'RoboCop' gets rebooted for a modern world
05:00 AM, Feb 09, 2014
As a kid, Joel Kinnaman loved blasters in thigh holsters and all the other gadgets in the 1987 movie RoboCop. But it was going to take more than that to get him into law-enforcement armor to film a reboot.
In fact, the film that hits theaters Wednesday is the kind of project the actor fought hard to be in: a futuristic action tale that discusses the modern uses of drones and other controversial technology and asks the question, “What is it to be human?”
“You can do it wrong in so many ways,” Kinnaman says of remaking RoboCop. “It can be just a cynical attempt to make money without having anything new to say.”
Director Paul Verhoeven’s original took on Reagan-era corporate greed. This time, Brazilian director José Padilha uses RoboCop to take on post-9/11 warfare and the melding of humanity and technology. It also explores “corporations of forward-thinking entrepreneurs” who believe they’re advancing humanity while earning profits, says Jonathan Glickman, president of the MGM Motion Picture Group.
Adds Padilha: “We set out to make a movie about issues, not the regular superhero thing.”
Some things remain the same: The setting is still a futuristic Detroit, and Alex Murphy (played by Kinnaman, best known for the TV series The Killing) is still a good cop who gets critically injured in the line of duty and is put into a robotic suit to be the city’s resident cyborg lawman.
That’s where the similarities end. Back in the day, a knight in shiny RoboCop armor seemed like crazy science-fiction. Now, Kinnaman says, “it’s gonna happen.”
And while today’s military drones are controlled by humans, they and other pieces of higher technology are all automated in Padilha’s cinematic landscape in the year 2028, where conflicts are fought by robot soldiers.
“They make their own decisions and they make their decisions based on a program, and the human aspect is taken out of it. That creates a moral dilemma,” Kinnaman says.
Meanwhile back in Detroit, the robotics company OmniCorp and its CEO (Michael Keaton) discover a way to significantly increase their profit margin: Put an automated police force in every city, starting with Murphy in Detroit, no matter the ethical and moral complications.
Though the company wants the public to believe that it’s a human inside the armor, they secretly wire an artificial intelligence into RoboCop’s brain, though Murphy’s own consciousness struggles to maintain control of his body.
“If you have robots in charge of our law enforcement, then we’re coming very close to fascism,” Kinnaman says. “Even though you might be very effective fighting crime, is that the kind of a crime-free society we want to live in?”
Then there are the questions, adds Kinnaman, of “government control and insight into our lives and our e-mail accounts. Yes, maybe we’re able to prevent some terrorist attacks, but how far do we want to go to enhance our security and let go of our freedom? This movie talks a lot about that.”
For Kinnaman, the new RoboCop also picks up on a philosophical question just touched on in Verhoeven’s film, about where one’s humanity begins and ends. “There’s a lot of neuroscience that talks about the fact that the body itself has intelligence. It’s not just the brain.”
And technology is developing at such a rapid pace that “we will soon have machines with very similar abilities to what we have,” Padilha says. “When a machine is able to perform as well as men, you can ask what is it that separates him from them?”
In the Verhoeven film, Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy is shot and killed, and a few flashes later, he’s suddenly RoboCop. In Padilha’s, after Kinnaman’s hero is blown up and horrifically injured, he’s shown dancing with his wife (Abbie Cornish) in a dream. Then he wakes up in a lab, is told his body no longer exists and attacks scientists in order to escape.
In the five-minute sequence the audience slowly sees “the humanity being taken away from him in order to become a more perfect officer,” Glickman says.
“This is an action drama with a lot of action,” Kinnaman adds, “but it will also be moving to people as well. They’ll feel that the action is about something.”