nolan was.

“Batman” (1989)

Although Superman got his own film in 1978, the superhero formula for film was still in its infancy back in 1989. “Batman” was kind of a bold pioneer for the genre, which is what made it so great when it turned out to be well done.

Director Tim Burton, coming off of “Beetlejuice,” controversially decided to cast Michael Keaton in the role of Bruce Wayne. Similar to Heath Ledger’s casting of Joker, critics were easily shut up after seeing the film.

Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker gave the film a sense of legitimacy. The veteran actor was able to capture both the viciousness of his character and his appreciation for laughter. Combining Burton’s dark tone with a healthy dose of comic book camp, “Batman” is easily the best of the 89-97 series. Too bad we’ll never see Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face.

Best line: “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

“Batman Returns” (1992)

According to interviews, Warner Bros. really wanted Tim Burton to return for this Bat-sequel but he wasn’t interested. So, the execs told him he could make “a Tim Burton movie” instead of just “another Batman movie.”

Makes sense, because this film is pretty much an overkill on the dark tone most Burton films take. Some people like it, but I’m not the biggest fan of watching penguin people spit up black ink.

Other than Michael Keaton, who reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, most of the cast is brand new. With Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Penguin (Danny DeVito) and the evil Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), “Batman Returns” is at no loss for quality bad guys.

Although it’s a good movie (and I love Catwoman here), it really doesn’t have much to do with Batman. He’s in 3 of the first 30 minutes, which is weird considering its his franchise. Then again, it won’t be the only time that Batman sits in the background while villains get to have all the fun.\

Best line: (Catwoman executes series of flips, landing between Batman and Penguin) “Meow.” (Building behind her explodes)

“Batman Forever” (1995)

So long Tim Burton, hello Joel Schumacher. After studio execs deemed “Batman Returns” to be too dark, they hired Schumacher to return the series to a more kid-friendly environment.

If you watch the film knowing that it takes place within the world of a comic book, and not our world with its rules, then it’s a pretty good film. Realism is not even in this film’s dictionary.

Picking up the cape and cowl this time is Val Kilmer, who is surprisingly a really good combination of Wayne and Batman. Where “Batman Returns” had dark, grotesque villains, “Batman Forever” is more along the lines of a cartoon brought to life. There’s no human being more cartoonish than Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Also enrolling in the Over-the-Top School of Villainy is Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face.

What I really love about this film is that it actually gives Bruce Wayne something to do. The psychology of Batman is explored as he tries to deal with the guilt he feels over his parents’ death. It’s a dark side of the film that offsets the humor. I also enjoy seeing Gotham City in a more unique light. Burton’s films designed the city as a more gothic New York City, whereas this film has it looking like no other city in the world.

The film itself is a mixed bag, but “Batman Forever” is a worthy addition to the franchise (despite the guilty by association judgment it gets for leading to a certain other film).

I would also like to say that this film has some great scenes that the studio forced them to cut in order for it to be better for children. I’ve heard Schumacher has a director’s cut in mind that is about 35 minutes longer. Unfortunately, you can’t really count deleted scenes as part of the movie, so we’ll just chalk this up to the studios screwing over another film.

Best line: “Then it will happen this way. You make the kill, but your pain doesn’t die with Harvey, it grows. So you run out into the night to find another face, and another, and another, until one terrible morning you wake up and realize that revenge has become your whole life. And you won’t know why.”

Well, that’s it. There were definitely no other Batman movies after that. Huh? What do you mean Bat-nipples? Ok, fine.

“Batman & Robin” (1997)

Just like Tim Burton went overboard with the darkness in “Batman Returns,” Schumacher cranks up the camp and cheese to 11 in this franchise-killing installment.

George Clooney plays Bruce Wayne playing George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman takes Poison Ivy over the top and Alicia Silverstone tries to be Batgirl. What a combination.

Studios got a taste for the millions to be made off of toys and product placement from “Batman Forever,” so they pretty much forced Schumacher to make the most kid-friendly, toy-sellingest movie of all time. Although it’s a horrible, horrible film, the studios definitely got what they were looking for.

The interesting part is that the studios LOVED the dailies and were planning to let Schumacher make a fifth film called “Batman Triumphant” until critics destroyed “Batman and Robin.”

A fun game to play is Name One Thing About “Batman and Robin” You Actually Liked. So far, I can say I like the design of Robin’s suit at the beginning of the film (sans nipples). Unfaithful to the comics and a joke to the masses, “Batman and Robin” is one of the, if not THE, worst comic book films ever conceived.

Best line: “There is no defeat in death, Master Bruce. Victory comes in defending what we know is right while we still live.”

Tomorrow, it’ll be time to talk about Christopher Nolan and how he saved Batman from the dark corner “Batman and Robin” left him in.

Happy viewing.