Robocop (2014)

Robocop: A better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall.

Robocop: A better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall.

Let’s talk a little bit about remakes. Many people are getting sick and tired of them to the point where moviegoers in general are saying that Hollywood has run out of ideas. And to certain degree, I agree with them.

However, I will point out that there have been some good remakes (The 2010 version of The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan comes to mind.) But there are some remakes that have come out that actually justify people bashing the concept of remakes. The best example of this is the 2012 remake of the classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall, which wasn’t even a remake of Total Recall at all. It was a really crappy remake of Blade Runner. And another major problem with that remake is that it was released with a PG-13 rating while the original film carried an R rating for its excessive violence (I mean Ahnuld rips a guy’s arms out of his sockets for god’s sakes.)

And the remake of Total Recall shares one other thing with the movie we’re reviewing today: This movie is also a PG-13 rated remake of an overly-violent R-rated movie directed by Paul Verhoeven, who was also responsible for such films as Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers (also rumored to be getting a remake,) and who could forget his crowning achievement, Showgirls. However, without going into details too much further: Let’s get on with the remake we’re reviewing today: Robocop.

As far as the story goes, it does follow the format established by the original 1987 movie which was released as an ultra-violent satirical take on the world of the not-too-distant future (this film is set in 2028.) One thing I do like however is the fact that the remake’s director, Jose Padilha manages to keep the Robocop story relevant to going-ons in today’s world as referenced in the film’s opening where a show called “The Novak Factor,” a Fox-News type show hosted by Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak opens his show with a news story about how America is using robot drones to liberate Iran and cut back on military casualties and has the host praising the drones’ successful thwarting of a suicide bomber attack and believes that the drone program could also work to curb the increase in crime and cut back on the casualties of law enforcement officials.

The drones are actually the product of Omnicorp, whose CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) gets the idea of putting a permanently-injured police officer inside one of the robotic drones to help sway public opinion in favor of the use of drones in American law enforcement and enlists his top scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to find a test subject for their “Robocop.”

Eventually they find their subject after a car bomb placed by a drug lord severely injures maverick Detroit Detective Alex Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman.) And here’s where things differ from the original: In the original, Murphy (who was played by Peter Weller) was killed by a hitman. Here, he is still alive when he is integrated into the Robocop suit with the consent of his bereaved wife Clara (Abbie Cornish.) And another big difference from the original is that Murphy’s partner Lewis is a man rather than a woman, probably to focus more on Murphy’s family which they weren’t really able to do in the original.

After extensive training that includes tinkering with his brain to suppress his humanity and natural decision-making to make him more efficient, Robocop is unveiled to the public where he immediately wins the public over by arresting a wanted criminal who managed to blend into the crowd. And for a while the crime rate begins to drop. That is until Murphy’s human side begins to override his programming as he sets out to solve his own attempted murder, just like in the original.

There are also some Easter Eggs from the original movie that pop up during the remake: For example the original Robocop theme music pops up occasionally during the course of the movie, most notably during Samuel L. Jackson’s Novak Factor reports. Plus the model for the original Robocop is seen in Sellars’ office. The ED-209, another drone robot that was one of Robocop’s adversaries in the original movie pops up as well. But with some deviations here and there partly to keep it relevant with today’s society, the remake more or less follows the original story pretty well.

The acting for the most part was pretty solid. Joel Kinnaman is a little bit more human in the role of Robocop than Peter Weller was in the first. Once again, I also like the fact that we got to see more of Murphy as a family man in the remake which more or less corrects a mistake that was made in the original films. Abbie Cornish also does a good job for what little screen time she has as Murphy’s wife. However the real performances comes from Gary Oldman as the conflicted scientist who knows that what he’s doing is wrong as far as tampering with Murphy’s brain to make him less human but ultimately redeems himself when he saves Murphy’s life when Sellars orders him terminated. Also Samuel L. Jackson comes through yet again as only he can and here’s where I will give out a little ending spoiler here: He gets to say his favorite word even though it’s bleeped out because he’s on air at the time. I’ll say, if Samuel L. Jackson really was a reporter for Fox News, I would definitely watch. Also Jackie Earle Haley (who also starred in a remake: Playing Freddy Krueger in the 2010 remake of Nightmare on Elm Street) is pretty funny as the military guy who trains Murphy and consistently refers to him as “Tin Man.” And Michael Keaton does a brilliant job channeling an evil version of Steve Jobs as Sellars.

The effects are awesome in this movie and as far as the new Robocop armor goes as well as the new capabilities it possesses goes, I was blown away. For starters, the trademark Robocop helmet with the visor only goes down when he goes into combat mode whereas when he is not in action, the visor is up and you can see his face. When I first saw production stills for this movie with Kinnaman in the Robocop armor, I was like “Did he raid Christian Bale’s Batman costumes from Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy?” Again the Batman connections to this movie are enormous (in addition to original Batman actor Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman who played Commissioner Gordon in the Nolan films.) And I also like the idea of Robocop creating a weapon to suit whatever situation he faces rather than relying on only one giant gun that only he can fire. For example, instead of just a gun where he can only kill people like in the original, he also has an assortment of non-lethal weapons including a taser which he uses quite a bit. Plus he also runs and jumps, which is something he couldn’t do in the original.

So I know what you’re thinking and despite the fact that the movie received a mixed reception from both critics and fans of the original franchise, I have to file this remake under “good remake.” For one thing, this movie is a better remake of a Paul Verhoeven movie than Total Recall, especially since this is an actual remake of Robocop rather than another movie that is pretending to be a remake of Total Recall. And comparing it to the original films, I have to say that while it’s almost as good as the original (the prolonged training sequences slow the movie down,) it’s way better than Robocop 3 (the franchise’s other attempt to make Robocop more appealing to a wide audience apart from the cartoon series and live-action TV series, both of which I watched growing up.)

So if you want to see a good remake and are a fan of the franchise and want to see a fresh take on an iconic character, then this movie is for you. I can’t recommend this enough.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness. Better run, JJprise!

Star Trek Into Darkness. Better run, JJprise!

Well last week I reviewed the first big summer movie of the year, Iron Man 3. Today I am going to review another one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year: Star Trek Into Darkness.

But before we begin, let’s look back at the last movie, 2009’s Star Trek reboot that was directed by JJ Abrams and written by the dream team of fanboy movies: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. This movie, which reintroduced Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise to a new audience after the franchise was nearly killed by endless sequels and spinoff TV shows. Many people were skeptical as to whether or not the movie would be successful enough to reinvigorate the franchise. The end result was a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which as far as I know still stands to this day,) positive reviews out the wazoo, and a nearly $400 million dollar worldwide box office haul which is the most a Star Trek movie has ever grossed at the box office, therefore making it cool to like Star Trek again.

But the film was not without its haters, or as people like to call them “Star Trek purists.” This group could not resist watching the movie and finding something to bitch about, be it the fact that JJ Abrams retconned 40-plus years of established canon in the first 10 minutes of the movie; Spock getting into a relationship with Uhura; the fact that they didn’t like the redesign of the Enterprise (or the “JJprise” as it’s less than affectionately known) or the fact that it was built in Iowa rather than in space; and probably the biggest complaint of all: JJ Abrams is more of a Star Wars fan (and I’ll get to that in a minute) and they criticized Abrams for making the last movie more like Star Wars. However, Orci and Kurtzman are in fact Trek fans, most notably fans of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and they attempted to recapture the emotion, spectacle and action that made that film so beloved both by Trek fans and moviegoers in general. And judging by the positive reception, they succeeded. And that continues in this movie.

So is Star Trek Into Darkness better than its predecessor? Let’s find out. Punch it.

The movie opens on an alien planet where Kirk and Bones (played again by Chris Pine and Karl Urban respectively) are being chased by angry natives while Spock (Zachary Quinto) attempts to prevent a potentially devastating volcano eruption. By the way, this scene was part of a 9-minute sneak preview that premiered with The Hobbit over the holidays so chances are you probably seen it already so it’s hardly a spoiler. At one point, Spock becomes trapped in the volcano and the Prime Directive (if you are an established fan of the franchise, you will know that the Prime Directive is a rule that prohibits Starfleet officers from interfering with a primitive culture’s natural development) expressly forbids them to rescue him without exposing themselves to the culture. But you know Kirk, rule-breaking cowboy that he is, rescues Spock anyway. How he does it actually pisses off Starfleet to the point where Kirk gets the keys to the car (meaning the Enterprise) taken away because he has not fully grown up.

Yes, folks. This scene is  in the movie.

This summer’s hottie to watch. 😉

However, there is more going on at Starfleet than Kirk’s blatant disregard for authority. And the main reason why people want to see this movie this year surfaces. And that reason can be summed up in two words: Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays the mysterious John Harrison, an ex-Starfleet officer who has declared war against the Federation, committing all sort of terrorist acts against key Starfleet installations, including Starfleet Command. And faster than you can say “Warp speed, Mr. Sulu,” Kirk is ordered by Admiral Marcus (played by legendary sci-fi actor Peter Weller) to take out Harrison. If Peter Weller is playing an admiral, then I guess it’s only fair that I rename him “Admiral Robocop.” And his daughter, Carol Marcus (if you don’t know who she is, see Wrath of Khan for further details) manages to sneak aboard the Enterprise as they go off on their mission. She is played by Alice Eve, one of the hot women to watch this year, and here’s where I am going to give out the only real spoiler in this movie. Yes, folks. The picture to your left is in the movie and no, she and Kirk do not do it.

Along the way, there are going to be some nods and winks to the original continuity in which I will only name a few of them because if I name all of them, we’ll be here all day. For starters, the Klingons are in this movie. The Klingons were originally written into the last movie but their scene was cut and the only way to actually see it is if you buy the 2-disc DVD version of the last movie which contains the deleted scenes which includes the scene where the Klingons are torturing Nero with those eel creatures that Nero later uses on Captain Pike and if you saw that scene, you’ll note that the Klingons are wearing metal helmets which at first glimpse would seem that JJ remade the Klingons to look like the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. Here, you actually get to see one of the Klingons without the helmet. So does JJ stay true to the design of the Klingons as depicted in the original continuity? Well, watch the movie and find out.

In addition to the Klingons there is also a reference to Christine Chapel, who was a regular character on the original series. Here, Carol Marcus is telling Kirk that she knows Christine Chapel which seems to imply that in the JJverse, it was implied that Chapel was one of Kirk’s conquests at the academy whereas in the original continuity, Chapel was in love with Spock (not that this little factoid gives JJverse Uhura any comfort.)  The confrontation between the JJprise and the renegade Starfleet vessel the USS Vengeance (which is literally the Enterprise on steroids with a darker paint job) has shades of the final battle between the Enterprise-E and Shinzon’s ship in Star Trek: Nemesis. Not to mention that there are many more numerous references to Wrath of Khan, including a certain scene that will forever remain synonymous with that movie.

Thankfully, JJ eased up on the Star Wars references this time around. Don’t get me wrong. They’re still there. For instance, the order to go to warp speed is still “Punch it!” The other one is the Vengeance which can also be described as Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back redesigned as a bigger, meaner, and nastier Starfleet vessel.

Now on to the performances. Chris Pine once again shines as Kirk, who starts out as though nothing has changed since the last movie but the audience will get to see him grow up as the movie progresses. Zachary Quinto brings even more depth to Spock than he did in the last movie. Zoe Saldana has even more to do as Uhura and you even get to see her mix it up in some really big fight scenes. And here’s another thing that separates the original series from the JJverse. When Star Trek first came out, it focused on the trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy. However, in the JJverse, the trinity is now Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. True, Spock and Uhura are still in a relationship but whenever they fight over Spock’s inability to show emotion, they try to bring Kirk into the argument. Hey, Uhura, you knew what you were getting into when you decided to date a Vulcan. Well with a trinity like this, it’s no wonder the JJverse’s Bones is grouchy in this.

Simon Pegg is still funny as always as Scotty and he has a much larger role this time around. The rest of the crew is kind of relegated to the background, with the exception of John Cho who actually gets a badass moment when Sulu is put in temporary command of the Enterprise and orders Harrison to surrender.

"Shall we begin?"

“Shall we begin?”

But the movie rightfully belongs to Cumberbatch. From the first teaser for this movie, it was clear that he was going to own this movie. He is definitely a much stronger and more menacing villain than Nero was in the last movie. Plus he is also a multi-layered character where you actually begin to question his motivation and yes, in typical Chris Nolan fashion, there are numerous twists and turns that affect both his character and the character of Admiral Robocop.

And Kirk and Spock’s interrogation of Harrison has echoes of Batman’s interrogation of the Joker in The Dark Knight, a scene that has been duplicated since then in such movies as The Avengers and the recent James Bond movie Skyfall.

And now to the million dollar question: Is John Harrison the JJverse’s version of Khan? My answer: Watch the movie! And if you have seen the movie, do not post the answer in the comments below the video in case anyone who watches this review have not yet seen the movie.

So as far as the movie goes, is it as good as the last one? No. It’s better. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and manages to recapture the spirit of the original franchise even when dealing with a hot-button topic which the original series and films have been known for. It’s one of the few TV series that actually dared to do that when it first came out in the 60’s. In the case of Into Darkness, the topic here is terrorism and there are shades of 9/11 here as well. In fact, if you stay past the credits, you’ll see that the movie is dedicated to the 9/11 first responders. The action is really awesome and once again, it’s story and character-driven rather than effects-driven. It’s good to see the friendship between Kirk and Spock take center stage again and this was a good move on JJ’s part.

The JJprise definitely looks like it's seen better days.

The JJprise definitely looks like it’s seen better days.

And all you haters of the JJprise will not want to miss this movie. As you’ve seen in the trailers, the JJprise gets more than a little beat up in this one.

And with that being said, some more questions are being raised now that JJ Abrams is heading over to direct the next movie (still unknown if he’s directing the whole trilogy) of that other sci-fi franchise. The biggest one of all being, will he be coming back to direct his universe’s version of Star Trek 3, which at press time is slated for 2016, the franchise’s 50th anniversary? I guess only time will tell.

Okay, I know this review went kind of long because I had a lot of territory to cover. And as I mentioned last week in the Iron Man review that it’s kind of hard to review a big movie like this without giving anything away. So that being said, I hope you enjoyed this review/editorial of one of the biggest movies of the year.

That being said, 2 summer blockbusters down. Now bring on Man of Steel!