Sunday, 29 June 2014


Sunday, 29 June 2014
★★½ (out of five)

When people say they hate remakes, they really mean they hate "retreads" (modern films that do what's been done before, with different actors and slicker production values).

To its credit, José Padilha's new ROBOCOP takes the essence of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 classic and finds different routes through the story. The problem is that, while ROBOCOP '14 does a better job with the evolution of Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) becoming a crime-fighting cyborg, and finds interesting moral grey areas along the way, it lacks so much of what made the original an enduring pop-culture favourite. The satire's been reduced, the comedy's hardly in existence, the core revenge story's been jettisoned, and it lacks the eye-popping violence and gore Verhoeven brought to the table.

But let's look on the bright side. Kinnaman gets far more to do than Peter Weller ever did as Murphy (although his Robo remains too human to be fun), and his grieving family are a key part of the story. This remake also makes some intriguing storytelling decisions the original avoided, by excising the idea Murphy's resurrection is a corporate secret. He's fully aware of his situation and former life as a cop "murdered" in the line of duty, and there's a much kinder face behind his creation in cyberneticist Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). For a while, it even seems that OCP's CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) isn't such a nasty man, just driven by a zeal to get his law-enforcement 'bots into active service on U.S soil to make untold billions.

And for awhile, these big changes to the well-known ROBOCOP story do manage to breathe a different kind of life into proceedings. I quite enjoyed the trial-and-error of turning Murphy into a product the American people could rally behind, to overturn a piece of legislation that prevents "unfeeling" robots being used to tackle crime. The way Murphy's free will was systematically taken away to increase his robot half's productivity was a fascinating look at what it means to be human, and the manner in which his family were used as a marketing tool also worked nicely. I also didn't have a problem with the new-look suit (although the "tactical black version" tends to make Kinnaman look like he's just wearing fancy armour), and obviously modern-day special-effects did an impressive job demonstrating a 2014 RoboCop's sensory feeds and visual HUD. The ED-209's were also very cool and matched the original film's iconic design.

Unfortunately, some of these interesting choices ultimately robbed the whole movie of the dramatic punch everyone expects from a modern-Frankenstein story. It was just more entertaining when Murphy wasn't aware of his human life, before old memories started to bleed through his programming, and this film's half-hearted attempt to provide a Clarence Boddicker-esque nemesis called Antoine Vallon just didn't work. When Murphy starts trying to solve his own murder case, you just don't care about any of it—which is a huge loss to the story, because that was the driving force behind the '80s version.

Overall, ROBOCOP '14 is far from the disaster zone I was expecting (based on the leaked set photos and most reviews I read during its cinema release), but it's an inferior model. It's just so strange to have a ROBOCOP script that ditches the satire and gruesome violence, when these were so key its success first time around. There's also a very disappointing lack of big action sequences (unless you love video-game shoot 'em ups), and nothing else quite plugs the gap. Of course, don't forget this is still head-and-shoulders above everything the Robo-franchise has offered fans since ROBOCOP 2.

It's just a pity the studio felt the need to give audiences an expensive new ROBOCOP that felt so... safe.

★½ (out of five)

This was supposed to relaunch the Jack Ryan "franchise" (which has always felt too loose and impeded by constant re-casting to feel like a genuine thing)? Someone should have studied CASINO ROYALE more, because JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT doesn't have any fun with the idea of re-booting the eponymous spy. Maybe it's because Jack Ryan doesn't have much of a personality, in comparison to rivals like Bond, Bauer and Bourne. What sets him apart from those others, to make him special? Nothing.

Chris Pine looks good in a suit, Kenneth Branagh has fun with a slimy Russian accent, Kevin Costner phones it in as "mentor", and the story reaches a dull crescendo before it even feels like it got going. A thin, by-the-numbers espionage thriller that doesn't have much wit or invention about it... and, beyond a moment with a light bulb, nothing memorable, either.

I'm guessing a sequel won't be along any time soon, because this movie utterly fails in its intention to revitalise a character few even realise is supposed to be the same one across THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, PATRIOT GAMES / CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, and THE SUM OF ALL FEARS.
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