‘RoboCop’ first look: José Padilha tackles drone politics in reboot

Sept. 05, 2013 | 4:05 p.m.
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Joel Kinnaman stars as the title character in Columbia Pictures' "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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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)

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Samuel L. Jackson plays conservative media mogul Pat Novak in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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Gary Oldman, left, as brilliant scientist Dr. Dennett Norton and Michael Keaton as Omnicorp executive Raymond Sellars in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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Gary Oldman, left, Jay Baruchel, Michael Keaton and Jennifer Ehle in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)

robocop 4 RoboCop first look: José Padilha tackles drone politics in reboot

Joel Kinnaman portrays the titular character -- a part-man, part-robot law enforcement officer -- in "RoboCop." (Kerry Hayes / MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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"RoboCop" director José Padilha, photographed in Beverly Hills in 2011. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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.

"RoboCop" director José Padilha, photographed in Beverly Hills in 2011. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“RoboCop” director José Padilha, photographed in Beverly Hills in 2011. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Joel Kinnaman portrays the titular character -- a part-man, part-robot law enforcement officer -- in "Robocop." (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

Joel Kinnaman portrays the titular character — a part-man, part-robot law enforcement officer — in “RoboCop.” (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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.

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. (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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. (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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.”

Samuel L. Jackson plays conservative media mogul Pat Novak in "Robocop." (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

Samuel L. Jackson plays conservative media mogul Pat Novak in “RoboCop.” (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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.

Gary Oldman, left, as brilliant scientist Dr. Dennett Norton and Michael Keaton as Omnicorp executive Raymond Sellars in "Robocop." (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

Gary Oldman, left, as brilliant scientist Dr. Dennett Norton and Michael Keaton as Omnicorp executive Raymond Sellars in “RoboCop.” (MGM / Columbia Pictures)

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.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+


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53 Responses to ‘RoboCop’ first look: José Padilha tackles drone politics in reboot

  1. Chris says:

    Truman dropped the Bomb – not Ike.

  2. Fish1138 says:

    Me Too.

  3. @AceCarolla says:

    It's Like when The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor.

  4. Bunta says:

    The new Robocop looks like a man in a suit only. The old one looks more robotic.

    • art says:

      Its the hand. Why the hell did they give him one robotic hand and one real one. it makes no sense, you would have to have to completely different coding sequences for each hand. then you have to attach blood , lymphatic, and nerve tissue just to get that hand out at the extremity. Also if the hand is there what happened to his arm?? why just a hand??? just a stupid nonsensical design plan by the director. If you wanted a more cybernetic look you should have had tissue randomly interspersed with tech. Similar to the borg designs in Startrek

  5. Christopher says:

    How about a Left-Wing Media Mogul using Robots to police the world? Don't remember that in a movie. always a right-winger. Extremists of any stripe are usually bad, but media types tends to criticize one, and excuse the other.

    • winston says:

      At least in America, right wing moguls have a lot more control. From Rush to Glenn, the right wing media machine is way more powerful and specific. Most 'liberal' news is more celeb stuff or more all over the map.

      Also, the loudest war cries always come from the right wing. Just face it, America has taken a sharp turn to the right since the turn of the millennium. Obama is the most right-wing Democrat in decades and yet people call him socialist. Ha.

  6. EEEE says:

    part-man, part-robot. . . That is called a Cyborg.

  7. Lou says:

    The original R-rated Robocop was a classic. This will be horrible.

    I hope it bombs bigger than Total Recall.

    • John W. says:

      How nice, a petty, vindictive nobody wishing the work of hundreds of hardworking craft and trade folks fails miserably. I hope the fast food restaurant you work at fails, too, leaving you without work.

  8. b33 says:

    Jesus God that looks horrible.

  9. Todd says:

    "Kind of like instead of sending soldiers to Iraq, you send robots to Tehran."

    Tehran is in Iran, not Iraq.

  10. Paul GC says:

    Is this all Hollywood is capable of doing anymore? Just remakes and sequels? I swear to god, with all the millions of dollars these people make, you'd think they could at least come up with a new idea once in awhile, instead of just endlessly recycling tired old ideas, premises & franchises, over and over and over again… Further proof that Hollywood hasn't got an original idea in the entire city/industry, for all the gee-whiz technical gewgaws they throw at you on the screen (i.e., ultra-expensive, hi-def CGI, 3D, Imax and god-knows-what-else.)

    • John W. says:

      We make what you go to see. There are HUNDREDS of interesting, non-remade films produced every year. Most fail because they don't have all the ridiculous CGI and other bloated special effects the masses, of which you're a member, crave.

      • OldBikr says:

        I now understand why HollyWood makes so many unpopular offerings, they F’up and then they blame the audience for their screw-ups.

        Keep one thing firmly in mind Holly-Weird…a failure on your part has nothing to do with the audience, except to drive us away.

        Keep things in their proper perspective …the tail should not wag the dog!

  11. Tim says:

    How ironic, the left-wing runs the media, which has influence over everyone. Talk about distorting reality for their own purposes!!!

    • winston says:

      Rupert Murdoch might want to have a word with you… last I checked he had quite a bit of power. As do Rush, Hannity, etc.

      Or do they not count as 'media'?

  12. Bixby Snyder says:

    I'd buy that for a dollar!

  13. fuzzman656 says:

    How about some Hitchcock remakes too. It will suck as badly as the Total Recall remake. Hollywood is out of ideas and has been for years.

  14. aaron says:

    robo is too black, hes supposed to be silver ah well its close enough i guess

  15. The Old Man says:

    What do you think Clarence Boddicker would think of your version?

  16. what says:

    Someone needs to take an American history course. Where did you get Ike? It was Truman.

  17. blokefish says:

    Thinking Eisenhower(Republican) dropped the bomb and not Truman (Democrat), and that the villain is anti-civil liberty conservative (Bush) rather than an anti-civil liberty progressive (Obama) unfortunately shows some ignorance of present politics and probably a bias. Nailing warmonger compassionate conservatives, who have no power anymore, instead of warmonger progressive interventionists, who have the power now, is weak.

    • John W. says:

      Good god, when did the Hero Complex turn into a forum for the mindless, angry mobs of foaming-at-the-mouth political zealots?

    • winston says:

      I noticed that too, however, maybe he was referring to Eisenhower the general? Remember, both Truman and Eisenhower were moderates, and Truman even wanted Eisenhower to run for president (as a Democrat). So your petty politics fall apart. Obama is more right-wing than Eisenhower. And yes, I would put Dwight as one of the 3 best Presidents the US has ever had, partly because he really wasn't about party lines. He helped to undo McCarthy, he was liberal in many ways, etc.

  18. Jeremy says:

    The first picture on this page is a whole hell of a lot better looking than the all black shit suit that was initially leaked. The one regular hand and robotic hand is a nice twist. I wish Hugh Laurie had gotten picked for this role. He's got more of a villain side than Keaton does.

  19. bill says:

    i'll buy that for a dollar

  20. Doa74656 says:

    Sam Jackson as a conservative commentator

    Great… I see where this movie is going to lean… Go…. whatever

  21. Van Damme says:

    The guy is from Brazil, cut him some slack on American politics and history, Christ! Tell me, without resorting to Google, who's the current leader of Brazil?

    • Rems says:

      How many of the comments were left by people making movies about Brazil? I'm gonna guess zero. If you're going to make a movie about a non-fictional place, and then also talk about that place in interviews, just do a little prep-work and research the content. Like you mentioned in your post, Google is a good place to start.

    • MissingPeterWeller says:

      He made an American movie for American audiences, and he proposes to judge us and our politics. So he'd better learn his history before opening his mouth. Verhoeven did satire, this looks angry.

    • Mike says:

      The point of this article is that the movie he's making is a commentary on American politics and history. As soon as I make a movie commenting on Brazilian politics and history you can expect me to care who their current leader is.

    • bbold2 says:

      Who cares…probably a stupid communist

    • winston says:

      Rousseff, right?

      Anyways, if anyone has seen Elite Squad 2, it's one of the smartest political movies to come out in a long time, and the differences between Brazil and America seem very few and far between. He gets a few names wrong, but then again, English is not has first language, and at least Eisenhower was a general so it's not completely out of left field. The decision was ultimately up to Truman.

      Also, there's no way around it, conservatives have lead the charge on the Military-Industrial War Complex, so a left winger just wouldn't make sense, unless it was someone like Obama who in everything but name is a right-winger.

    • HTL says:

      Exactly! Why is it that comment boards are ALWAYS filled to the gills with defensive retorts against perceived slights by armies of lunatic right-wing trolls?
      And a News Flash for you "its unfair" types out there: the reason why no one makes movies about tyrannical liberals who manipulate the media and use robots to control the masses is that liberals don't do that, right-wingers are the oppressive control-freaks of the world (i.e., Marxists may be called "leftist", but they are certainly not liberals).

  22. NYJ says:

    26 years later and the suit looks LESS realistic than the original. Good job!

  23. peh says:

    Content is not the issue (Walter), this LA Times article is very well done, period. I'm not a big fan of remaking everything, but it's hard to relate to my kids how impactful some of these old movies are politically-socially. Glad to see Hollywood paying respect to a classic, hope they don't push for a RoboCop-2 this time around. I would not "buy that for a dollar"

  24. Battlechop says:

    We've already gotten a neo-facist cop "hero;" he's called Judge Dredd. I feel Dredd is much more compelling because he's completely human; he will listen to a circumstantial argument for why a citizen has committed a "crime;" he will give even less of a $hit for the rationale behind the argument than the robot would because that's not part of his training regimen, and then he will dispense "justice" on the spot in strict adherance to the law based on a finite list of criteria. We never even see the guy's face for crissake; he is the physical expression of a system that knows better than you what's best for the greater good (but without defense attorneys). He's a nanny state with a gun. And he doesn't need an oil change…

    • R4G3 says:

      or baby-food.
      I think the whole reboot is going to point at how our corporate-run world has as little conscience as a robot. In the end it's about the bottom line, money. You want the original chrome RoboCop, but the corporate powers that be (Keaton) tell you that their all black RoboCop is better irregardless, and will try to use a marketing campaign to convince you to just go with it. I think it's a brilliant way of imparting an overall message throughout the film. I'm guessing RoboCop will probably start off with the chrome initially as he's being tested out, be put into the black armor for the middle of the movie while he's going about the business of doing the will of OCP, then go back to the chrome look towards the end after the black armor is shot to hell when he turns against them.

  25. varden_longraf says:

    nice job Hollywood you have showed us again you've yet to make a bloody effort to write again and only rehash movies cause your writers are talentless. please for once show me something I don't already know

  26. pooty says:


  27. Sasa says:

    Thanks for this great interview! I cant wait for the movie!

  28. @Jay6385 says:

    Would you look at all the people who did not read this interview and just act like whiny fanboys.

  29. Burt says:

    I hate to criticize because I'm actually excited about this… but the black suit looks "rubbery" still. Here's hoping that they're not done editing this thing…

  30. Jsyprclev says:

    I trust the director of this movie.The Elite Squad movies are great.Watch them before making a judgement on the Robocop movie._

  31. Jim C. says:

    I love the parallels this production has with the movie/story. A sterile, soulless remake that the public would normally reject, if the company didn't use a face (Murphy/Padilha) that people really like. If Padilha wasn't a really good director, I'd ignore this movie like I ignored Total Recall. But I'll hold my judgment until reviews roll out.

  32. Hayden says:

    So excited to watch this movie. I know there are those that are critical of Hollywood remaking old films but why so down on the film? A lot of young adults didn't grow up watching or knowing who Robocop was so why not create modern day version afforded all the bells and whistles of present day technology that the original couldn't?

    Its like that age old debate of whether or not vinyl is better than digital music records. Why cant they both just be equally good ?

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