What have we learned about the RoboCop reboot?

More information about the RoboCop reboot appeared over the weekend. Here's what we know about the film so far...

As is commonplace with any modern reboot or remake, there has been a fair amount of scepticism directed at the new take on RoboCop that’s heading to cinemas next year. This wasn’t helped at all by the announcement that the film will be released with a PG-13 rating, which judging by the reaction by many of the comments left by the fine readers of this site, will be enough to put many off.

But is that PG-13 rating the be all and end all here? Because a few more things have been revealed about the movie too, and we wonder whether there might still be room for real optimism here. Here’s what we know…

Murphy doesn’t die

So, yeah, this may not appease many of you, but it could turn out that in this version of RoboCop, Murphy doesn’t die, but is instead left paralysed from the neck down after a car bomb explodes outside his house. This, of course, prompts the transformation from Murphy to RoboCop.

In the original, Murphy was executed at the hands of Clarence Boddicker and his gang in a scene that, to this day, remains an incredibly difficult one to watch. The sense of helplessness is simply incredible, and when you add to that the stomach churning violence, it does an amazing job of helping you empathise with the protagonist whilst establishing the lengths the antagonists are prepared to go to. 

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Going for the PG-13 angle, there’s no way such a scene would pass uncut. Many films that were certified as an 18 or R in the 80s would probably get a more favourable rating today, but the violence in RoboCop is such that there’s no way this scene would get a PG-13, even with the removal of blood – the overwhelming sense of menace alone would put it well out of PG-13 territory. Obviously, car bombs are no joke, particularly those occurring outside a family home, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I think the decision to not have Murphy die is interesting, as from the moment he’s turned into RoboCop there will still be the sense that ultimately he is still essentially human. Obviously, this was the case with the original after an initial struggle, but here it would appear that Murphy will still be in full contact with his wife (played by Abbie Cornish).

One of the primary themes of RoboCop was one of identity and the conflict between will and orders. This appears to still be present as while, to an extent, Murphy is still the man he was, he’s still bound by those pesky objectives.

The Suit

Redesigning one of the most iconic characters in cinema, again, was always going to be a source of controversy, but personally, I’ve been pretty impressed with what I’ve seen to date. It’s hard to judge fully until it’s seen in action, and responses from the weekend’s Comic-Con panel were mixed, but that was to the footage as a whole rather than the suit.

There are apparently nods to the original design in the remake, with Michael Keaton’s character viewing blueprints that resemble the suit we know and grew up with. The trailer also hints that it will be seen in action, but whether Joel Kinnaman’s Murphy will be inside the suit and how much screen time it gets remains to be seen.

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The main function of the new suit appears to be a combat mode that kicks in when a dangerous situation arises which, effectively, makes Murphy a passenger in his own body. When out of combat mode, Murphy’s face will be seen, and when combat mode kicks in, the visor flips down and it will look like the images we’ve seen to date. Seeing Murphy’s face isn’t necessarily a cause for concern; Murphy’s face was revealed numerous times in previous movies. The aspect of the suit taking over is very interesting, as this will provide the point where the objectives take over Murphy’s free will and turn him into a glorified drone.

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me”

Yes, he says it.

Drones

Drones appear to be a key aspect of the film, and could be included as a comment on the reliance of technology to carry out jobs that have traditionally been carried out by free-thinking humans in the past. One such drone is the beloved ED-209, the imposing and lumbering tool of justice and destruction. ED-209 and his humanoid counterparts, the ED-208s, are in Tehran keeping things under control. All is fine and dandy, from an American perspective, until ED-209 sees a child holding a weapon and does what ED-209 does best: deals with the perceived threat with excessive force. In fairness to ED, he probably gave the kid 10 seconds to comply.

Satire and political commentary

As with all of Paul Verhoeven’s best work, RoboCop was packed full of biting satire and quality social commentary, and it looks as though director Jose Padilha is aiming for the same here. Footage at Comic-Con showed Samuel L Jackson’s political commentator Pat Novak stirring things up nicely on his Fox News-style TV show, calling for the American robotic hardware used to fight wars overseas to be used for law enforcement on home soil.

Of his role in the film, Samuel L Jackson had the following to say: “The relationship between fascism and robotics is going to become way more important – if you think about the war in Vietnam or Iraq – the war ended because American soldiers were dying, so we had to get them out of there. If you picture the same war with robots instead, there is no incentive to bring them home. So there is a relationship between being able to use robots for war and fascism”.

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It seems as though the plan is to keep the social commentary and satire aspects from the original very much intact. It will certainly be difficult to match the incisiveness of the 1987 film, but it’s nice to see there is an intention to have the remake be more than a generic, watered-down action film. The message Padilha and his team want to put across is clear, and hopefully, they will be successful in their attempts.

Talent

We’ve tried to address this in every piece we’ve written about the RoboCop reboot to date, but it deserves restating: Jose Padilha is an incredibly talented director and we’re big fans of his Elite Squad films. There should be no doubt that he’s a strong choice for the job for anyone who’s seen them, as the balance between tense, high-stakes action and social commentary demonstrated in those films is near perfect.

There is always the concern that when talented foreign directors are brought on to direct high-profile American projects that they’re shackled, and the results don’t offer a fair reflection of their abilities. There are numerous examples of this, so the hope is that this isn’t the case here. Noises from the production have been positive so far, which is encouraging, though the PG-13 rating is no doubt at the insistence of the studio rather than Padilha’s preference.

Director aside, Joel Kinnaman is a great choice for Murphy. He’s a fine actor who isn’t so high profile that he’ll distract from the story. He’s shown he’s adept at playing flawed but ultimately likeable characters. Abbie Cornish is a solid choice for Mrs Murphy, as again, she’s not so high-profile that she’ll distract, and should prove to be an empathetic character to root for.

Samuel L Jackson going over the top as a ranting TV host should prove to be highly entertaining, and Gary Oldman as the scientist effectively creating RoboCop and acting as a would-be father figure seems like ideal casting. It’s great to see Michael Keaton back on the screen again too, and by the sounds of things, his role will be significant here, as he’s playing the man behind the company creating the technology. He appears to be without question an antagonist, but he’s not going to be the outright bastard Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones was. Instead, footage suggests he’ll be more a sneaky character who plays up his sympathetic side. And, of course, there’s Jay Baruchel as Pope, the head of marketing for OmniCorp, Michael Kenneth Williams as Jack Lewis (yep, RoboCop’s partner is now male) and Jackie Earl Haley as Maddox the military tactician charged with training RoboCop. These all actors we’re fond of.

So there’s a round-up of what has been revealed about Robocop so far. Are there areas for concern? Sure there are – there always will be with remakes and reboots, and the PG-13 rating will be a huge point of contention for many. But if the film can deliver its message without a reliance on gore, hopefully this won’t be an issue. 

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From what has been released so far, the positives still outweigh the negatives. And I’m still hugely excited to see how the finished RoboCop turns out.