Monday, March 24, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Robocop (2014), 300 - Rise of an Empire

I suppose I should get back to doing the whole “movie review” thing, huh? A lot of reviewable movies are starting come out and it’s going to be difficult for me to see them all in a timely fashion, made worse by the fact that I’m currently staying in Chicago where movie tickets are at least $1.50 higher than what I’m used to. Still I’ve managed to get myself to the theaters a few times recently so to save time it would probably be best if we did this as mini-reviews.

Today we’ll be looking at two odd Hollywood summer blockbusters that studios clearly wanted as far away from summer as possible; the Robocop remake and the belated sequel to the 2007 action fantasy film 300. Astute readers may well recall that nearly a year ago when I posted my annual Summer Movie Preview I clearly said 300: Rise of An Empire would be coming out in August of 2013. Well apparently it was pushed back to March, not unlike what happened with G.I. Joe: Retaliation when I previewed it two years ago. So I guess if you were burning with desire for me to review that particular flick then this blog is for you.

Two new reviews after the jump.

Robocop (2014)

Director: José Padilha

Screenwriter: Joshua Zetume

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish

In the year 2028 the cooperation OmniCorp is famous for the production of robotic soldiers used for “peace keeping efforts” abroad. CEO Raymond Sellars (Keaton) desperately wants his product used for law enforcement purposes on American soil but under the Dreyfus Act he is unable to do so. He comes up with an idea to bypass the law via a loophole; rather than a purely mechanical soldier they’d instead put a living human in a machine. Around the same time Alex Murphy (Kinnaman), a good cop surrounded by corrupt ones, has just been critically injured by an attempt on his life. As he dies in the hospital Sellars swoops in and offer Murphy’s wife Clara (Cornish) a cruel choice: either risk her husband’s life on conventional medicine that at best will leave him severely handicapped or allow OmniCorp to use him in their new project which WILL save his life. She chooses to the latter and Murphy is rebuilt into a half-man, half-machine hybrid designed to fight crime. He is nicknamed “Robocop”.

Now I have seen the original film though not recently enough to feel comfortable picking apart this film scene by scene to compare the two. I can say I don’t really like the original all that much for a lot of vague reasons, one of which was the depiction of Detroit (which is my home town, you understand) and the lack of black people. I have been told by pretty much everyone that the original is better but that this still isn’t the worst Robocop movie ever made (Robocop 2 is considered inferior to the first one and everyone seems to despise Robocop 3 including the people who worked on it).

Ah, the brief time of the movie where Robocop actually looked cool
I will say that I feel it’s a lot easier to feel connected to the protagonist of this film over the original. Here Murphy’s memories remain intact and his personality, at least initially, remains unmolested (though it results in a few terrifying and genuinely sad moments when he is first activated) as opposed to the original where a big plot point was that his memories were wiped and his family thought he was dead. As a side effect the tone of the film is vastly different. This is a considerably more hopeful movie as from the beginning Murphy and Clara are separated but only temporarily as she had to give permission for the endeavor and is in contact with him throughout. It’s actually kind of nice but more importantly it makes this film feel distinct form the original. It feels like it has its own thing going on without necessarily flipping off its predecessor.

The action is pretty good. I thought the new very mobile version of Robocop makes sense for what today’s filmmakers are now capable of and as a result there are some pretty fun gun fighting scenes. The sleek black tactical armor character design is pretty much as stupid as we all feared it would be but the way it’s depicted in the film it comes off like the movie basically feels the same way as the fans; if there’s a sequel coming out form this don’t expect the “tactical armor” version to make a comeback (unless a producer thinks it was a really cool and doesn’t realize he’s exactly like the terrible CEO from his movie).

My biggest issue with the movie is actually just that it was just kind of…meh. Things were okay but there was nothing here that got me emotionally invested in the story or the film in general. Murphy’s relationship with his wife is interesting but sadly, due to a plot point, we barely ever see them together after he become Robocop. Every other character is pretty flat and inconsistent. Though there are good performances there’s little to work with. It’s almost as if the screenwriters finished a non-final draft and someone said to them “People will pay to see anything with Robocop’s name on it. This script is good enough.” I guess it is “good enough” but there’s nothing special about it all which is sad because the milestone of not being a terrible remake should be celebrated.

Happy wife happy life, eh Robocop?
Robocop is not a bad film. It’s fine for a dumb action movie and it does have its moments, especially when it came to Robocop and his relationship to his family. But at the end day it’s not really a movie that will stay with most people in the long term. If you like action films or if you’re a Robocop fan you should probably give it a watch to see if you like it, so long as you understand it won’t live up to the original. However if you just want to see a futuristic cop laying down some awesome science fiction branded justice you would be way better off just watching Dredd.

I give Robocop 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.


-An interesting take on the mythos

-Some of the major changes do the movie a huge favor

-Pretty good action


-Nothing really outside the box as far as movies go

-Flat characters with a pretty unimpressive plot

-Robocop’s primary design is as terrible as the leaked production photos made it out to be

300: Rise of an Empire

Director: Noam Murro

Screenwriter(s): Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad 

Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey

Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), king of Persia, is invading Greece but before he can he finds himself facing off against 300 Spartan warriors. About the same time Themistocles of Athens (Stapleton), who is famous for killing Xerxes' father in the last war with Persia, is trying to rally of all Greece to confront the Persian threat. He is able to secure boats to challenge the Persian army, led by the Naval commander merciless Artemisia (Green). The Greek forces are under-trained and hopelessly outnumbered and despite his strategic genius Themistocles’ best hope to buy time for the Spartan ships to reinforce them, otherwise all of Greece will fall.

So yeah, this movie exists. I don’t really recall there ever being a burning need for a sequel to the original movie. Apparently this film is based on comic book by Frank Miller, who also created the comic the first film was based on. Except I can’t really find it anywhere. At all. According to Wikipedia it’s based on an “unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller” but I’m thinking that’s a nice way of saying “an unfinished idea for a comic by Frank Miller that we bought the rights to years ago but got sick of waiting for him to f*king complete it”. I know that Miller is basically a legendary writer in the comic book field and is responsible for a lot of really important titles (The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Daredevil) but I’m pretty sure the man hasn’t written anything good in something like fifteen years. Just food for thought.

Anywho I did see the original 300 though I honestly don’t remember a giant amount of details about it other than it was loud, really over the top, overly stylistic, and kind of racist. Best case scenario: it was an okay film. But I must say I rather enjoyed the sequel. Or at least I liked it more. Rise of an Empire felt like it took a bit more time to create some substance with some of its characters. Specifically its villain, Artemisia, is so much more interesting than Xerxes it’s not even funny. Cunning, blood thirsty and overall badass the filmmakers took the time to give her a sympathetic background without, and this is key, making her sympathetic. This means she’s one of the better villains I’ve seen in a movie, especially an action movie. She’s a monster but her reasoning for being monster makes sense. On a less highbrow note Eva Green is f**king gorgeous. Seriously guys, she’s super pretty. Anyway Themistocles is pretty decent as well and I certainly like him more than pretty much any of the leads from the previous movies, even if he’s no completely fleshed out. The movie also gives the origin for Xerxes which was something I didn’t think I cared about but it was actually pretty cool the way the story was told. While Xerxes is still terrible there’s a layer of character there that makes him significantly more tolerable.

If Eva Green asked me to join her in anything I'd say "yes"
Any friends reading take note: I will gleefully betray you
I found the movie to be less dreary than the original as, even if you didn’t know the history behind the story, the whole film totally sets up the 300 to die. Failure was the only option. Here it really felt like things were less dire; like things could end happily, or at least not with the execution of 90% of the cast.

The action was lacking, not because it wasn’t exciting and, unlike Robocop, I was never bored during the movie. However so much of it CGI bullshit and it really hurt my enjoyment of it. Like the first film it’s clearly a “green screen fest” that over relies on spectacle. The movie is supposedly violent but the gore and the buckets of blood are so obviously digital effects that it’s hard to take them seriously. I saw the “classic” Death Race 2000 recently which is violent but not to the degree of this film but the violence there always made me flinch because they used practical effects. Forty year old cult films shouldn’t make me more squeamish than a modern day flick where people are regularly decapitated but there you go.

My biggest problem with Rise of an Empire was the ending. It simply stops, literally in the middle of I what I thought was the climactic battle. There is no ending; it feels like the movie was split up in the middle. Now I assume this is the world’s least subtle sequel hook but I suppose it could just be incredibly poor writing. Regardless it is a cardinal sin in my book to have a film simply stop with no resolution and I hate whoever decided it was a good idea. This practically ruined an otherwise enjoyable flick for me.

300: Rise of an Empire has a dumb name that makes no sense, doesn’t have an ending and everything on the screen looks too unreal to take serious. But it’s not a bad movie like I said I did have fun when I watched it. It’s has a ton of flaws but if you aren’t overly concerned with iron clad plots you’ll likely find something to like about this flick. 

Is it me or was there less rage filled screaming in this movie?

300: Rise of an Empire gets 3 out of 5 Adorable Pandas


-I loved Artemisia 

-Decent character development 


-CGI and green screen effects hurt the film 

-The film doesn’t having a proper ending

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