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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 02.13.14] scifi action drama

Let's be honest: the chips are stacked against the new RoboCop. It's a remake of a beloved 80s classic, it's rated PG-13 which means the violence has been toned down and though it features a great team both in front and behind the camera, the buzz around the movie has been soft. What many, myself included, were wondering is whether the new RoboCop falls more in line with the excellent Dredd remake (review) or the terrible Total Recall (review). Truth is that José Padilha's movie falls somewhere between the two.

Padilha's RoboCop evenly splits its time between the social issues around the idea of what it means to have robots guarding humanity and Alex Murphy's personal struggle as he shifts from human to hybrid. Considering Padilha's previous works, this marriage of message and personal story doesn't come as a surprise. First time screenwriter Joshua Zetumer uses Murphy as a catalyst for discussions about the social issues at hand and also as a means to explore what it means to be human. By focusing so much of the story on Murphy's life before the accident and during the transition period, he makes some interesting observations on humanity and thankfully, they aren't crammed down our throats with big speeches. There are a few exchanges, particularly between Dr. Norton (Gary Oldman) representing Murphy's human side, and Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) concerned prominently with the business, that feel particularly on the nose but for the most part, RoboCop is nuanced and avoids gloriously bombastic speeches. Those are reserved for Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) whose talk show is hugely reminiscent of Colbert and as with Colbert, is sometimes more effective than others.

One of the major shifts with this RoboCop is that it's not the action packed extravaganza one might expect. He's a robot with a human brain seeking vengeance from the people who destroyed his perfect life and the result is mostly a lot of RoboCop processing data, re-evaluating crime scenes and then only engaging in a violent exchange if absolutely necessary. Padilha is fantastic at the small scale gunfight sequences (RoboCop with his gun against 20 armed guys) but when the action turns to the large scale ED-209's and the action becomes heavily dependent on the CG elements, the movie deflates a little. The sequences look sharp but they don't carry the energy of the rest of RoboCop; they just sort of happen and once you're out of them, they're forgotten. The single exception to this is RoboCop's final test, a long running sequence pitting the hybrid against 30 other robots all brilliantly set to Focus' "Hocus Pocus."

RoboCop is at its very best when dealing with the characters. Joel Kinnaman gives a great performance that really stretches his ability to emote with his face and watching Keaton and Oldman face off fantastic. They're supported by a great cast of supporting characters all of whom play their own key role in the movie, from Jay Baruchel as the annoying marketing guy to Jackie Earle Haley who is particularly great as the weapons expert.

It's these small touches – the fact that Omnicorp builds their robots in China, the choice of music, the quiet contemplation of ideas and the occasional shot of bombast - that make this iteration of RoboCop a success. In a way, Padilha's movie is the exact opposite of Verhoeven's; where the original is loud, brash and in your face, Padilha's movie is more composed and even keeled and though it plays homage to the original with a wink and a nudge, it's a fiercely independent approach to the material that also doesn't take itself too seriously. That may rub some the wrong way and disappoint others but those looking for a, dare I say it, smarter, take on RoboCop, this is the movie for you.

RoboCop opened February 12.

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loco73 (8 years ago) Reply

I lkke Joel Kinaman, he was terrific with Mireille Enos in "The Killing", but I for one am glad that I did not see this abomination of the "Robocop" remake. I am glad it thanked, and now most people don't even remember having seen it, though its been only a few months since it was released at this point in time. I did however see the dreary and just plain crummy "Total Recall" remake.

As for "Dredd" that such a baddass movie. Literally, near damn perfection of what a movie should and could be. Thinking of how awesome "Dredd" was washes away the bitter aftertaste from all these current remakes, reboots and sequels which crowd movietheatres...

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