It's been nearly three years since director José Padilha was first announced to helm the RoboCop reboot. After a long list of rumored talent including Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, and Russell Crowe, The Killing actor Joel Kinnaman was selected to resurrect Alex Murphy as RoboCop for modern audiences. Now, in spite of rumored production woes and a delay into February 2014, Sony is finally starting to put their RoboCop remake in front of potential ticket buyers.
The director and star, joined by fellow cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, and Abbie Cornish, were all on-hand at Comic-Con 2013 for a Hall H panel - where they debuted footage from the film and offered new details about the return of Alex Murphy. However, before they took the stage, the filmmaker and starts met with press behind-closed doors - covering topics that include Kinnaman's approach to the iconic role, reimagining the character for modern audiences, and a potential PG-13 rating.
Speaking on his experience with the RoboCop franchise, Kinnaman offered a breakdown that is representative of many moviegoers - highlighting the original as his main source of inspiration while mostly dismissing its sequels. Still, Kinnaman promises that the reboot will tackle one of the most important elements of the RoboCop story head-on - a deep examination of the Alex Murphy character. In fact, the actor claims that audiences will get to know Murphy "a little better" than in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original:
"I love the first movie, I checked out forty minutes into the second one, and I didn't seen the third one. And I missed that [Canadian] TV series. But that part is very much still in our story and we go a little further with Alex Murphy, we get to know him a little better. We spend more time with Alex Murphy when he's at work as an undercover cop and as a family man. He's got a beautiful little family. And that is very much the question: is he now a property? Is he owned by OmniCorp?
He's very vulnerable because the system needs to be changed and needs to be plugged in. So he is dependent on this corporation that has made him to survive. That has made him very powerful but at the same time very vulnerable. There's continuous interactions. They let him interact with his family. He gets to reconnect with his family after he becomes RoboCop and that is of course something that is not easy to come home and try to embrace your six-year-old son and your wife when you have just a big robotic body and you can't really feel them."
Anyone who has been following the film for the last two years will likely recall an early plot synopsis indicating the new RoboCop would tackle many of the same themes as the first film - updated for a new generation of tech-savvy filmgoers. However, while it was always expected that the movie would explore the balance between Alex Murphy (the man) and RoboCop (the OmniCorp machine), Padilha appears poised to add even more complexity to the situation - by giving Murphy a family and creating scenes where his human past and cyborg present collide.
Of course, for many viewers, the cybernetic side of RoboCop is the real draw - meaning that the filmmakers would need to give the character a few upgrades if they hope to compete in the modern action arena. After films like Iron Man and Transformers have wowed moviegoers with cool robotic weaponry and slick tech-inspired set pieces, a slow moving RoboCop would be a tough sell. As a result, what have Padilha and Kinnaman done to prepare the character for his 2014 debut?
According to the actor, the new RoboCop will ditch the stiff Robo-walk and draw inspiration from modern cybernetics - delivering a portrayal that is a mix of superhuman and robotic:
"Before I got this part, I'd probably seen RoboCop twenty or thirty times, and I started rehearsing my RoboCop walk way before I became an actor. So I was pretty well-versed in the Robo-walk. But then when I got the suit, the 1987 vision of where robotics would be is very different from a 2013 vision of where robotics would be and how a robot would move 15 years in the future. So when I got the suit on, I had some ideas, we went for a more superhuman approach to his movement pattern but then we added in more robotic movement to it. But I was playing around with it and then Jose would look at it, and give me a little note, and I'd take that note or work on something else - mostly I take his notes."
In the Q&A, Samuel L. Jackson (who portrays media mogul Pat Novak in the film) outed one new RoboCop feature with especially interesting applications - RoboCop is always online:
Jackson: "He's connected to the Internet now. He has RoboCop WiFi."
Padilha: "He actually does."
We'll have to wait to find out exactly how that RoboCop WiFi (a tongue-in-cheek name from Jackson) will factor into the film but it's easy to imagine plenty of interesting ways that Murphy could network with objects and information - both during investigations as well as in-the-moment action.
In the panel, Padilha also touched on a question that has frequently been brought-up in connection with the reboot: will the director aim for the same R-Rating as the original or will the new RoboCop aim for a wider PG-13 viewership - possibly toning down certain scenes and shots in the process? According to the filmmaker, they aren't sure where the movie will land with the MPAA but he shot RoboCop with the intention of showing it to a PG-13 audience (in the interest of maximizing box office potential):
"I don't get to make the decision. We screen the movie to the MPAA and they will tell us. I mean we were shooting the movie to be seen by the broadest possible audience - which means PG-13. This whole idea that RoboCop has to be R-Rated because the first RoboCop was amazingly violent and was R-Rated, I never really bought into that. You know, Dark Knight is PG-13 so you can get away with a lot these days with PG-13."
Comments about a PG-13 RoboCop will undoubtedly be concerning news for anyone who was hoping to see the same ultra-violent approach that was established in Verhoeven's original. That said, Padilha makes a good point - that savvy filmmakers can still deliver a dark PG-13 film if they find a smart balance between violence that is outright shown and violence that is implied (i.e. the pencil scene in The Dark Knight). Plenty of longtime fans are likely to scoff at the idea of a PG-13 RoboCop movie (especially considering that rating was a primary criticism of Fred Dekker's oft-derided RoboCop 3); still, if the director succeeds in delivering a great character-driven Alex Murphy story with exciting modern CGI effects, there's still plenty of reason to be optimistic about RoboCop's return to the big screen.
RoboCop is expected to hit theaters February 7th, 2014.