Wednesday, 19 February 2014



First there was indignation. How could they remake Robocop? Paul Verhoeven's classic ultra-violent black satire is one of those untouchable sacred texts that simply cannot be revisited: just look at the supposed unholy botch Len Wiseman made of Total Recall (that was actually nowhere near as terrible as a lot of people made out). Then there was resignation: obviously it's going to be a shameless cash-in inevitably destined to be absolute rubbish, with delays and rumoured reshoots adding to the sense of impending disaster, but what can you do? And eventually there was anger as the BBFC finally gave the finished film a weedy 12A certificate: this shiny new reboot boasted minimal swearing, zero nudity and moderate violence in what was obviously the biggest act of shameless pandering to the idiot teen market since Golden Wonder put out bogey flavour crisps. And finally: pleasant surprise as - gosh wow shock horror - it turned out to be perfectly alright.

Comparisons with the original are inevitable: if they didn't want to be put up against the Verhoeven film they shouldn't have remade it, and if they'd wanted to come out of it with an acclaimed classic they should have changed a few names and remade Cyborg Cop or something. Robocop 2014 marches to much the same tune as Robocop 1987 (literally: the late Basil Poledouris' theme makes an occasional unnecessary reappearance): critically wounded cop is rebuilt as an unthinking cyborg for nefarious corporate purposes rather than benevolent social ones, but its/his suppressed humanity struggles to surface through the mechanical suit to do the right thing and deal with the real, personal, villains rather than the scumbags he/it was programmed to.

In the event it's nowhere near the Verhoeven: it doesn't have the depth and it doesn't have the meat. But it's still a perfectly decent big-budget spectacle with lots of guns and noise and comedy (see the tickertape running under the news broadcasts), and as an undemanding Saturday night popcorn movie it's easily better than we feared. Granted that the movie sags badly in the middle as the bad guys are ignored in favour of family mush, and the chief villain's demise lacks any kind of impact at all, but Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Keaton are always good value and clearly having fun. The odd injoke references in the dialogue to the original may be a distraction (Jackie Earle Haley gets to say "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar") but I guess they'd have been equally pilloried if they hadn't included the occasional nod.

And it isn't neutered by the constraints of a family audience certificate: a PG13 in the US and a 12A here, which effectively means anyone can see it. True, it doesn't have the graphic gore or swearing, but so what? Bad language and explicit violence were never the point and the idea that you can't have Robocop without an R rating or an 18 certificate doesn't really wash as there's still a lot of mayhem and destruction to enjoy. Which I did. A lot.


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