Considering the cult status of the original movie, there was a lot of expectation from us for the RoboCop (2014) DVD to rekindle some of the gritty realism that made the 1987 sci-fi shoot-em-up such a blast. However, the bad news is that it fell a long way short of living up to its blood-soaked predecessor, sanitising it beyond the tipping point and creating a whole lot of disgruntled viewers.
It’s kind of bizarre that the new José Padilha directed entry manages to miss the mark so significantly considering the fact that the storyline is pretty similar in general to the Paul Verhoeven overseen original, but clearly the devil’s in the detail. The key difference for us is that the new film has little interest in pushing boundaries in any real way, so it just ends up being a bit meh.
Both films feature detective Alex Murphy being nearly stripped of his life by a brutal criminal underworld in Detroit, leading to his reincarnation as the cybernetic lawman, RoboCob, thanks to the technological advancements of OmniCorp. However, it’s the nature of the attack that he faces that signifies the gulf between the two films in their ability to shock and engage the audience with the 2014 production dressing it up somewhat with a car bomb explosion instead of the brutal gun fight and near decimation of the original.
The bad news is that this is just one example of many similar shortcomings in the comparison between the films, as most scenes fail to impress. Shoot-outs are short and lacking in impact, stunts are a bit too low key and the baddies seem like they’re easily dispatched by RoboCop, depriving the film of any real tension.
Sadly, the disappointments don’t stop there as the cast is equally flat in delivery. When you see a film starring Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers), Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)) you expect something special, but that’s far from the case here. While Oldman is as convincing as ever, Jackson is overblown and Keaton simply lacks the menace to be the film’s main antagonist.
Relative newcomer, Joel Kinnaman (The Darkest Hour) isn’t terrible in the title role, but he’s let down too much by the lack of direction and grit of the film. His job was made even more difficult for him by the weakness of bit-part characters like the double crossing police superintendent and the drug lord that calls the hit on Murphy, who give him little to play off well.
On a positive note, Abbie Cornish (Sucker Punch) is very good as Alex’s distraught wife Clara, giving the role a solid feel throughout. Our only criticism is that the scene in which she finds her blow-up, near dead husband on the front lawn looks like it needed a few re-shoots to get it right, but for some reason Padilha has opted to go with a fairly nonchalant rection for it.
Special effects aren’t necessarily at their best either. While they’ve obviously dated now, the effects in RoboCop (1987) were right at the forefront of possibilities for the industry, but they’re not even close to some of the best present day CGI in the 2014 entry. Added to that is the annoyance of overindulgent effects, like Murphy’s lungs breathing in what looks like perspex containers inside RoboCop’s suit, that try to say “hey, look how cutting edge we are you”, but end up mubling “sorry”.
It’s not that they’re all bad as such, it’s just that they’re not quite as finely tuned as they could be. There’s a lot of question marks over the suit too, with a lot of fans criticising the lack of build and black paint job that’s on display in the movie. Though we’re not that scathing ourselves, there’s probably needed to be a bit more of a nod to the past when it came to the look and feel of the central character.
Overall, there’s way too much to be frustrated with in the film and we’re kind of inclined to say that poor direction, a toned down script and production budget limitations have been the undoing of it. However, a lack of funds is far from a credible excuse as it had four times as much to play with as Dredd and turned out to by half as good a movie.
Considering how poor RoboCop (2014) has turned out to be, we’re starting to have some concerns over Padilha’s future work, which includes another gritty storyline to tackle in the Marching Powder film, which he’s been associated with. If he sanitises it in the same way he has for RoboCop then it too will lose too much of the guts that made it so compelling in the first place.
RoboCop (2014) DVD review: 2/5