Why RoboCop 2013 Must Learn From Past Mistakes

The new RoboCop needs to be as far away from the sequels to Paul Verhoeven's classic as possible.

David Pustansky

Contributor

Joel Kinnaman was recently announced as the new RoboCop in a reboot of the sci-fi/action series to be released next year. After the original trilogy of films from 1987-1993 there’s been several takes on the action icon including a live action television series, a cartoon series, comics, video games, and a string of television movies. None of them have really lived up to the fame or quality of the first film and have generally received mixed to negative reviews. In fairness to these versions none of them have had anywhere near the budget required to do the sci-fi/action series justice.

Much like Tim Burton’s more adult take on Batman, RoboCop suffered a similar fate of being downgraded as a series aimed primarily at children. Movie studios looked at such characters and saw all the ingredients needed to pump money out of parents during the festive season. Both characters are heroes, fighting for justice, who wear fancy costumes, have lots of gadgets and have colourful enemies. In other words perfect for action figures, comics and videogames. Unfortunately in an era before Batman Begins and The Dark Knight proved that you could have a well written, big budget superhero movie that would appeal to adults just as much as children, characters such as Batman and Robocop suffered from decreasing quality of storytelling and silly gimmicks. Hopefully the new RoboCop movie will breathe new life into the dead cop.

Whilst very few details on Elite Squad director José Padilha’s take on the franchise are known it is known that the films is targeted for an August 9th, 2013 theatrical release, which if nothing else indicates that the series is going to be taken seriously for the first time in many years. Its future success as a franchise will depend on how the series is handled which may prove tricky if a good take on the character is not found. The basic premise of RoboCop is always going to be tragic. A policeman is killed in the line of duty only to be brought back to life with a wiped memory and a robotic body. There isn’t really any light at the end of the tunnel for Murphy. Yes he may be able to regain his memory, and avenge his death, but then what? He is still a dead man inside a robotic body, which pretty much means he won’t ever be able to walk away into the sunset, and that is where past versions have failed.

At the conclusion of the original movie, RoboCop minus his helmet declared his name was Murphy and walked away as a person rather than a mindless machine. It would have been easy to imagine that after the credits rolled Murphy picked up his life where it had left off and spent the rest of his days playing catch with his son and being fed baby food by his widow. That however doesn’t make for a good sequel, and it wasn’t long before Murphy was back in the helmet, upholding the law. Yes all versions since have shown him to have memories of his family, but these moments of humanity have only proved to make the franchise increasingly bleak as it shows a character with no hope or future. The new film has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and create a story which whilst tragic has somewhere to go in its sequels.

Here’s the only details we have on Padilha’s new RoboCop take when he spoke to Coming Soon last year;

“I have my take on it.. And I can tell you this: In the first ‘RoboCop’ when Alex Murphy is shot, gunned down, then you see some hospitals and stuff and then you cut to him as RoboCop. My movie is between those two cuts. How do you make RoboCop? How do you slowly bring a guy to be a robot? How do you actually take humanity out of someone and how do you program a brain, so to speak, and how does that affect an individual?”

One trap the series should avoid is being stuck within the conventions the series established twenty five years ago. The design of RoboCop and the near future universe in which it is set is a product of the 1980s. For nostalgia’s sake it would be a mistake to radically redesign the man himself, but there are a lot of technological advancements the world has seen that could bring the series not just up to date, but also into the future.

The deadly spike that comes out of Robocop’s fist was cool, but its function was little more than a USB connector. Changing that would be a shame, but it’s important that a series set in the future not be stuck in the past. Imagine if having regained his memory at the end of the first movie, Murphy decides that he wants to regain his body too. In a time where cloning is possible and scientists can grow a human ear on the back of a mouse it may be possible to give a dead character with no future, a new life. Only time will tell if a new approach will be used to make the metal man relevant for a new generation or if the character will once again become the subject of low budget series with figures found in every happy meal box.

The new RoboCop needs to be as far away from the sequels to Paul Verhoeven’s classic as possible.