I got the chance to check out Jose Padilha's reboot of the classic science fiction film, Robocop, ahead of it's release this week in order to help you decide whether or not this remake is worth your time and money. While it misses a few opportunities here and there, the film is a great restart for the franchise that left me eager to see what's next. Come inside to check out the full review!
Breaking New Ground
Remakes of popular classics are nothing new to the film industry and oftentimes they're ridiculed for being far inferior to their predecessors. While some have managed to get past this stigma and successful reboot their brands, many have faltered. Robocop feels like it's going to fall into the former category and be able to move things forward.
I went into the film, with incredibly low expectations. The trailers hadn't really excited me, and by all accounts it looked like another Total Recall; where it was mostly just updated graphics and cashing in on the brand recognition. What I got was something very different.
I'm a fan of the original Robocop films, and grew up thoroughly enjoying all of the sequels and even TV show. So I was surprised to see how different this interpretation of the story was. The trailers made it clear that his origins would be different, but many other things were as well. While some might find this odd, I found it incredibly refreshing.
So many reboots do their utmost to stick closely to the original source material as a way to draw in fans and keep from pissing them off. The problem with this brand of storytelling, however, is that when changes are made they're even more jarring because everything else is so similar! So rather than appeasing the masses, they frustrate them even more.
Robocop avoids this pitfall by changing up the story, and overhauling it for a new generation. While it features nods to the original films it doesn't feel beholden to it either, and is willing to make changes without apologizing for it. So instead of trying to recreate the original film, they spend more time tyring to carve it's own path and be better for it.
While this works on some levels, and falls behind in others (which I'll talk about shortly), overall the filmmakers succeeded in crafting a modern day Robocop story that can resonate with older fans, while appealing to a brand new audience.
A Better Story Trying to Come Out
This new Robocop raises some very interesting questions about humanity, morality, and the state of the country in general. These themes were handled in ways that didn't feel overbearing or preachy, but instead gripped you emotionally, making you really think about the issues presented. This is a great thing and gives the film and added layer of depth beyond the action and sci-fi elements.
The problem, however, is that there's really no pay-off (or closure) for those aspects of the film. Instead parts of the final act feel truncated, as if certain things were cut to streamline it a little more. Rather than wrapping up all of the hard hitting themes, it went with a more generic and action-centric ending.
It was the third act where I had the most troubles in this regard. Without spoiling too much, there are three primary deaths near the end of the movie, which resolve the key plot point issues with the character of Alex Murphy (Robocop). All of the deaths felt very anti-climatic without any of the emotional punch they should have carried. They were over too quickly, and moved on from without any fanfare that will leave viewers largely unfulfilled. Considering the central theme throughout the movie is all about what it means to be human, it's strange that these moments were treated so clinically and distant.
It feels like something is missing, and frankly it seems more like the hand of studio interference than any problems with the script. I could be wrong, but considering how well things are established and set up thematically in the beginning of the film it doesn't seem like something they'd just forget in the third act. It felt like an attempt to streamline the film and keep it within a certain run time; something only a studio concerned with keeping a new/old franchise accessible.
The Entertainment Factor
Robocop is a fun movie. Yep, I said it. It's a damn fun movie and way more entertaining than I expected. While the story issues I mentioned keep it from being a great movie, they don't prevent it from being a solid piece of entertainment. The action sequences are fast-paced, well done, and fun to watch.
As befitting a modern movie, they've ramped up the action in every way, making Robocop seem like a serious badass while providing enough danger to give the film tension.
The VFX were really sharp looking as well. Frankly, the suit design didn't work for me in any of the promo images we saw for the film. Seeing it in action, however, on the big screen with the sound effects behind it totally changed my mind. The new suit works better than anticipated and all of the robots look great as well. All in the sci-fiction elements look great and if that's all you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. The 'world' is richly developed and feels like a genuine place; none of the technology feels thrown in there just to be flashy, but serve a genuine purpose.
The film featured quite a bit of humor as well, but it was never obtrusive or out of place. It flowed naturally, providing great breaks in tension when needed while endearing the characters to you even more. It worked because the acting in the film is top notch and worth mentioning. Joel Kinnaman did a great job of breathing new life into the Alex Murphy character. Even in his robotic form and devoid of emotions, he plays the part well. There was never a moment where I doubted his performance or felt like something was out of place. Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman both did a great job, but that's sort of like saying the Sun came up this morning. That's to be expected.
While it has all the elements of being a great movie, it didn't quite get there, yet it's well worth your time to watch. It's one of the better franchise reboots I've seen and I can honestly say, I can't wait to see what they do with the sequel.