Peter Weller as Robocop (1987)
I love Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film, Robocop. It's pure, cinematic awesome. It doesn't pull any punches. It's gruesome action, biting satire and keen social commentary is still light years ahead from the Hollywood norm. It's production design work blew minds and the forever iconic look of Peter Weller's cyborg suit and gun will never be improved upon. Ever. If not for some unfortunately-unflattering stop-motion sequences, it would never dawn on me that Robocop is a quarter century old! It simply can't be recaptured (as two pretty lousy sequels and a generally embarrassing TV series will attest to) and if it weren't in the hands of some very special people with a very special agenda, then I'd assume that the new Robocop film would suffer the same fate as most of the Hollywood reboot/remake/rework films have lately, such as last years laughably tragic The Thing. (*Don't get me started)
Jose Padhila accepting an award for his film, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
So what's going on?
First of all the director, Brazil's Jose Padhila, most famous for his Elite Squad films, is clearly not a Brett Ratner ( a soulless, paycheck driven, Hollywood robot) and has no interest in trying to cash in on Verhoeven's work. Outside of the basic premise, he seems to be largely starting over. And in this case, I think that's great. Now, many fans of the original went apeshit when they heard that Padhila's Robocop would not feature the same suit. No visor, no heavy armour, no flame-spitting gun. That was just too bitter a pill to swallow and with how poorly Hollywood has been translating many of fandom's favorite properties lately, I can't completely blame them. You couldn't get away with that on say, a Superman project (much as they are trying). If you wander too far away from the expectations and inspirations of the original source material, you get lynched. And you should. I submit to you Tim Burton's aborted 1998 Superman Lives project featuring Nic Cage as Superman and all kinds of crazy new ideas and imagery. It almost happened. But most agree that this was destined to be a disaster and rightly killed by nervous studio suits. For once, their meddling did some good.
So many of the reboots happening are immediately hamstrung by an issue not often enough talked about: How do you take a product of a different time, and make it fit into today's sensibilities? Superman was created in 1932. DC comics will be the first to admit that keeping Superman relevant and having even it's most basic conceits make sense in today's world has been tough. And the new film, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel will be the most dramatic reworking of the character yet, all in an attempt to re-establish Supes as the pop culture icon he was/has been for decades. If it doesn't work, the franchise may get buried forever.
Nobody's saying that these characters aren't popular and that the demand to see them back on screen isn't there, but you can't just cut a swatch out of the fabric of time and parade it around in current day without it seeming as out of place as bellbottoms, or skinny ties. Nobody wants to see a Robocop treated the same way Starsky and Hutch was in 2004. Starsky and Hutch was considered quite gritty and cutting edge back in 75-77, but all Hollywood could figure out was to make fun of it. I use Starsky and Hutch as an example because they tried to simply transplant cars and clothing from the original era into today, and they made it a joke. It wasn't a comedy period piece originally and it shouldn't have been in 2004 either. But that just goes to show how little respect studios have for these properties.
Padhila is not going to make the same mistake. At it's best, Robocop is a dark, violent satire about a cop who is brutally murdered and then revived by a malevolent mega-corporation as a cyborg law enforcer known as "RoboCop". It deftly explores themes such as the media spin doctoring, resurrection, gentrification, corruption, privatization, capitalism, masculinity, and human nature. And I believe that the new film will be all (or most of) that as well. But we will not see the new Officer Murphy in a big, bulky, visored suit of cyborg armour. And I'm cool with that. Why? Because it's not 1987, folks. If we look at what we now envision cutting edge technology to look and perform like, that seems absolutely medieval. Cool as that suit and many of the other beautifully original creations from the original film are, Padhila needs to start over if he's going to make a relevant film that is truly rooted in our current world. This film is not about bringing Robocop back. It's about making a film like Robocop again. Besides, Iron Man owns the whole man-in-metal-suit schtick these days, so why compete with that?
Joel Kinnaman in a promotional photo for AMC's TV series, The Killing
Oldman's character for instance is brand new. He will not be playing a character that appeared in the original. According to THR, MGM’s Robocop reboot will feature Oldman in one of the film’s more nuanced roles. As the scientist Norton, he must grapple with the ethical implications of his titular creation. Details are few and far between, but at this point, Norton’s moral alignment seems ambiguous, suggesting he won’t fit neatly into the mold of a hero OR villain.
Although Padhila is keen to explore many of the same themes that Vehoeven did, he's not using the original work as a map. He's out there, exploring the space on his own. And I think that's smart. I can't wait to see the first pictures of this new world and obviously of what this Robocop looks like, and I'll be in line to see it next year when it gets released.
Joel Kinnaman is Robocop. I'll buy that for a dollar.
As of this writing, only two actors have been confirmed: Oldman as Norton, and the interesting choice of casting TV series The Killing's Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy/Robocop. I really enjoy his work on that show and Kinnaman is such a fresh entity for me I have absolutely no idea what to expect from him in the role, especially considering how different Padhila's take seems to be getting.
To get a better idea of what the director has in store for 2013's Robocop, check out this interview over at Comingsoon.net.
And if you'd like to see a little more of Kinnaman before passing judgement (what? This is the internet! Nobody does that here!), then I'd suggest checking him out in Snabba Cash (aka Easy Money, 2010)
What do you think?