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By Brock Wilbur · February 11, 2014
There's a moment early in Robocop (2014) where a group of main characters mocks a limbless veteran who has gained a great deal of weight in what remains of his body. This is the moment where you realize that this remake is going to hit more of the right marks than you'd expect.
The biggest fear expressed over remakes of 80's films tends to be the lack of humor our gritty re-imaginings bring, and in the case of Verhoeven's original, an advanced degree of satire that served as the purpose of the entire production. It is not absent here, albeit re-purposed. If you're a fan of mustache-twirling, you're going to be a fan of director Jose Padilha's vision. Most characters are overwhelmingly evil, and proud of it, except the few whose halos are blinding. The moral middlegrounds are absent, leading to extended diatribes between ideologues on both sides. The unending media battleground could be a blight on the film, if not for the opportunities afforded to Samuel L. Jackson to ham it up as a Fox-ian infotainment host.
While the political spin, and surprising degree of body horror for a PG-13 film, hark back to what made the original great, some of the departures are not so welcome. While the textbook screenwriting approach to refocusing on Alex Murphy's human side by keeping his wife and child involved throughout is meant to lend him personal depth, it's a complicated sell to convince us to feel the emotional pain of a man who has no emotions. Off of that, it's hard to make statements about violence and the weight of the film's many opinions behind the aforementioned PG-13 rating, which keeps the actual violence hidden behind smoke and darkness. One sequence in particular shows RoboCop taking vengeance upon the man who made him, presented with less visual flare and emotional strike than the pixelated spy satellite assassination sequence in Patriot Games.
All of these flaws are obscured in the excellent opening thirty minutes, which quickly dies off as the film feels an unnecessary pressure to cater to the original in a series of winks and nods. In fact, the best fight sequence in the film is an awe-inspiring gun battle between bad guys and pre-robot'd Alex Murphy. The fact the superhero version of the character never accomplishes anything as visually stunning as its human predecessor is difficult to come back from. Michael Keaton never becomes a bad-enough bad-guy but Jackie Earle Haley more than makes up for it. The resolution of the film drives a nail of disappointment into an overall promising outing, including several logical leaps that on second glance are pretty laughable and an extra with a giant gun in the final showdown whose interaction could have flipped the finale of the film in either direction.
For all the elements that RoboCop gets right, it gets enough wrong to render the film meaningless. Taken as just an action cop film though, it does surprisingly well. Depending on what you're looking for Padilha's version to be, you'll certainly find it.