In RoboCop, the year is 2028 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. Their drones are winning American wars around the globe and now they want to bring this technology to the home front. Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit. After he is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp utilizes their remarkable science of robotics to save Alex's life. He returns to the streets of his beloved city with amazing new abilities, but with issues a regular man has never had to face before.
For the most part, 'RoboCop (2014)' is a completely unnecessary, needless, and pretty much unwelcome remake, missing the subtle jabs, over-the-top gore, and darkly-satirical humor that has made Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original such a beloved favorite. However, to my shock and amazement, this mostly unwanted actioner is surprisingly an entertaining reimagining of an 80s cult classic, serving as a possible reboot of a long-dead franchise. In my estimation, this is in large part due to the talented and imaginative camerawork of Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha, deservedly known for his riveting actioner 'Elite Squad', who admittedly chucked Darren Aronofsky's plans for a look further into the future, supposedly with healthy input to Joshua Zetumer's script.
Making his English-language debut here, Padilha thankfully isn't afraid of pushing his modernized, CGI-aided vision of a not-too-distant future into some dark, gritty territory. Despite the PG-13 rating that will surely have Verhoeven fans skeptical and hesitant, the new movie at least remains loyal to the original's goals and ideas of an ominously-impending dystopian society caught in the illusion of working towards a utopia. Only, this updated version fails to deliver Verhoeven's amazing dance between entertaining shock value and wryly subversive social commentary. In fact, Padilha's film offers a great deal more talking than action, dialogue and conversations that unabashedly remark on contemporary socio-politics. That's not to say the movie is without some shoot'em-up and blow'em-up fun, because it definitely has its moments with Padilha's excellent design.
It's interesting to see the narrative provide a bit more weight to people confronting, reacting to, and dealing with a future where drones safeguarding American streets are a reality. Whether it's from TV personalities feigning informational news (Samuel L. Jackson) or a well-intentioned scientist battling with the moral consequences of his creation (Gary Oldman), the plot emphasizes the human aspect of the story and uses it as the central conceit to Dt. Alex Murphy's (Joel Kinnaman) rehabilitation into RoboCop. Kinnaman is very robotic in the role, even before donning the metallic suit, but once he sports the tactical black armor, the performance works to the character's advantage. The emotional element is provided by his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan) grappling with the pain of their situation.
Ultimately, this is the major difference between the original and Padilha's updated vision, not only in the fact that Murphy's family plays a larger, more significant role, but also that everyone else continuously comments on the importance of the individual and base human emotions. As always, Oldman playing kind-hearted Dr. Dennett Norton, who specializes in the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers and cops, brings his A-game when constantly in verbal disagreements with OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton playing it cool and collected but also deliciously scheming). On the far end of the spectrum is Jackson's splendid portrayal of the media, a blend of cable news' fact-twisting, ultra-nationalist flash, and its graphic-happy hyperbole. Jackie Earle Haley is sadly a forgettable OmniCorp mercenary employee, Rick Mattox, seen mostly griping and grumbling until his final showdown.
While these may be praise-worthy qualities making 'RoboCop (2014)' an amusing watch made by filmmakers that clearly love and respect the original, it's not enough to be its equal or even come close to the brilliance of Verhoeven's action classic. In spite of mostly following the same plotline — while solving his own attempted murder by crime boss Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), Murphy uncovers city and business corruption — and emphasizing the human element, the film feels humorless and distant, never really hitting its emotional target. Padilha's camerawork and Lula Carvalho's photography, along with some stunning CGI visuals, keep the action moving and the tension high, but there's something dimly robotic and machinelike in the narrative as we patiently wait for the inevitable.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment bring 'RoboCop (2014)' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet HD Digital Copy and a flyer promoting the RoboCop game for mobile devices. Housed inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase with a glossy slipcover, the Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 copy. After a couple skippable trailers, viewers are taken to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The remake-slash-reboot issues its own brand of justice on Blu-ray with a gloriously law-abiding 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode taken directly from an HD digital source. The photography of Lula Carvalho, although very subtly leaning towards the trendy teal-orange palette, allows for plenty of well-saturated colors in every scene while sumptuous primaries brighten the screen. Excellent, well-balanced contrast showers the video with crisp whites and outstanding visibility in the distance, especially when Padilha's camera moves to wide and extreme long shots. Blacks are generally accurate with deep, rich shadows that never engulf the finer details, yet in a few brightly-lit exteriors, brightness levels drop ever so slightly.
Presented in a 2.40:1 framed window, definition and resolution is quite superb for a majority of the runtime. Some moments don't appear as sharp as other or as if intentionally shot in a softer focus, but overall, clarity is clean, with razor-fine lines along buildings and the city streets. The tiniest objects in the background are distinct, and individual letters on holographic screens are plain and discrete while the clothing of various characters, especially Novak's suits show great textures and fuzz. Facial complexions appear natural with a healthy hue in the entire cast, exposing pores, wrinkles and negligible blemishes during close-ups. Overall, this is a fantastic-looking transfer, sure to satisfy everyone.
The law continues to be upheld with a dazzling DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that will rock the house and make you duck for cover.
Arguably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sound design is the low-end. It's doesn't exactly plummet into the lower depths with significant authority, but it has its moments when action sequences pack a thrilling wallop. Namely, two shootouts, one when Murphy raids Antoine Vallon's warehouse and the other when Murphy goes against the drones inside the OmniCorp building, rattle the couch with the palpable firepower of RoboCop's trademark gun. Sadly, other bits of action and explosions are not as effective, but bass provides plenty of weight and depth nonetheless to make them impactful and gratifying. (Check out the graph here to see just how low the bass goes.)
In the upper frequencies, the lossless mix exhibits several instances with negligible tads of distortion and brightness, mostly during the heightened action, which could be intentional. Nonetheless, for a majority of the time, imaging and dynamic range is clean and expansive with detailed clarity and excellent room-penetration. Dialogue is very well-prioritized and distinct in the center while the rest of the soundstage delivers convincing off-screen effects and displays splendid channel separation. Rear activity, particularly when the screen explodes into action mode, is satisfying and immersive with outstanding directionality and flawless panning. A few moments with subtle ambient effects enhance the soundfield, making this remake of an 80s classic a fun and surprising piece of entertainment.
Making his American debut, Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha surprises with a decently entertaining 'RoboCop (2014).' Sleeker and more stylish with updated visuals, the reimagining of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 cult classic works on its merits by emphasizing more character development and dialogue that centers on the human aspect, but in the end, the remake-slash-reboot still feels a cold, distant, and largely humorless. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation that will please fans. Lacking in more extensive supplements, the overall package is at the very least worth a look.