2 February 2014
Disclaimer: I remembered watching the original 1987 movie and loving it, and even now although I cannot really recall the plot points, I still remember certain scenes and how in awe I was with it back then.
A rote, mediocre crime thriller that failed to live up to the pedigree of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic, but it is not for without (some of) its cast trying their best.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with sci-fi remakes/reboots such as this and Total Recall, just updating and modernising the tech/science is not enough. The original films captured the zeitgeist of their time; but now, with a saturation of sci-fi in the media, this concept just feels old and tired. On television, we have Almost Human that pairs human detectives with cyborgs; we have Intelligence that sees a man connected to the internet and "cyber renders"; we had movies like Tron, The Matrix Trilogy, I, Robot, and Her which ranges from popcorn blockbusters to the thinking man sci-fi; we have books by Isaac Asimov, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson ("Neuromancer"); the rise of cyberpunk; the mainstream acceptance of anime.
As such, without anything new or original, the old concept of putting a man into a robot will still feel old and unexciting. So when the rote, predictable A-B-C plot fails (at times thee screenplay by Joshua Zetumer is just plain contrived and lazy when it comes to resolving tension/issues) what else can capture an audience attention? There are no eye-popping CGI or robotics (Transformers has got that down pat), and even the shock-reveal of what's under the robotics is really not that amazing after seeing a dragon come to live in The Hobbit: TDOS. The directing by Jose Padilha was so-so with too much showy "made-for-3D" moments, effects heavy, and messy when they are not CGI rendered, action scenes.
Then that leaves us with the acting. Joel Kinnaman resumes his The Killing brooding persona and he did his best with just his face for most of the times. although his chemistry with Abbie Cornish was lacking. Cornish, on her part, was rather convincing as the distraught wife although a pity they did not explore their relationship more (now, that would have made the film more differentiated). Gary Oldman gave his role a degree of gravitas and added a humane complexity to his scientific mind. Michael Keaton just chews his scenery and not in a good way; Jennifer Ehle was just sleepwalking through her way. Samuel L Jackson was just extraneous and someone up there really just want him to cuss and swear (Jackson is just becoming a walking caricature).
Lastly, not sure if it was meant to be satirical or literal, but there were clear undertones of the film-makers' (producers, director, writer) politics and thoughts on the Sino-US relationship (especially when the film was not even filmed in China), and even their views on the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. And to the final scene, this is my reply: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTjMqda19wk
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