Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RoboCop


  The original RoboCop is a favorite movie of mine, easily in my top ten of all time. It was a defining moment for me personally, when I first saw it. Of course I was too young. We all saw it when we were too young to see it. It's part of the impact. A movie that still has teeth and gravitas among the sea of family friendly PG-13 action movies flooding the market nowadays. A movie like the original 1987 RoboCop is almost a dirty little secret. There are licensed comic books, toys, video games, and I even saw children's body soap with the iconic cyborg cop on the bottle once. You'd think it's a safe movie for kids. Au contraire. It's a gritty, violent, bloody movie that borders on profane and wears it's R rating with pride. It will be remembered.

  I know guys who talk about seeing RoboCop for the first time like it was a rite of passage. You knew it was some next level stuff when you were a kid. It's something you might've found in a bargain bin, or rented without mom knowing, or maybe a cousin showed you when the grown ups weren't around. Whatever the story was, it had an impact. This new RoboCop movie could never be like that. It's destined to fade into a catalog of movies people eventually won't care about. Even if they liked it. It will never have impact. It won't hold the same kind of memories with people. It doesn't have teeth. There's ultimately very little that is special about this movie.

  I'll cut to the chase though. It's a good movie. I'm eating my words right now people. I hope you all recognize that. I'm eating my words. It is a good movie. Is it better than the original? Hell no. Is it on par with the original? Not a chance. But- it's good. I enjoyed it- for what it's worth. First and foremost, it's devoid of the sharp wit and humor of the original. The extent of it's humor is restricted to a few in-jokes that only fans of the original could possibly get. Being one of those fans, I felt bad for chuckling at some of those jokes. They're not funny. Secondly, the pacing is all wrong. The movie feels insanely short and it's almost a full 2 hours long. This is because the movie takes a whole hour just to get RoboCop on his feet so to speak.

  I understand that the makers wanted to tell a more human story and explore Alex Murphy's transition from man into machine. And I've seen people complain about this because "it's not like the original", but that's not why I'm saying it doesn't work. I'm saying it doesn't work because in a way it robs the character of the tragedy that made him work so well in the original. The original movie is sad. It's a tragedy. Alex Murphy for all intents and purposes was a dead man in a robot shell who had the chance to solve his own murder. There's a hauntingly sad scene in the original where after becoming RoboCop, he goes back to his old house only to find it empty, and for sale. It's such an emotional scene. One far more powerful than anything this movie cooked up.

  Murphy in this movie is a man with a family. (semi-spoilers ahead) A family that he gets to hold onto throughout the movie. Sure, some of these scenes are genuine and heartfelt, and provide some real emotions to this movie. Yet, they also upset a perfect balance. The movie isn't a tragedy anymore. Somehow, despite being mostly machine, he can still have this ideal family. His wife still hugs him, and we hear the sound of her hugging a metallic bulk. He's not human anymore but despite lots of talking about it, we never address that directly. Either that or it's just so poorly handled I missed it somehow. He's not a broken man searching for his humanity. Apparently he still has it. He's always had it. I'm not even sure if he officially dies in this movie before they turn him into RoboCop.

  Thus, the proceedings don't have the same weight as they did in the original. In the original Alex Murphy died. Was declared dead. Lost his family. Was turned into RoboCop. Avenges his death. Accepts his situation. Finds his humanity. Great character arc. In this one, he gets mortally wounded. His wife signs release forms. He's turned into RoboCop. Kinda still deals with his family here and there, stops some bad guys... and then avenges his death. It's a weird character arc. I'm not fond of it. There's no guts to it. Despite adding lots of emotions and family to the movie, it backfires and robs the movie of certain feelings essential to RoboCop. In the original, when he shoots the main villain at the end, and someone asks him "What's your name?", he spins his gun, holsters it, and replies "Murphy." The music flairs up, the credits roll, and you have to resist the urge to cheer. Not only did he get the bad guy, he's himself again. Despite being buried inside a machine, he's still human. There's no moment like that in this movie. There's no moment that makes you want to cheer because the movie didn't lay the ground work properly.

  A movie renowned for it's violence, the original's strength is actually not in blood and gore, but in it's plot structure, and it's emotion. This new one tries to approach the emotional content from a different angle, but it's not as effective. And if it was, by god it would've been amazing. The movie takes a full hour to generate sympathy for our hero, and it does, but in a safe way. The action scenes are impressive, in a way, exciting at least. The story is more or less the same. On the whole, it could've been horrible. As it is, it's a good but flawed movie. It's not a carbon copy of the original. It doesn't need to be. All the things I was worried about, weren't even issues here. More or less.

  The lack of uber-violence and gore is an issue. This movie feels too safe, too clean. Of all the criminals RoboCop busts... he takes down a street corner drug pusher in five seconds, and then speeds away to take down an entire drug lab, which he does... in about 20 seconds, and I don't think he even got off his motorcycle. What happened to mass murderers? Rapists? Thieves? Hostage takers? RoboCop's window of actual crime fighting is so small, you could blink and miss it pretty much. That's part of why it was a mistake to take so long getting him on the streets. Secondly, we're told throughout the movie how detroit is one of America's worst cities when it comes to crime. Yet... it looks nicer in this movie than I'm sure it does in real life. The crimes seem petty. There seems to hardly be a need for a robot cop. Let alone fleets of robotic cops.

  The action and CGI aren't overkill. Although the whole feel of the movie feels like a video game of sorts. The fast paced, kinetic, intense approach to it. It feels like a video game, and there's not really a better way to say it. RoboCop himself is no longer a panzer tank. He's like a Ducati motorcycle. Sleek, agile, built for speed. I can't say I mind it too much, since that was an obvious change they were going to make but alas...

  The movie is harmless fun. Despite all it's flaws, it could have been worse. It's middle-of-the-road stuff. It does just enough to warrant a viewing but not enough to make it great. Which is sad since I think it had all the right ingredients. I actually recommend it. It'd make a decent Saturday matinee. The acting is great, and all the characters sell their roles 110%. I loved a lot of this movie. It was fun. I'll defend this movie, it's had it's day in court. I say it had it's moments. It's quite inferior to the original, but it's still good. It exists and I'm okay with that.

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