Mania Review: Robocop - Mania.com



Mania Review

Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Starring: Joel Kinnaman,Gary Oldman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley, Jay Baruchel, Michael K. Williams and Samuel L. Jackson
  • Written by: Joshua Zetumer
  • Directed by: José Padilha
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Robocop

Thank you for your cooperation.

By Rob Vaux     February 12, 2014
Source: Mania.com

 The first thing to understand about Robocop  is that it's not the first film. It lacks the ridiculous violence, the broad satirical jabs and the overall weirdness that made the original an unlikely classic. The filmmakers have wisely chosen not to compete with that gold standard, and enjoyment of this new Robocop hinges on following their lead . This is a reboot, not a remake, and it has its own things to say. The more you can pull off that disconnect the better this new version looks.

It certainly takes itself very seriously, though Jackie Earle Haley has the right twinkle in his eye and Samuel L. Jackson takes some broad swipes at Fox News' various blowhards. In the film's future America, he rants and raves about making robot soldiers -- viewed as highly successful in foreign wars -- legal on U.S. soil The solution? Wait for some poor bastard to get himself mangled, then plug him into the machines. Enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman): honest cop, good family man and tireless scourge of Detroit's local drug kingpin, the last of which earns him a free car bomb that detonates in his driveway one fine summer evening. Reborn as a cybernetic killing machine thanks to a well-meaning genius (Gary Oldman), he's set loose on the streets of Detroit, despite the fact that his human soul and programmed hardware don't exactly get along.

The set-up and basic look mark the only time this film emulates its predecessor. Here in our cheerless post-9/11 universe, what was once the height of absurdity feels chillingly plausible, with drone strikes and corporate contracts and safety bought at the price of basic rights. Director Jose Padilha possesses the instincts to set up a solid foundation for these concepts, though he often lacks the courage to really follow through with them. Good or bad, Paul Verhoeven was an absolutely fearless filmmaker. Padilha exhibits more straight-laced action than go-for-broke craziness and the film's social commentary suffers as a result.

It does much better on a more generic sci-fi front. We've seen a lot of meditations on artificial intelligence, and that point where programming becomes so sophisticated so as to be indistinguishable from the human soul. Robocop takes the opposite approach, meditating on how much of a man can you strip away before he ceases to be what he was. The best moment arrives with a look at all that's left of the real Murphy, an image hinted at in the fist film but brought to stunning life here. Robocop shines when it dives full-bore into that idea, as Murphy battles with the question of who and what he truly is. It can't always nail its concepts the way it should, but credit the film for running with that ball instead of just regurgitating its predecessor.

That comes on top of a technically polished production that handles the various explosions and car chases with deceptive assurance. Sony presumably dictated the PG-13 rating but Padilha makes up for it with some surprising intensity, helped out by sharp editing and a strong sense of the human toll at the heart of it all. The cast doesn't hurt either. Seriously, I could watch Oldman and Michael Keaton (as the slimy corporate executive behind the whole thing) just snarl at each other across a desk for two hours. Kinnaman finds the same physicality as Peter Weller while charting his own path for the character while Haley once again remains the final word in duplicitous ferrets. All of them elevate their game, helping Robocop explore its human dimensions without skimping on the fireworks.

Again, that doesn't place it in the same league as the first film. But the producers seem well aware of that tender trap and besides a couple of throwaway one-liners, they make absolutely no reference to its revered predecessor at all. Its sense of itself remains true, and the results create… well, if not a new masterpiece, then at least something well worth paying attention to. Like its armored protagonist, it's what's going on beneath the surface that counts. In that sense at least, both Robocops are squarely on the same page. 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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kennynine 2/12/2014 3:03:14 AM

 Watched the midnight IMAX screening. Loved the new take on the character. Padilha can direct some seriously awesome action scenes. And all the worry anout the rock music..........it was only in one action scene, and it was proper in the context of that scene.

monkeyfoot 2/12/2014 7:20:46 AM

I'll probably see it this weekend and I'm looking forward to it. It looks like Robocop has kind of become a Franchise Character with this movie. You can keep telling stories about him with different creative teams taking a turn with him. Just like a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie is different from the Disney ones and the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes is different from RDJ's.

violator14 2/12/2014 8:11:42 AM

 once again note to bad guys: Shoot him in the mouth! lol

Miner49er 2/12/2014 8:33:13 AM

 So... no toxic waste scene?

alienstatue 2/12/2014 9:59:47 AM

Saw the midnight screening last night too, but not IMAX. I really enjoyed it. I liked the new take as well. I would recommend the movie. The cast was amazing too. Some of the reveals of certain characters were predictable though, but it didn't bother me much.

My only TINY gripe would be that I felt the climax was going to give me more, but hey it wasn't bad by any means, so look forward to the sequel!

 

kelso454 2/12/2014 11:41:07 AM

Yeah..."Fox News blowhards" are all fire and brimstone huh Rob?  (even though Obama is pushing for drone surveillance)  I bet Rob is an avid Obama supporter/uber liberal windbag whos also looked the other way in regards to Obama's crooked induction of the ACA, the illegal targeting practices of the IRS (the investigations of which have brought NOONE to justice) , the downplay on the avoidable Benghazi killings (which Obama continues to lie about).  But sure, keep calling Fox News "blowhards" and continue that cycle of comlete denial and ignorance to the uber libs who are destroying our country, trampling on our rights and pissing on the Constitution.. Other than that...might just have to check this new RoboCop flick out.

raulendymion 2/12/2014 12:26:14 PM

Yep, and I'll pass just because of that, @kelso.

 

DarthBob 2/12/2014 12:33:06 PM

Ditto what kelso said; I like the diatribe better than the movie review.  BTW, when stacking up TV news "blowhards;" PMSNBC wins by a landslide!

dalgoda 2/12/2014 12:45:31 PM

I avoid CNN/MSNBC and Fox News because they are all just mouthpieces for the two political parties.  Both are pretty terrible IMO, Republican and Democrat.  And oh yeah, looking forward to seeing this over the weekend.

CaptAmerica04 2/12/2014 1:55:09 PM

 I knew that Fox News shot would send some people into spittle-flecked rages in the comments.  <sigh>  Some day people will realize that none of our "news" organizations care a damn about truth or accuracy, just ratings and ad sales.  They're all extreme from different sides and all equally full of shit.

Now that that's out of the way: thanks for the review, Rob.  I feel much more reassured about seeing it this weekend, and spending my limited movie money on this.  Can you give a father a hint about how close the film gets to the PG-13/R border?  My kids (ages 8 and 10) want to see it, and the PG-13 makes me think it's fine, but it's hard to tell sometimes.  Are we talking "Pirates of the Caribbean" type PG-13, or is it creeping into the almost-R range? (Mostly concerned about any sex scenes or gratuitous violence - not so worried about language or basic shoot-outs/chases).

 

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