We got a few peeks at the RoboCop remake this weekend at Comic-Con. It may not stand up to the original, but it will update its themes for the modern era of mechanized warfare and cable news. Plus, we do get to see a suit that looks like classic RoboCop.
The footage shown Friday in Hall H opened with Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novak, host of The Novak Element, a character Jackson describes as "Rush Sharpton," a combination of Rush Limbaugh and Reverend Al Sharpton. Novak is touting the use of autonomous robots in lieu of human military personnel abroad, and believes that the same robots should be used in law enforcement in the US. We see a live feed from Tehran, in which robots and armored personnel scan the locals for weapons while the locals, unsmiling, raise their hands in the air. Meanwhile, a blonde journalist chirps that the locals "have clearly embraced these routine scans."
"Why is the U.S. so robophobic?" Novak asks his audience.
However, the "routine scan" quickly turns tragic after an explosion occurs near Novak's field crew and one of the robots guns down a frightened child wielding a knife, identifying this tiny armed figure as a threat.
We also see Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), the CEO of OmniCorp in front of a congressional hearing. A congressman notes that when a human police officer makes a mistake, such as harming a child, that officer feels guilt and regret, while a law enforcement robot feels nothing. This is what prompts Sellars to create his most daring robotics product yet: putting a human being inside a robot.
After surviving a body-ruining car bomb, police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is giving the operation that transforms him into RoboCop. Initially, it seems that we'll get only a nod to the original RoboCop suit, with Sellars rejecting it in favor of a black suit, but a more classic version pops up in the sizzle reel footage. RoboCop has a robotic voice, and we're told that Alex isn't the one carrying out his law enforcement duties. The RoboCop machine does all the work; Alex is just along for the ride. When Alex's wife, Ellen (Abbie Cornish), begs him to come and see their son, RoboCop is disinterested because his son is in no immediate danger while crime goes on in the city.
The footage was quite engaging, with a good bit of humor coming out of the Pat Novak show in particular. But there was nothing that came close to matching the brilliant dark comedy of Paul Verhoeven's original.
And what made director José Padilha want to remake such a great, beloved film? "The fact that it's a beloved film," Padilha admits. "It's just a film you cannot do again. We didn't try to redo the same RoboCop, because it was perfect the way it was. We just took the concept of RoboCop—and there are a lot of bright ideas in that movie—and we brought it into the present. And we more and more in a society that RoboCop is part of. We now actually see drones being used in wars and soon will see robots being used in war. As you can see in the footage, this is going to become a big issue."
He also adds an interesting detail about RoboCop's physiology: the physicians leave Alex's gun hand intact so that when he shoots someone, it's a man's hand firing the weapon, not a machine's.
Keaton feels that his character, Raymond Sellars, is less a villain than an antagonist. "I think maybe he sees what you define as what is right and what is wrong is complex. He's a big thinker. If he had to check a box, right or wrong, he'd say no, one of them is basically right. He understands the big, questionable moral issue, but he sees the bigger picture and he simplifies everything. He's the ultimate pragmatist and he says, 'This is your choice. This is the world we live in.'"
On the other end of the spectrum is Ellen, who represents family and humanity. Cornish says, "Because he does become half-man and half-robot, it's how he's affected on a deeper level in regards to his wife and his child and his emotions and how that wrecks with the robot pattern he has become as well. It was nice to play for a woman who really fought for her man."
Kinnaman echoes this idea that Alex is struggling with the artificial intelligence, creating a war between the machine and his soul. He joked, though, that having so many scenes with the helmet visor down has forced him to learn the fine art of chin acting.