Joel Kinnaman stars as the title character in Columbia Pictures' "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Joel Kinnaman plays the lead in "RoboCop." (MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Abbie Cornish, left, as Clara Murphy and Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy in "RoboCop." In the film, Kinnaman's character becomes the titular part-man, part-machine law enforcement robot. (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Samuel L. Jackson plays conservative media mogul Pat Novak in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Gary Oldman, left, as brilliant scientist Dr. Dennett Norton and Michael Keaton as Omnicorp executive Raymond Sellars in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Gary Oldman, left, Jay Baruchel, Michael Keaton and Jennifer Ehle in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
Joel Kinnaman portrays the titular character -- a part-man, part-robot law enforcement officer -- in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)Link
"RoboCop" director José Padilha, photographed in Beverly Hills in 2011. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)Link
The first trailer for the upcoming “RoboCop” reboot is out, featuring plenty of action and a sleek new suit that pays homage to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi action film.
Hero Complex readers get an exclusive first look at some images from the upcoming film (check them out in the gallery above), as well as some perspective from the director, José Padilha.
The Brazilian director made a name for himself on the festival circuit for his documentary filmmaking before writing and directing “Elite Squad” and its sequel “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” — crime thrillers that became critical darlings. Padilha’s first big-budget Hollywood action flick is a remake of Verhoeven’s “RoboCop,” which involves a part-man, part-robot police officer tasked with cleaning up a crime-ridden, dystopian Detroit.
Verhoeven’s satiric film, which earned two Oscar nominations, was underscored by political commentary and made waves for its over-the-top violence and gore. Nearly three decades later, Padilha aims to strike a similar balance among dark humor, intense action and political statement in his version of “RoboCop.”
Hero Complex chatted with Padilha about the message he hopes to convey with “RoboCop,” due in theaters in February.
HC: What drew you to this project? Are you a “RoboCop” fan?
JP: Oh, totally. I actually went to MGM to have a meeting about something else, and I saw the “RoboCop” poster. And they said, “You know what? Let’s do this.” … They asked me, “So what’s your take on it?” And I actually had a take (which is the premise of the current movie), which is we’re in the future, and drones have been replaced by robots and are being used all over the world for foreign policy and war. Kind of like instead of sending soldiers to Iraq, you send robots to Tehran. This is how we open the movie, with American robots in Tehran, because Iran has been invaded. The idea is, now soldiers don’t die in wars, so there’s no political pressure at home to end wars. Because the reason why the Vietnam War ended is because soldiers were dying. When you take the soldiers away and you have robots, that opens a can of worms. The premise of the movie is everywhere in the world, robots are allowed, except in America, because Americans won’t accept that a robot can pull the trigger, that the robot can decide to take or not to take a person’s life in law enforcement. So this company is losing lots of money because it can’t sell robots in North America, so the solution is, “Let’s put a man in the machine and sell that.” That was the premise of the movie that I said to them in the very first day, and because they wanted to do it, that’s why I’m here.
HC: Prior to “Elite Squad,” you were best known for your documentary filmmaking. How did that experience compare to making a big-budget action film?
JP: I’ve made documentaries and I continue to make them because I really love documentaries. Documentaries, they are political by nature. And I’ve made movies like that, too. “Elite Squad” and “Elite Squad 2,” they were big movies for Brazilian standards, and they were also political. They kind of draw from documentary filmmaking in the sense that they were portraying social issues and problems, even though they were movies that had action scenes in them. It’s kind of like the same thing with “RoboCop.” We’re making a movie that has action scenes in it, that has a lot of visual effects, but it’s a movie that talks about current affairs; it talks about the use of drones and the consequences that this has, ethical and moral and political. I do see some of the documentary skills, if I have any, being inserted into the movie. I don’t see it as so different from documentary filmmaking; It is in a technical way, but not in a philosophical way.
HC: The original “RoboCop” was very political, with references to apartheid, to nuclear proliferation…
JP: Yes, absolutely, and we kept that. The thing that distinguishes “RoboCop” from most superhero movies is if you look at a movie like “Spider-Man” or “Iron Man,” every kid wants to be Spider-Man or aspires to be Iron Man. So you can make a movie — and those movies are great and fun — based on that. You create an empathy between the audience and the character, and having great actors like they have in both movies, and great action scenes, that empathy carries the movie, and it makes it a fun movie. RoboCop, he cannot touch his wife and his son, he cannot relate to humans in the way he related before he became RoboCop, so there’s no aspiration to be RoboCop. This is not what the original movie was about. It wasn’t a movie sold or designed based on that. It was designed based on a character that has more like a Frankensteinian characteristic. You don’t want to be Frankenstein. You don’t want to be RoboCop. But RoboCop embodies a philosophical idea and a political idea. It talks about fascism.
HC: How so?
JP: When you mechanize and when you create automatic law enforcement, accountability goes down the drain. I’ll give you an example, and it has to do with drones. Say you look at a controversial war thing, like the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. At the end of the day, somebody ordered the bomb, in that case Eisenhower. So you can judge Eisenhower. You can say he was right, or he was wrong. You can have an opinion about it, and pass moral judgment on what happened. Now, when a robot pulls the trigger, because a robot doesn’t have a conscience, who is accountable? If the robot makes a mistake and let’s say shoots a kid by mistake, whose fault is it? It’s clearly not the robot’s fault because it doesn’t make sense to attribute fault to an entity that doesn’t have a conscience (and this is a very contemporary philosophical issue, by the way, that’s being debated in the academic world). Once you have automatic robots making decisions on the spot that can decide whether to take or not take somebody’s life, then accountability becomes very fluid. Is there a problem because of the software design? Was it badly deployed? Who is to blame? You use the sense of accountability. And so “RoboCop,” our movie, also talks about that, about what happens when you get the drone situation. Because drones, they’re not philosophically different from old-time guns. There’s always somebody piloting the drone who makes the decision to throw the bomb or not. But when you have automatic robots who decide for themselves, everything changes. And our movie takes place in the future when that’s what’s going on.
It’s very interesting because once you have a “superhero movie” that is not based on the fact that kids want to be that superhero, then the movie has to rely on other things, and what “RoboCop” did, the original one, was to rely on politics, social and ethical, and very, very interesting aesthetic decisions about violence and how violence is portrayed in the movie. And we kind of did the same thing, because actually you cannot do something different with it because it’s the nature of the character. Not even Alex Murphy wants to be RoboCop in the first movie. So once you have a character like that, it’s not the same thing as “Iron Man.” It’s a different approach altogether.
HC: Speaking of aesthetic decisions about violence, the original film is famous for the extremely over-the-top, bloody boardroom scene in which a malfunctioning robot kills an executive. Are you taking the same over-the-top approach?
JP: We have similar things in our movie. Our movie opens in a sequence in which we see an operation of American robots in Tehran, and similar events take place. So we kept a lot of great things. I really am a total fan of the original “RoboCop,” and we didn’t try to redo it because it’s impossible. It’s already been done. It’s great. It’s a genius movie. What we did was nowadays, we are so close to a time when the issues tackled in “RoboCop” are already taking place. Ten years from now, this is going to be a reality. We’re going to have to argue about it, whether we want automatic law enforcement or not, robots can be in wars or not. This is going to be debated in the U.N. So we basically decided to use the concept of RoboCop to talk about that.
HC: What about the ads? The 1987 film featured fake ads for consumer products, like a board game called “Nukem.”
JP: Instead of having ads, now we have a right-wing media mogul who is Samuel L. Jackson’s character, who distorts reality to his own purposes, and he talks about RoboCop all the time. So he kind of like is the parallel to the ads, but instead of being ads, it’s the media itself. It’s a little bit like in the sense of what we saw before the invasion of Iraq, where all the media was critical, kind of going in the same direction, and this guy tries to stir things in his own way and in his own direction, which is common in the media, not only in America and Brazil and in France, but everywhere. It’s a trait of the media. Only we exacerbate it because it’s “RoboCop.”
HC: It must be a tough character to embody. How did Joel Kinnaman go about connecting to such a cold character?
JP: I truly believe that the performance that Joel Kinnaman delivered in this movie, it’s so amazing. It’s so dramatic. Our RoboCop, it takes a long time to get to that place. So we actually see in our movie how RoboCop gets there, how he’s made. The process of making him takes a big chunk of the movie. When he first wakes up, he is a man, a normal man, inside a total robotic body, so he cautiously has to understand that. It’s very dramatic because he realizes, “How am I gonna live now?” So the movie poses a lot of dramatic questions because he also has a wife and a kid. So our movie has two dimensions. It has this political dimension that we kept from the original, but we brought it to matters that are current today, and at the same time, it has a very strong dramatic component, which is a man finding out he no longer is a man, that he’s a robot, and how is he going to relate to other people? He can’t, really. He can’t make love to his wife. He can’t touch his son. How does this guy live knowing that this is his fate? So Joel and Abbie Cornish, they delivered great performances as Alex Murphy and Clara Murphy.
HC: You have a terrific cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton…
JP: Michael Keaton, is the head of this company that makes RoboCop, and Michael came up with a take on a villain which is not really a villain, because his arguments are also sound. He says if you put robots in law enforcement, policemen don’t die, so you’ll be saving lives. Robots are not corruptible. He has a lot of arguments where the arguments are those that people actually use in the academic world for drones. He’s a bad guy who makes sense, so it’s kind of different from most superhero movies, also. It’s not a mad guy. It’s not the Joker. It’s a guy who makes total sense, and Michael brought a very great take on that. And then we have Gary Oldman, who builds RoboCop. And Gary Oldman is simply a genius, so I don’t have to say anything more about that. And Samuel L. Jackson, doing this kind of like hardcore conservative media guy, which for Samuel L. Jackson to play is just amazing because he’s actually the opposite of that. I guess the approach we had with the movie allowed us to get this cast.
HC: What do you think Paul Verhoeven would think of your version?
JP: I don’t know. I make movies for myself. I make movies thinking what I think about them. I can’t make a movie thinking about that. It’s impossible. I can tell you what I think of Paul Verhoeven’s “RoboCop” — I think it’s great. But I can’t tell you what he would think of mine. I love “RoboCop.” I saw it when I was a kid, really, a teenager. I saw it over and over again, and it was pretty much a movie at the end of the ’80s that marked a whole period in filmmaking. I love Verhoeven. I also love “Starship Troopers.” I think he’s a great filmmaker. But having said that, I make my own movies, and all I can do is do a movie that I love and do a movie that the people who are working with me — the actors, the editors, the filmmakers, producer — love, too, that is coherent with itself, with its own universe. And I think we really got that. And you know, make it with love and with a lot of effort and attention to detail and try to do as good of a movie as I can.
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