Posts Tagged ‘Samuel L. Jackson’

Just when I thought the MCU might be getting somewhere —

About the only person more surprised by just how fucking much I loved Black Panther than a regular reader of this site was — well, me, but love it to pieces I did, and it’s an opinion I still stand behind 100% and then some. I’m not sure how much of the credit for its artistic success is down to the studio “suits” simply allowing Ryan Coogler to do something different, to break the mold, and how much was him actively wanting to while other directors remain content to serve up more of the same, but whatever the case may be, it was the first Marvel Studios flick that had a distinct look, feel, and personality all its own. It stood out, then, not just for its frankly profound cultural significance, but for its ambition and its quality. It wasn’t a two-and-a-half-hour episode of “Superhero TV,” it was something altogether more. Altogether different. Altogether better.

Say it with me in unison : ” but you knew it wouldn’t last.”

And maybe it couldn’t last. The strictures placed on an “event” film such as Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers : Infinity War are, after all, stifling at best, suffocating at worst. I mean, this is “The Big One,” right? The one they’ve all  been leading up to, and consequently (almost) all hands are on deck : Robert Downey, Jr’s Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa, Chris Henworth’s Thor, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Paul Bettany’s Vision, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Robert Downey Jr. — sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange (I get them mixed up because they’re the exact same goddamn character just with different powers), Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Pom Klementieff’s Mantis — they’re all present and accounted for, as are Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel in their voice-over roles as Rocket Raccoon and Groot, respectively.

Even most of the “big-time” supporting cast members from prior films/franchises are here, albeit for pretty cursory “check-ins” : Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Tom Hiddlesont’s Loki, Idris Elba’s Heimdall, Benicio Del Toro’s Collector, William Hurt’s Secretary of State Ross, Benedict Wong’s — uhhhmmm — Wong, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Danai Gurira’s Okoye — hell, even Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury puts in an appearance if you hang around through the end of the credits. If you like ’em, chances are they’ll turn up just long enough to make you happy.

Which means, of course, that there’s little room for anybody new — the “Big Bad,” Thanos, has made some brief-ish some cameos in some of the lead-ups to this, but by and large this is the first time we’ve seen him take center stage (and Josh Brolin actually does some interesting things with the character, portraying him as more dispassionate and calculating than outright menacing), so I guess we can call him kinda “new,” but the only semi-major player we absolutely have never seen before is Peter Dinklage in the role of Eiti, and ya know? He’s pretty damn good. But then, he always is.

So the story goes something like this : Thanos is out to assemble the six all-powerful “Infinity Gems” so he can place them all inside this big, fancy gauntlet and wipe out half the living beings in the entire universe, thereby insuring that the half who survive can have it good what with less competition for resources and the like. But not so fat, the re-grouped Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Wakandans, and the heroes who usually go it alone are all going to join forces to try and stop him, because that’s what they do. Big fights ensue. Big moments occur. Big conversations are had. And it all leads up to a big third act that changes everything forever. Really. The whole course of the MCU is altered. It’s momentous. It’s gargantuan. It’s the most hitherto-unimaginable thing to ever go down.

Unless, ya know, you’ve ever read a comic book at any point in your entire life. In which case you’ll know that nothing really happens that can’t, well, un-happen.

The reason Avengers : Infinity War might be said, in purely technical terms, to “work” — and why so many people are leaving theaters all over the world in a state of absolute shock — comes down not to anything in the film itself, but to a clever advance marketing ploy, and that’s it. Ya see, early on it was announced that this was the first of a two-part story. Then Marvel seemed to backtrack on that and say, no, it’s not, we’ve re-worked this a little bit and now it’s a stand-alone film. And if you go into the flick believing that, then yeah, this is the gut-punch to end all gut-punches. But it’s all bullshit.

Seriously. This is no more a “one-off” than any of these things are. The status quo has been re-set in a very big way, no doubt, but who are we kidding? It’s only temporary. There’s one major-ish development involving the demise of a character (and that’s all I’m gonna say) that occurs before the balls-out climactic finale, and in theory I suppose that could stick, but everything else? Like Stan Lee infamously once said, “how much do you charge for a quick hand —” sorry, “don’t give them change, give them the illusion of change.” And that, friends, is precisely what this is. An illusion. A big, bold, brash, jaw-dropping illusion, to be sure —but at the end of the day, an illusion nonetheless.

For my part, what can I say? This hustle stopped working on me when I was about 12 years old. I need something more. And that’s simply not on offer here. This is a film that exists for the sole purpose of hoodwinking you into thinking that nothing will ever be the same again — and when you turn around in, I dunno, two years’ time, guess what? It’s gonna be like it never even happened.  So enjoy the re-arranged interiors while you can, because everything, minor window dressings aside, is gonna end up right back where it’s always been — and always will be.

This is what audiences want, though, and while that’s perfectly fine and dandy on the most obvious and liminal level — different strokes for different folks and what have you — when you spend any time thinking about it, actually it’s kind of depressing. Like Trump, Avengers : Infinity War (and, really, the entire MCU in general) is one big con job, and it’s a con job that’s winning. Once the initial shock of this film’s ending wears off, there won’t be a soul left wondering “oh my God, what did they just do?,” but there will be legions of people wondering”oh my God, how are they going to reverse all of that?” And I really don’t care what the answer to that question is.

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Waaaaayyy back in my early days as an armchair critic, I focused almost exclusively on exploitation, horror, and other “B”-movie genres. They’re pretty much all I wrote about, in fact, and calling my blog “Trash Film Guru” made a kind of sense back then. These days, of course, I find myself casting my hopefully-more-sharply-trained critical eye on just about anything, and if I went back and added up the numbers over the last two or three years I’d probably find that I’ve reviewed just as many comics as I have films, and that I’ve reviewed as many Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, and straight-to-video numbers as I have old-school (or, for that matter, new-school) exploitation flicks, but still — the “Trash Film Guru” name continues to run at the top of my site, and since it does, I take it as almost a personal responsibility to review new Quentin Tarantino films as soon as they come out, given that he’s essentially the living embodiment of the exploitation ethos in our day and age.

Not that it’s a responsibility I don’t relish, mind you — I’m not ashamed to admit that I still absolutely love all of Q.T.’s work to one degree or another (yes, even Death Proof), and that I still consider it a genuine cinematic “event” when something new from the man hits theaters. And yet —

I never did get around to seeing 2015’s The Hateful Eight when it was playing cinemas. I was short-staffed at work at the time and clocking six-day weeks for a good few months there, and so getting out to the movies just wasn’t something I had time for. By the time things settled down a bit and I found myself with something vaguely resembling “free time” again, wouldn’t you know it — the damn thing was long gone. It’s out on Blu-ray and DVD now (with excellent picture and sound as you’d expect and sparse extras, the most notable of which is a decent little “making-of” featurette), though, so hey — I can finally do my duty as a self-appointed “guru” of exploitation and report back to you, dear reader, with my thoughts on this, our guy Quentin’s latest, and perhaps most divisive, effort.

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First off, let’s not kid ourselves — everybody loved Inglourious Basterds (and with good reason), and everybody especially loved that long, slow-burn first scene. A lot of folks even openly wished the entire flick had aped its tone and structure, and evidently Tarantino was listening, because The Hateful Eight is easily his “talkiest,” most insular, most claustrophobic, most subtle work yet. It takes a long time to get going and is decidedly less flamboyant in terms of its balls-to-the-walls, operatic violence(though rest assured there’s still plenty of it) than we’re used to from the auteur, but in many ways that’s the best thing about it — not only because, hey, a little variety is always good, but because Tarantino extends that meme outward within the film itself. The Hateful Eight, ya see, is much more than “not exactly what we were expecting” —  it’s also never exactly what it appears to be.

On the surface, of course, this story about bloodthirsty bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (played by Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson) crossing paths with more-supposedly-gentlemanly-but-really-even-more-twisted fellow bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts his latest captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into the one-horse town of Red Rock, Wyoming barely ahead of a blizzard sounds like it’s probably a fairly traditional western — as new characters make their acquaintance, though, such as the town’s purported new sheriff, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), and add layers of intrigue to the proceedings, one starts to get the idea that perhaps Tarantino is going to give us a Peckinpah-esque “revisionist” western. It’s not until we meet the rest of the “hateful” bunch, though — former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cow puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and substitute shopkeep Bob (Demian Bichir), who are all waiting out the storm inside the confines of an establishment known as Minnie’s Haberdashery — that we realize what we actually have on our hands here is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery where no one is who they appear to be. Even the ones, paradoxically, who are.

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But hold on a minute. Is that really what Tarantino is serving us here? Of course not. The various characters are, in fact, the flesh-and-blood embodiment of any number of problems (specifically those of the racial, cultural, political, and sexual varieties) plaguing just-post-Civil War America, and even as the onion of just who the fuck did what and what it even means is being peeled, the deftly-intertwined socio-political commentary is where the real action is here — and even there you honestly have to wonder whether or not Tarantino is confining his critique to this historical setting, or showing just how little has really changed between then and now. None of this ever gets heavy-handed, but it sure is thought-provokingly juicy.

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The other delicious bit of sleight-of-hand that Tarantino indulges in comes by way of the brilliant “switcheroo” he pulls immediately after the film’s opening act. Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography at the outset gives us magnificent snow-swept vistas of such quietly ominous grandeur that I was literally kicking myself for not having seen this flick in 70mm, and coupled with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-winning score the feel established early on in epic in the truest sense of the word — then the remaining 90% of the movie takes place in a single room and is pretty much a stage play on celluloid. Here’s the funny thing, though : Richardson and Morricone’s work only gets stronger once confined to these tight quarters. I have no idea how that works, but works it does.

Needless to say, the acting from all parties concerned is absolutely superb, and much as every line of dialogue in The Hateful Eight  is loaded with import whose meaning will only become clear later, every single movement, gesture, even facial tic on the part of the actors matters here. At over two-and-a-half hours long you’d be forgiven for assuming that there was a fair amount of “filler” material on offer in this flick, but the truth of the matter is that each and every detail is relevant to this film’s outcome. Not only are there almost no “throwaway” lines, there are very few, if any, “throwaway” moments.” So, ya know, pay attention.

And I hope that the nay-sayers who bad-mouthed this flick are still paying attention. If ever there was a film almost purposefully designed to benefit from critical re-appraisal as the years go on, it’s this one. Sure, it’s something of a lengthy slog and most of the tension is bubbling well beneath the surface, but damn — The Hateful Eight is a powder keg that could go off at any second, even if it isn’t always exclaiming that fact in forceful, “in-your-face” tones. You do need to be patient with this flick — but your patience will be richly rewarded.

So — is this Tarantino’s best work? No, Jackie Brown still holds that honor in my own humble opinion. But The Hateful Eight is definitely his most complex, multi-faceted, nuanced, and politically aware effort to date, and shows that while the years may be mellowing the tone of his product, they are in no way blunting its impact.

 

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Like many an armchair movie critic, once I decide that I’m gonna review a particular film, I browse the web for some pictures of said film to include within the body of my write-up/rant so that you, faithful reader, aren’t just confronted with a “wall of text” if I’m fortunate enough to have your attention long enough to read whatever shit I’ve decided to blather on about. I usually opt to include four or five images with a standard-length review — sometimes more, sometimes less, but generally I find that four or five spaces things out nicely and gives a review a good “look.”

What’s this boring “behind the scenes” info got to do with Avengers : Age Of Ultron? Simply this : when I did a Google image search for pics related to writer/director Joss Whedon’s latest Marvel Studios mega-blockbuster, it was virtually impossible to tell actual film stills (which I prefer to use) apart from  heavily-airbrushed, digitized promotional art issued by Dis/Mar and/or fan-made photoshop art. Seriously. Try this yourself and tell me I’m not wrong — go to Google image search, type in “Avengers Age Of Ultron” and see if you can tell the difference. Even if you’ve seen the movie, I’m tellin’ ya, in many cases you can’t. I know that all film — yes, even documentaries to some degree — is artifice, but seriously : when you can’t discern an “actual” movie still from a promo mock-up, it seems to me that we’ve silently crossed some sort of line and are in new and uncharted territory. How many actual “sets” were used in Whedon’s CGI “epic”  vs. how much was shot entirely in front of a blue-or green-screen I couldn’t say you with any certainty, but, as with last summer’s Guardian Of The Galaxy, which saw Vin Diesel credited as one of the flick’s “stars” simply for doing the equivalent of animation voice-over work, here James Spader is credited prominently for “starring” as the villainous Ultron despite never actually, ya know, appearing on screen at all.

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Now, if you’re at all familiar with my previous appraisals of so-called “MCU” movies, this is probably the point at which you expect me to launch into some diatribe about what a piece of shit this thing is. It’s no secret that, apart from Joe Johnston’s Captain America : The First Avenger, I really haven’t liked many of these at all. I find them to be dull, predictable, repetitious, uninvolving, way too heavy on spectacle at the expense of characterization, you name it. And while Avengers : Age Of Ultron is certainly guilty of all those things, let me let you in on a little secret even though it may threaten to completely ruin my reputation as a loud-mouthed cinematic contrarian — I really didn’t hate this flick as much as I did the last several Marvel offerings and, in fact, I may not have even hated it at all.

Which isn’t to say that I really liked it either — I’m still getting all that sorted out in my head, but this is by no stretch of the imagination a good movie. Maybe I’ve just given up (finally), accepted these things for what they are, and am willing to make some kind of peace with the fact that the public at large seems to really dig the hell out something that I don’t. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last. But who knows?  Maybe — just maybe — this movie is, in fact, marginally better than the rest of its brain-dead ilk. It’s a possibility I’m willing to at least consider.

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Detailed plot recaps of these things aren’t really necessary, of course, because Marvel movies don’t have detailed plots, but if you must know the basics here they are : Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and  Murk Ruffalo’s Hulk all return as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!” to battle a problem of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s own creation, a power-mad artificial intelligence “virus” called Ultron that inhabits a bunch of robotic bodies and wants to save the world by — yawn! — destroying it. Newcomers Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her twin brother, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — who can officially appear in Marvel Studios product now that it’s been revealed that they’re not Magneto’s kids and therefore don’t fall under the umbrella of the X-Men properties owned, cinematically speaking, by Fox —switch sides about halfway through the action and join the team, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury all pop up later to varying degrees when the obviously lily-white (okay, and green) makeup of the main team becomes so obvious that even Marvel can’t ignore it anymore, and Paul Bettany gets to graduate from a disembodied voice to an actual character when a variation of the Jarvis A.I. program he’s been dubbing in lines for takes on  physical (albeit android) form as the MCU’s version of The Vision.

The final outcome of the decidedly non-dramatic “drama” here is never, of course, in doubt — one way or another The Avengers are bound to win — but what I at least found somewhat noteworthy is that between the film’s frankly stupid-as-shit first act and predictably bombastic third, Whedon manages to squeeze in a second act that almost threatens to be actually interesting at times.

From what I gather, it’s this second act that a lot of hard-core Marvel fans have problems with, given that The Vision’s origin is basically nothing like its printed-page progenitor, Hawkeye is given a completely different backstory to the one that’s been established for him in the comics, and the Black Widow/Hulk romance that’s introduced here is a wholecloth invention on Whedon’s part. For my part, I felt most of this was rather plausible enough — okay, apart from the origin for The Vision, which is just plain staggeringly dumb — and certainly found this section of the film to be of far more interest than the CGI extravaganza that both precedes and usurps it, but is it enough to make Age Of Ultron something I’d actually watch a second time? I gotta admit, probably not — but at least it kept me from completely tuning it out the first time I saw it.

Of course, in addition to over-reliance on special effects, many of the same problems from the first Avengers flick are still on glaring display here — Johansson is the least-convincing Russian spy ever and exudes a kind of “negative charisma” as The Black Widow that literally sucks out whatever scant traces of life most of the scenes she appears in might have; we get way too many shots of Downey inside his Iron Man helmet; Ruffalo’s facial expressions run the shortest gamut you can possibly imagine (his looks can best be described as “concerned as shit” and “self-pitying plus concerned as shit”); and at the end of the day the only remotely sympathetic character (Tony Stark, incidentally, graduates from “more or less and asshole” to “complete asshole” as events unfold here) of the bunch is Renner’s Hawkeye. But whatever. As far as two-dimensional ciphers go, Hemsworth and Evans at least appear to be having fun as Thor and Captain America, respectively, and I’ll give Spader some credit for sounding suitably menacing and nuts in his “turn” as Ultron.

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In the end, though, Avengers : Age Of Ultron‘s greatest success in an entirely inadvertent one : the Ultron character him/itself is, you see, a pretty effective metaphor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Think about it — like the robotic bad guy here, these movies exist not so much to be themselves, but to replicate themselves. An astonishing amount of time in this flick is devoted to foreshadowing/set-up for the forthcoming (and apparently two-part) next Avengers extravaganza, which will finally see them  fighting Jim Starlin’s Thanos character for control of the so-called “Infinity Gems.” And you can bet that once that conflagration takes place, it will be loaded with “hints” about the next big Avengers “spectacular” slated to follow it. And whatever that ends up being will probably be weighed down with “spoilers” for the next. And the next. And the next —

And so it goes. Look, I’m not a sucker (at least, I don’t like to think that I am).  I might have found Avengers : Age Of Ultron to be marginally more to my liking than both its predecessor and most of its “sister” films — and it was nice to see Jack Kirby’s name displayed prominently in the credits this time (even if Stan Lee’s, as always, comes first) — but the creative bankruptcy of Marvel Studios as a whole, as well as the overtly cynical nature of their cash-grabbing ways, are as plain to see as ever here. These aren’t movies that even give a shit about being good, they’re movies that are designed to get you to keep on coming back for more. Fans might argue that “well, if they weren’t so good in the first place, people wouldn’t be coming back for more, so you’re negating your own point, asshole!,” but I don’t buy it. All the public really wants from these films is a sort of easily-digestible, not-too-taxing status quo. Marvel has been succeeding at giving them just that in the pages of their comics ever since true visionaries like the aforementioned Mr. Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and (a little bit later) Steve Gerber left the fold and succeeding generations of “fan creators” with no greater ambition than to tell bigger, noisier versions of the same stories they loved as a kid took over. Now the same thing is happening on celluloid, with bigger bucks behind it and bigger audiences consuming it, but the basic hustle remains the same. As “Stan the Man” himself might put it in that nauseating faux-Shakespearian way of his that people insist is “charming” and “fun” : ’twas ever thus, and so it shall remain.

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In the end (so why am I bringing it up at the beginning?),  maybe all you really need to know about the profound differences between RoboCop a la Paul Verhoeven and RoboCop a la Jose Padilha is that the 1987 original was only a few scant seconds (a few scant seconds showing officer Alex Murphy’s blown-off arm twitching and writhing on the ground, to be precise) removed from an “X” rating, while 2014’s remake has both feet firmly planted in “PG-13” territory.

I honestly think there’s a lot more  more to it than that,, though(about 1500 words more, give or take, to be precise),   because the new RoboCop is far from a complete failure and/or disaster — in some (limited) respects, truth be told, it’s really not that bad at all, in fact. But it’s not all that great, either, especially in comparison to its progenitor.

Let’s dispense with the tired old “take this remake on its own merits” argument first, because I’m sick and tired of Hollywood wanting to have it both ways on this issue. On the one hand, they’re clearly and obviously out of new ideas in Tinseltown, but on the other, they trot out that tired line of “reasoning” for every single remake that comes out these days, and that’s blatantly hypocritical on its face. You can’t expect to cash in on the name and reputation of an earlier flick, not to mention take its fucking title, and then cry “foul” when your new movie is held up for comparison to its “source material.” Sorry, life just doesn’t work that way. Nor should it. If you’re making a movie called RoboCop, it’s going to be judged according to the standards set by the original RoboCop. Deal with it. Because that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.

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Despite numerous “tinkering at the edges” differences, the basic plot trajectory of the new RoboCop remains essentially unchanged from is earlier iteration — Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, a hard-working family man who’s dedicated to upholding the integrity of his badge, is nearly killed in the line of duty and “saved” by being turned into a cyborg by a large industrial conglomerate (OCP in RoboCop ’87, OmniCorp here). He then single-handedly goes on a tear and nearly rids the city of crime, even managing to violently “solve” his own murder case,  before his bosses in the corporate boardroom decide he’s worth more to them dead than alive, at which point the shit hits the fan and Robo-Murphy goes to war against the very people who created him.

What could possibly go so wrong, then? Well, it’s those “tinkering at the edges” differences I just alluded to where the new RoboCop comes up short —

At the top of the list, Padilha’s new film gets the whole thing wrong tonally. Verhoeven’s RoboCop was, as its critics charge, an ultra-violent piece of 1980s excess, but it was also, crucially, a deeply ironic, darkly sardonic “piss-take,” as the Brits would say, on those excesses, and had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek from word “go” to word “stop.” RoboCop 2014 has no time or patience for such self-examination and plays it disarmingly straight throughout. Sure, there are moments of levity — in fact, the movie starts out with a laugh — but they’re only that : moments of levity within the context of the story itself. There’s no larger commentary on the inherent ridiculousness of its genre, much less its own premise, going on here. In short, unlike its predecessor, which gave us the 6000 SUX and “I’d buy that for a dollar!,” this flick just takes itself too goddamn seriously.

Going side by side with getting the tone wrong is the fact that RoboCop 2014 makes some less-than-great casting choices. Joel Kinnaman isn’t bad, per se, as Murphy, but he’s essentially playing the same role that he does on AMC’s The Killing, and Peter Weller’s “king of deadpan” approach is sorely missed. Likewise, Michael Keaton’s decision to portray OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellers as some sort of “new age”/Steve Jobs-type asshole CEO is a good one, but having made that call, he then seems to trudge through the proceedings rather listlessly. Samuel L. Jackson does a serviceable enough take as a right-wing blowhard Bill O’Reilly-type TV host, but he’s downright  bit toned down in comparison to the rabid xenophobic fear-mongering numbskulls who populate Fox “news” every night already in this day and age, never mind how much more intolerable these types of dickheads will be in the near-future world this film is set in. Gary Oldman’s performance is likewise of a “good enough, I suppose” variety as the cybernetics specialist who “creates” the new Murphy and then develops a conscience a little too late in the game, but again, it’s far from being anything like standout work. All in all, it seems the performers are content with doing a “good enough” job rather than an actively good one.

Not helping things much is the fact that Murphy’s personal “character arc” is a bit all over the map. Weller’s quest to regain some semblance of his lost humanity in the 1987 film may have been a bit straight-forward, but it unquestionably worked, and the new flick’s curious (to put it kindly) decision to give him full awareness of his past from the outset, then take some of it away, then take all of it away, then give a little bit back, then have him fight to regain the rest of it diminishes, rather than enhances, the nature of his struggle. A straight line is usually the shortest way to get from point “A” to point “B,” and in the case of RoboCop, it turns out that it’s also the most interesting.

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Last on our laundry list of problems is that RoboCop 2014 gets its political message all wrong. The ’87 original was noteworthy for being one of the few big Hollywood productions of its time to openly take aim at the risible self-indulgences of the “Reagan Years” by pointing out their inevitable outcomes — a two-tiered society of “haves” and “have-nots” kept in line by a police force that functions as a de facto privately-owned occupying army. All the coporate “suits” in the movie were douchebags with no redeeming qualities whatsoever — the cops were on the verge of striking after being privatized — the middle class seemed, for all intents and purposes, to no longer exist — fuck if the whole movie wasn’t damn prescient, since in the years between then and now we’ve seen the rich/poor gap exacerbated to the level of the “robber baron” days and privatization unquestionably fail time and time again, from the San Francisco Zoo to Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to Bechdel literally buying the entire water supply of the nation of Bolivia. It’s been an unprecedented disaster every single fucking time without exception, yet it’s still held out as the “solution” to almost every problem by unflinching, frankly unthinking, doctrinaire conservatives.

The new RoboCop takes a more nuanced — and gutless — view of the situation : he’s the creation of a “public/private partnership, ” and the working-class, non-privatized, cops in the film are shown to be every bit as sleazy and corrupt as their counterparts in corporate America. Heck, the chief of the Detroit police department (who, curiously, maintains an office in a precinct station) is almost as bad as CEO Sellers himself in this one, and Murphy’s very survival is ultimately engineered by the private-sector Doctor who made him what he is. Some may say that this represents a more “realistic” storyline, that there are good and bad apples in all walks of life, and while that’s true to a certain extent, it’s also deeply ignorant of recent history — last I checked, for instance, it was the much-vaunted private sector that came to the government for a bailout when they ran the economy into the ditch, not the other way around. Sure, RoboCop 2014 is more overtly political than similar blockbuster fare like, say, your average Marvel film, but its focus on issues like domestic drones, the robotization of the military (not nearly as far-fetched as you might think given the Pentagon’s long-term plans) and  expansionist, imperialist US foreign policy (we’ve invaded, and are consequently occupying, Iran in this one) are pretty “safe bets,” so to speak, given that all but the most dim-witted GOP hard-liners know that every single one of those ideas is a seriously lousy one. Again, Padilha and his veritable army of screenwriters are playing it much safer than Verhoeven did back in the day.

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The news isn’t all bad, though — the Murphy family gets a bit more to do in this one, and that’s a nice touch;  (Abbie Cornish is thoroughly believable as his wife and it’s good to see both her and their son play more critical roles in the story);  Padilha directs the action sequences with a kind of enthusiastic zest that seems genuinely heartfelt; the ED-209s fulfill a somewhat more believable (but admittedly less fun) role in the story;  and it’s nice to see Jackie Earle Haley (who plays a stereotypical military hard-ass with aplomb) and Michael K. Williams (on board as the new male iteration of Murphy’s partner, Lewis) in pretty much anything.

By and large, though, this armchair critic has to chalk up the new RoboCop as being a failure — sure, it’s got lot less blood and viscera than the original (hence the “PG-13” classification), but because it hasn’t got anywhere near  its guts.