Sony brought the RoboCop remake/reboot to the International Comic-Con in San Diego, as part of the studio and Screen Gem’s 2013 panel. The project quietly begun its viral marketing campaign at Comic-Con last year, but has since gone into silent mode. That’s because the film ended up being delayed from its original August 2013 release date (Sony replaced it with Elysium), after having generated a whole lot of mixed-to-negative buzz over the RoboCop costume changes, rumors of creative control issues, and elements present in an earlier script draft.

The lineup at the RoboCop Comic-Con panel included director José Padilha (Elite Squad), along with cast members Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Abbie Cornish (Seven Psychopaths), Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers), and Michael Keaton (Toy Story 3). Moderation duties for the panel were handled by Ralph Garman (Family Guy).

Here is the official synopsis for RoboCop (2013):

In RoboCop, the year is 2029 and multinational conglomerate OmniCorp is at the center of robot technology. Their drones are winning American wars around the globe and now they want to bring this technology to the home front. Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) is a loving husband, father and good cop doing his best to stem the tide of crime and corruption in Detroit. After he is critically injured in the line of duty, OmniCorp utilizes their remarkable science of robotics to save Alex’s life. He returns to the streets of his beloved city with amazing new abilities, but with issues a regular man has never had to face before.

The panel started off with footage of a faux news report, featuring SLJ hamming it up as Pat Novak – a character the actor later described as being a cross between Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton – talking about the advantages of using robots to keep the peace in war zones. We then got fake news footage of robot soldiers patrolling the streets of Tehran, cross-cut with clips from a congressional hearing where OmniCorp head Ramond Sellers (Keaton) and his assistant (?) Liz Kline (Jennifer Ehle) argued that robotic soldiers should be allowed on U.S. soil.

One congressman, in particular, kept asking Sellers “What do they feel?” – as in, what do the robots “feel” when they make a mistake (after a while, Sellers replied “Nothing”). This ethical question was then hammered home by subsequent footage, which showed a robot misidentifying a Tehran child as being a threat and machine-gunning them to smithereens in broad daylight in the street. Shortly thereafter, the video ended, as Novak explained that the Pentagon has cut the live news feed. Overall, a good chunk of that RoboCop material felt like a spot-on, yet dry, satire of a contemporary news program.

Padilha confirmed that was intentional (re: channeling the satirical approach in Paul Verhoeven’s original film), as he explained that he felt little need to go and re-imagine the 1987 RoboCop movie because “It is a beautiful film”; instead, Padilha sought to take the concept and update it to address certain “big issues” faced by our modern society. He also mentioned a few times over that his take on RoboCop deals primarily with the humans vs. robots issue – be it questions of responsibility raised by the use of robotics in warfare (ex. who is to blame when drones/robots make a mistake) or how we should always be concerned about who is the person using some form of new technology, seemingly dangerous or not.

RoboCop (circa 1987)

After Padilha and the present cast members spoke for a while, the Hall H crowd was treated to the official RoboCop Comic-Con teaser trailer. It started with shots of Detroit, juxtaposed with footage where Sellers said that “Americans want a machine with a conscience”. We were then shown clips of Alex Murphy’s home life with wife (Cornish) and child, before getting a glimpse at the different “origin story” behind the titular cyborg. In this film, it appears that Murphy suffers irreparable physical damage after his car explodes in his home driveway (though, the culprits responsible for planting said bomb were kept a mystery).

Gary Oldman showed up momentarily, as one of the scientists who ends up giving Murphy the “RoboCop treatment” (after he informs Cornish’s character that her husband will otherwise be a wheelchair-bound vegetable for the rest of his life). The trailer also included footage showing a black-armored RoboCop in action, being tested in motion by Jackie Earle Haley’s character, and engaging criminals in gunfire battles (including, riding a motorcycle down a narrow hallway as he is fired upon relentlessly). Finally, there were clips that showed that Murphy’s Robo-visor is retractable, in addition to a collection of clips that show Cornish attempting to appeal to RoboCop’s humanity and remind him that he is her husband (but seeking intimate comfort elsewhere when that fails).

There was a limited amount of time for fan questions after that, but the more interesting ones asked included:

  • A question about why RoboCop still has a human hand in the trailer, to which Padilha explained that Omnicorp lets RoboCop keep his original hand so he may shake the hands of others (i.e. provide human contact to convince the public that he is not dangerous).
  • One which led to Padilha promising that his remake would approach big social issues in the same ironic fashion as Verhoeven’s RoboCop did.
  • A question about what are the similarities between the two RoboCop movies, and what will tempt a new audience to see the 2014 version – to which SLJ replied “The trailer you just saw.”

RoboCop opens in U.S. theaters on February 7th, 2014.