Let's Be Optimistic About the RoboCop Remake, Okay?
I know we're all worried about that upcoming RoboCop remake, but let's not get loud and annoying about it quite yet. I understand your trepidation: I, too, have seen the trailers for the new Total Recall and, yes, I'm firmly aware that most of the people greenlighting remakes of Paul Verhoeven films don't understand why his work is so special. Verhoeven's American filmography is the work of a master satirist, a man making fun of American culture by reveling in it. How do you make fun of this nation's obsession with borderline-fascist action heroes? By making a borderline-fascist action movie, of course!
The original film is a comedy with a nearly straight face, a court jester in a Rambo costume, a parody with a barely concealed punchline and so on and so forth. It's a brilliant action movie that's also tearing the very concept of an action movie apart. It's f***king great!
Well, that's what is sticking in the craw of so many RoboCop fans. I think we're all pretty sure that the new RoboCop will not be funny. It will not be a satire. It will not have wry, snarky things to say about American culture. It will be dark. It will be stone-faced. It will not have a single laugh in its entire running time. It'll reach "Christopher Nolan" on the Grimness Scale. If it's R-rated, the over-stuffed, cartoonish squibs of the original will surely be toned down, replaced by something more realistic and grounded.
Expect the new RoboCop to be a serious science-fiction action movie, but feel free to expect that this may not be a bad thing.
I have this optimism because Len Wiseman is not in the director's chair. My interest is kept alive by noting that the powers-that-be did not ask Paul WS Anderson to reimagine the character. In fact, I'm incredibly curious and very excited to see this new RoboCop because Jose Padilha is making his English-language debut with this film. If they're going to make RoboCop into a "serious" action film, then I cannot imagine a more interesting and daring choice than Padilha, especially if the guys with the money give him a long leash.
If you want to know what this new RoboCop may feel like, go check out Padilha's Elite Squad and its sequel, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Both films follow a team of police officers attempting to stamp out corruption and crime in Rio de Janeiro by any means necessary and both films are harrowing, unforgivingly violent and fascinatingly grey in their depiction of what law enforcement must become to truly wipe out lawbreakers. The films follow these officers as they transform themselves into a terrifying martial force to combat a city rotten at its core and it offers no easy answers. It's hard to argue with the results of the films' heroes, but their method of going about them is brutally uncomfortable. How far is too far? When do cops stop being servants of the people and become soldiers? Must they shatter their humanity if that's what it takes to root out and destroy society's worst?
I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. The Elite Squad films ask many of the same questions as RoboCop, just in a real world context. It's easy to see why Padilha is attracted to this concept: If we can transform men into ruthless machines to uphold the law and show no mercy toward criminals, should we? It worked in Rio, why not the Detroit of the near future? A crime-free world only costs what makes us human.
Look at our world right now, ladies and gentlemen. Cops are woefully underpaid and underappreicated. They're frequently underequipped to deal with increasingly dangerous criminals. They get their budgets slashed while corporations get tax breaks. The concept of a company buying and controlling the police was satire back in 1987, but it's the kind of thing that feels like it may actually happen today. It feels real, scary and relevant. Isn't that what most great science fiction does? It tells us about our world through the lens of the incredible.
Yes, much of RoboCop seemed absurd a few decades ago, but if a powerful corporation bought Detroit's police force and saw potential profit in transforming fallen cops into cybernetic police officers (and you bet your ass they'd slap a brand as snappy as "RoboCop" on them), they'd do it in a heartbeat. Can the new RoboCop be a hard science-fiction story dealing with corporations trying to turn profits out of protecting our nation's citizens through inhumane experiments in transhumanism? Can it be the story of how a police force's job "to protect and serve" becomes "to destroy by any means possible"?
With a filmmaker as exciting as Padilha on board, it could. Now admit you don't see this possibly being a pleasant surprise for us all.
Recapping the Sci-Fi at Comic-Con
Science fiction is right at home in settings like Comic-Con, where the tens of thousands of attendees have seen their fair share of genre movies and have the meticulously detailed costume and prop replicas to prove it. This year's convention previewed a terrific slate of promising science-fiction films, each more different and interesting than the last. It also previewed the upcoming Total Recall remake, but hey, nobody's perfect.
What else is there to say about Looper? If you know that it's the next film from the brilliant Rian Johnson and that it's a time-travel movie about Joseph Gordon-Levitt attempting to hunt down and hill his future self (played by Bruce Willis) and you still don't want to see it, then there's just no helping you. The trailers promise a stylish action movie with a cool hook, but the credentials (and the Comic-Con panel itself) promise smart, idea-driven science fiction. Looper probably cost a fraction of most blockbusters, but the promise of a brain at the core of the film makes it an exciting prospect indeed.
And then there's Pacific Rim, which seems to be taking the complete opposite approach. That's not a bad thing. After all, it's Guillermo del Toro making a movie about 26-story robots battling 26-story monsters in defense of the human race, which sounds like the best thing to happen to cinema since ever. As great as heady, thoughtful science fiction is, you've got to love it when a filmmaker with as much imagination as del Toro decides to tailor-make a movie for the nerd community and their 8-year-old nephews/sons/tomboys.
If Pacific Rim is approaching the giant-monsters-crush-cities subgenre with a wink and grin, Gareth Edwards' take on Godzilla is the yin to del Toro's yang (or another tortured metaphor for "opposite"). The footage sounds like the new Godzilla will be taking an ultra-realistic approach to the subject, examining what a giant monster attack would actually look like in the real world, complete with all kinds of 9/11-esque imagery. Edwards claims that his take is not science fiction, but he's wrong. Giant monsters attacking is totally science fiction, sir.
Finally, there's Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to the great District 9. Like his previous film, Elysium sounds like the kitchen-sink approach to science fiction: A smattering of nifty technological concepts, a futuristic landscape that paints a satiric picture of our current world and lots and lots of bloody, chaotic violence. In short, it sounds like Blomkamp is turning into the second coming of Paul Verhoeven, making wildly entertaining, subtly satiric science fiction that will please both smart and stupid alike.
In any case, it looks like we're in for a good time at the movies for the next year or two.