Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I saw RoboCop: new and prior...

To some (particularly the current, overly devote video-game sect), 1987 is a strange, archaic year. To me, however, it seems just like yesterday: if only on a purely personal level, a better time and place than the flimsy, uncertain present. In fact, I'm not ashamed to say that I often recall '87 and feel very much at home in its sentimentalized presence. With this said, a remake of the '87 classic, "RoboCop", initially struck me as unnecessary, especially since the Paul ("Total Recall") Verhoeven entry still seems distinctly fresh in my mind, existing perpetually in the here-and-now.

This isn't so extraordinary, I suppose. The original film led to a prolific continuation of the character (and an extension of the general groundwork laid by the first film) over several decades, launching two theatrical sequels, two weekly/daily television shows (a weekly live-action version, a mini-series, and animated version), plus three comic-book lines: the initial by Marvel, the latest by Avatar Press, with Dark Horse's incarnation somewhere in-between, which at one point even catapulted our hero into the Terminator universe, in a legendary time-travel/parallel universe yarn penned by Frank ("RoboCop 2") Miller.

A long list of actors, who still seem very current to me, have never let the gallant, Detroit-based cyborg fall out of favor: Peter ("Naked Lunch") Weller; Robert ("Thinner") Burke; Richard ("Santa Barbara") Eden, and Page ("The Hitchhiker") Fletcher. In this regard, I thought, why not just do another sequel or series featuring yet another actor (or even get Weller back) instead of a reboot? Why retell the tale simply to insert RoboCop into the new scheme of things, when the old scheme mirrors much of what is happening now anyway?

However, after some serious rumination on the matter, I concluded that RoboCop's revamped return is simply and obviously required for the otherwise hollow (and politically wrangled) present. In essence, we need him, whether in old or refurbished form, and a new movie would certainly make him pertinent to those sadly out-of-the-loop.

Joel ("The Killing") Kinnaman now occupies the titular role of Officer Alex Murphy: the cop-destined-to-be-transformed by high-tech Omnicorp (ersatz, Omini Consumer Products). Kinnaman's performance is sensitive yet determinately charged, also more fluid than the original interpretation, in that he initially retains his identity, which effectively lingers until his emotional faculties are abruptly halted. It's from there that we become emphatically involved as he re-conjures his emotions, while pursuing the villains who not only disfigured him, but who also place Detroit's citizens at risk with a gun-trafficking scam.
Additionally, Murphy's mechanized movements are considerably quicker this time around. As such, his armor is symbolically sleeker, with an insinuated Marvel's Venom look, particularly when painted black (though I dare say, as awe-inspiring as the new look is, I never felt Rob Bottin's design ever needed revision). Murphy also gets around via a sharp-looking cycle, as opposed to the police car he originally used.

To further enhance the atmosphere, Jose ("Elite Squad") Padilha's revisionist take is affluently graced by action-genre giants: Batman movie alumni, Michael ("Beetlejuice") Keaton and Gary ("Bram Stoker's Dracula") Oldman, along with Samuel ("Marvel's Avengers") Jackson and Jackie Earle ("Watchmen") Haley.

Perhaps it's good that these respected thespians are entwined in this refashioning, for the cast of the original surely exists on higher, cinematic level, with the likes of Weller (to many the definitive RoboCop); Nancy ("Carrie") Allen; Miguel ("Iron Man 3") Ferrer; Kurtwood ("That 70s Show") Smith; Ray ("Swamp Thing") Wise; Dan ("Halloween III") O'Herlihy and (in what was a big departure from his good-guy image) Ronnie ("Deliverance") Cox. Their collective presence, along with Verhoeven's super-charged direction, Basil Poledouris' memorably majestic score (and those superb, dry-humored Ed209 moments) still make the original film hard (if not utterly impossible) to rival. Somehow or other, though, Padilha comes surprisingly close.  

In other respects, though, Padilha's approach distinctly differs from Verhoeven's, and even that of Irvin ("Empire Strikes Back") Kirshner's initial sequel, with the famed, quirky humor considerably downplayed, replaced by a harsh seriousness and sanitized aura. Still in the end, we are confronted with a traditional tale that emphasizes the individual over rigid conformity: a world wherein a distinction between good and bad is defined against insurmountable and often confusing odds, all thanks to our mechanized guardian.

Though the '87 "RoboCop" will affectionately remain my favorite among the character's many outings, the remake fits nicely into his continued saga stream. As in the past, I stalwartly believe in RoboCop for what he represents--has, in fact, always unswervingly represented--a human passionately propelled to do right. The new version proudly embodies this ideal, and I'm confident to say (whether the reboot ultimately proves a hit or miss among the general public, which currently seems to prefer heartless, light material for its cinema sojourns), we certainly haven't seen the last of our cyborg savior.  Rest assured: come hell or high water, RoboCop will return...

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