In 1987, director Paul Verhoeven made a subversive film detailing the destructive nature of human corruption, greed, capitalism and privatisation masquerading as a man in a suit of armor. The film of course, was RoboCop, about detective Alex Murphy who is brutally wounded in the line of duty only to be brought back to life as a half human/half robot dichotomy of machine-like efficiency and human emotion. The film was, on all accounts, a resounding and violent success; the accompanying gravitas added by the burgeoning excess of the 1980s.
Fast forward more than two decades and Brazilian filmmaker Jose Padilha’s first venture into English-language film is Hollywood’s revisit to Verhoeven’s classic. Looking at RoboCop (2014) from a distance, its easy to point out what fans of the original may have issues with. Among them is the film’s PG-13 rating, toning down the original’s purposeful violence and bloodshed. Yet as Padilha makes his way through modern Detroit’s Omnicorp-laden landscape, we’re given a brand new palette in which to immerse ourselves in- one that succeeds for the most part.
The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman is the new Alex Murphy- boasting the same kind of disheveled, gravely tone Peter Weller had in the original- he does a great job of being both human and robotic. And while the dystopian picture given in Verhoeven’s original isn’t quite as present, we’re given the backdrop of continued Middle East tension as to why America needs robots to defend the streets instead of humans. At the head of Omnicorp is Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellers, an astute businessmen whose motives seem to be driven more by money and success than crazed megalomania. His towering corporate stance is given an opposing shadow by Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennett Norton (a scientist whose primary role was to create robotic prosthetics to those who have lost their limbs). Through this we see that not even Keaton’s character is decisively evil, just focused on turning over political law to suit his corporate needs.
The crux of the film’s problems may stem from Samuel L. Jackson’s annoying media figure Pat Novak. He serves as the host of the political talk show The Novak Element, which serves as the political commentary of the film. The cross section of this plot progression is a little clunky and somewhat distracting, and while attempts to help bring home the corruptive and unproductive nature of politics, seems to act as a very unsubtle way to hammer home the idea that the film is making political statements. It doesn’t quite flow as well as the same tactic did in Verhoeven’s other cult subversive statement Starship Troopers.
From here we see Kinnaman battle the aforementioned elements once he becomes half man, half robot. The robot suit is actually quite refined and very well done. While the original RoboCop was literally a giant walking tin can, Padilha has managed to craft a sleek, agile and contemporary version of the suit that plays well into the character’s ability to undertake advanced police work. The best parts of the film are when Alex Murphy battles himself to overcome the robotic sedation of his human side. Credit to Padilha for giving RoboCop agility not only in combat, but in connection as well.
The biggest gripe of the film is perhaps Padilha’s reluctance to let the film become bigger than it is. Perhaps in fear of becoming a by-the-numbers action vehicle, the final third of the film is lacking one last big set piece. It would have been a great way to truly pay homage to the original but replicating its destructive violence- not for it to become just another action film- but to resonate a point the way the 1987 film did.
Fans of the original will undoubtedly complain about RoboCop (2014) shortcomings in comparison to Verhoeven’s. In truth, these two movies come at two very different times in our society and what was cultural shocking and subversive in 1987 needs to be finessed to an impatient and smart audience in different ways. The film is good, and is enjoyable as it is- a sleek, rather subdued but emotionally deft action film- just don’t take it for anything more.
RoboCop is now playing in Australian cinemas and will open in US cinemas February 12th.
Directed by: Jose Padilha
Written by: Joshua Zetumer
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Abbie Cornish, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman
Released by: MGM/Columbia
Running time: 118 minutes
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes