Robocop (2014)

Robocop 2014 (2014)

Way back in the mists of time, we put some features up on the age-old topic of reboots: what’s the point of them? Are they better than the original? Was the original any good to begin with? Every year spawns iterations and new reasons for die hard fans to spew forth venom and shake their fists in discontent. I’m still not entirely sure this is the case when some of these films are 20+ years old. If you love the original, then great! You’ve got a favourite film. But that doesn’t mean you have to love the new one does it?? For me, I love Pulp Fiction and wouldn’t really care too much if it was remade. Simply because I know it can’t be topped! But maybe Pulp Fiction’s still a bit too modern (and iconically Tarantino)… unlike the current reboot-du-jour: Robocop. I am the law!

Robocop (2014)

Sadly, we don’t ever hear the line “I AM THE LAW” in this version of Robocop! A lot of time has passed since 1987. A lot has changed since 1987. The Phage has certainly changed since 1987. I think I was last seen getting my head stuck in a flight of stairs in 1987… I’m sure that’s going to happen again in 2014 though if I’m honest; I just can’t resist the urge to see whether my can fit into a tiny spot! Anyway… back on track! Yes, a lot has changed since 1987. We now find ourselves spending 2/3 of our day being controlled by screens of various sizes. Technology has come on leaps and bounds. This is how the cast seem to be justifying this reimagining / rebooting of the one man law machine: Robocop.

The premise is loosely the same: Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), a Detroit cop becomes irreparably damaged through no fault of his own. When he wakes up he’s been fused with machine to become the world’s first Robocop – a cyborg for all intents and purposes – by Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman). In this iteration though, it plays against the backdrop of Raymond Sellar’s (Michael Keyton) OmniCorp looking to break the American market for machine-based legal protection. The one thing that stands in his way is a pesky piece of legislation prohibiting robots from policing the country, as they’re devoid of emotion and rationale. This is where the idea to fuse man with machine comes about… if they can show the value of such an entity, then the law could get repealed… but obviously, things never go exactly as planned!

2014... back in black!

2014… back in black!

Much has been made of the social commentary of Robocop. And some of it is rather stark and in your face: parodies and pastiches of what’s going on in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than Samuel L. Jackson‘s Pat Novak sections where he espouses the pro’s of the right wing, pro-robot agenda. It’s obviously used to harken closest to some rather large US networks that perhaps push a similar agenda. Aside from the robot thing… none of them have pushed that yet. Not until Google take them over anyway, which’ll only be a matter of years I’m sure, using their android drone army!

I seem to have spoken in-depth about the philosophy of this film, but little about the actual content! Let’s correct that. Robocop is a solid piece of science fiction, but doesn’t go much further than that. That’s not to say it’s unenjoyable – it has some interesting concepts and some serviceable performances, but it never challenges. If I think of some of my favourite sci-fi films of recent years, such as District 9 or Looper, they challenged and dazzled in equal measures. I certainly wasn’t expecting a film of similar grandeur, let’s not make any mistakes, but I was also hoping for something along the lines of last year’s Dredd. That film offered beautiful visuals with a simple plot mechanic, but was thoroughly entertaining. But Robocop… well, doesn’t hit the same highs as his other be-helmeted cop brethren.

Robocop (2014)

It has its set pieces, but the film lacks the connecting sinew – the true plot. It’s there, but it’s not wholly fleshed out. The performances are also there, but they too fail to really blow you away. This is particularly true of Joel Kinnaman. I’m going to refer back to Dredd here by talking about Karl Urban. Karl, despite only showing his jaw for the whole film, held the screen and brought a lot of emotion to that jaw role. Kinnaman doesn’t really deliver the same… it’s somewhat bland… but that may just be fantastic character acting!

I think the biggest thing that’s lacking in this film is heart. The original had a sense of humour and over the top violence. Whilst the latter certainly isn’t needed, the former is. Samuel L. Jackson provides some much needed comic relief, but the film is sadly devoid of other respites…

Ultimately, Robocop is more like the machines than he probably realises: slick and shiny, but ultimately devoid of human emotion and heart. Whilst it’s certainly not a bad film, it’s hardly going to set the world on fire. There’s been much talk of trying to restart a franchise with this film… but with this offering, I’m unsure if that’ll happen. Having said that, I’ve been wrong in the past. Although it is nice to state that this definitely won’t be up for an Oscar, which has been a recurring comment here with several of the past films we’ve reviewed!

So, this is simply another case of a reboot failing to really re “boot” a franchise. It got a slight shoe-ing, but definitely not a booting. It’s a shame as the film had a lot to offer at its premise with the machine-driven future we’re spiralling towards. I wonder if we’ll ever get Google: The Movie – that won’t need a reboot. Well, I’m sure we will get it in 2028 when our overlords take over our lives with their Google Glass, Google Droids and Google Boogles (we made the last one up)… They are the law.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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Lawless (2012)

Doesn’t the past always sound so exciting and cut-throat? Especially when it’s up there on the big screen looking all lavish and sexy. Take mediaeval times – a period when disease was rife, living standards were through the floor and you were oppressed at every angle by your local land baron. It wasn’t a happy time. But chuck in some Hollywood pizazz and you have something like A Knight’s Tale, or Robin Hood. The so-called “wild west” – a period of instability, uncertainty and crime also provides plum pickings for film-makers, so long as you throw in some idyllic looking towns, guns and raunchy lead actors. The only other area that rivals it for “sexy yet dangerous setting” is the period of post-Great War USA, the roaring 1920’s… cue Lawless. It was time of gangsters, prohibition and money, and Hollywood likes going back to mine it for more – we can’t get enough of the mob. But does Lawless, the newest film to draw from this period, figure more like The Untouchables, or does it have more in common with Bugsy Malone, minus all those grating kids?

For once, a film “based on a true story” means just that, as the film revolves around the Bondurant brothers – three guys that decided to flaunt the law and turn a tidy profit from the sale of illegally distilled moonshine. The book on which the movie is based, “The Wettest County in the World” was penned by the grandson of one of these brothers. Sure, the film-makers will have embellished some things, but overall you can take this as a “true story”. Come on – it’s got more truth to it than The Possession hasn’t it? The film follows Jack, Forrest and Howard Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) as they build their business and live their lives, whilst contending with the ever-encroaching arm of the law, personified by Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce). It’s a case of pay off the authorities, or be burned. Literally.

The Bondurant boys on the big screen. Knitwear is in.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is the sheer calibre of acting talent on offer in this film. Whilst every single actor is fantastic (yes, even LaBeouf for you doubters out there), the film is really stolen by two people: Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce. Hardy continues his run of great form following Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises with a role that really calls for strong acting. He really sells you every emotion, be it sadness, anger or humour. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a laugh-a-minute performance (or film), but he delivers some brilliant wry one-liners that sit well.

Pearce meanwhile has had a rather odd portfolio as of late, with his weirdly over-made up appearance as a very old man in Prometheus and his peculiar decision to star in Lockout, which didn’t sit well with critics, but I quite enjoyed Pearce‘s performance. Like a grumpy John McClane in space. But his portrayal of Charlie Rakes here is sublime. He’s a thoroughly detestable and loathsome character and you’re really sold on this by Pearce from the way he walks, talks and sneers. Absolutely riveting.

Guy Pearce: Never afraid to shy away from some creepy facial effects and hairdo’s.

My main problem with the film is pacing. Now, maybe this is due to the fact that I approached it without expectations – I didn’t know what I was going in to see really. I knew it was prohibition-era set, and featured a stellar cast, but little else. The trailers didn’t really show me what the core of the film was. If you think Lawless is going to be an all-out gangster film with guns and speakeasies galore, then you’re in for a cruel shock. I’d say that it’s more of a character-driven period drama that has criminals as its focus. Hardy and LaBeouf‘s characters grow throughout the running time and you actually care about them. This led to a rather slow opening first act whilst the scene was being set and the characters established. Had they been more vapid, I’m sure we could have delved into the core of the story much faster, but they’re not. I just felt there was too much padding in this area, which lowered my enjoyment levels somewhat. However, once the film kicked into gear, I was engrossed.

LaBeouf tests out the car to check if its a Decepticon, without raising suspicion.

One thing I really ought to address is the ordering of the names in the posters, which would have you believe that Gary Oldman is a big player in this film – he’s typically listed after LaBeouf and Hardy, but don’t be swayed into seeing Lawless just because of his name. He doesn’t figure heavily in the plot. In fact, I could argue that he’s merely there as a “name” and to personify the Capone-esque gangsters of the era who’d drive round with Tommy guns. His inclusion baffled me somewhat and had a minuscule impact on the story. A great actor, sure, but his role was somewhat mis-sold. Similarly, putting Guy Pearce‘s name in the “and…” bracket at the end of the list is a) misleading and b) a disservice, as he’s one of the best things about the film. I guess he’s not seen as a “big draw” at the minute. Maybe Iron Man 3 will change that next year.

Ultimately, I found Lawless to be a compelling slice of cinema, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Maybe this is through my own naivety, but maybe not. If you’re expecting a gun-toting action-fest then you’ll be cruelly disappointed. Conversely, if you want to see a great story acted out by a fantastic cast then this is just right for you. The film won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I’d thoroughly recommend seeing it – just for Hardyand Pearce‘s acting.

In fact, this film has much in common with Inglourious Basterds, and not just in the way in which itself made another period of desperation: World War II, look more exciting than horrifying. It’s more the fact that you were drawn into Inglourious Basterds by the lure of the names Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt, but you walked out talking about Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender (maybe you mentioned Mike Myers, but not in the same positive light as these two). Similarly, you’re drawn into Lawless by the lure of the big names, like Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, but you’ll leave talking about Guy Pearce, and rightfully Hardy too.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star