The film will mix tech with morals
The RoboCop panel played to a packed out crowd in Comic-Con’s Hall H.
It’s a film that’s been cloaked in controversy, not least because it’s a remake of a beloved ‘80s classic, and promotional material has so far been thin on the ground. The initial response to the new, black suit wasn't the friendliest either.
It might be perceived as something of a surprise then, that the film – which debuted a trailer and a clip at the Con – seemed to win over an enthusiastic crowd.
The trailer was showcased, and it offered a pleasing mix of technology, and moral and ethical issues. It seems that themes of humanity, law and ethics will sit alongside the action set-pieces, offering hope that this’ll be more than a generic sci-fi flick.
Alex Murphy doesnt die this time out
One big change that was pointed our by star Joel Kinnaman is that Alex Murphy doesn’t actually die this time out. He’s caught in car bomb explosion outside his house (the motives of which remained unclear in the trailer), but he survives long enough to be paralysed from the neck down, and transported to a new, robotic body.
Toying with the idea of how much of the law-enforcer’s decisions come from the man or the machine, the trailer offered up a remake that looks to be different enough from the original to be able to explore similar ideas in a new light, as opposed to being a beat-for-beat copy.
Joel Kinnamans a big RoboCop fan
At the RoboCop press conference, star Kinnaman made it very clear that he was a RoboCop fan, while still pointing out the differences necessary for this new version.
“Before I got this part I’d probably seen RoboCop about 25 - 30 times and was already rehearsing my RoboCop walk so I was pretty well versed in RoboCop ,” he told attendees. “But when I got the suit on I got this idea that the 1987 vision of where robotics would be is very different from the 2013 vision of where robotics would be years in the future."
The new suit has a combat mode
Murphy’s face will be revealed when he is in the suit, but when a dangerous situation arises, the visor will flip down (complete with a red LED strip across the eyes), and the machine will take over, carrying Murphy along for the ride.
This raises a potential conflict in one of the trailer's closing moments, as Murphy’s wife implores him to stop, while his robotic mainframe keeps him sticking rigidly to his objectives.
There will still be satire and political commentary
The first clip that the Comic-Con crowd were treated to featured Samuel L. Jackson’s firebrand political commentator Pat Novak stirring up a storm on his sensationalist TV show.
Showing scenes of American robot hardware being used to enforce the law in Tehran, Novak called for the USA to use its own inventions in the fight against crime.
It seems like a good idea, with the lumbering ED-209’s and humanoid ED-208’s keeping Tehran under tight control. It all goes wrong, however, when a 209 identifies a weapon that a small child is holding, and unleashes a torrent of rounds at the kid.
The scene plays like a more serious take on the original RoboCop ’s satirical swipes at TV, with director José Padilha pointing to the film’s relevance to the discussion of the use of drones in warfare that's currently occupying the news.
Samuel L. Jackson elaborated at the press conference: "The relationship between fascism and robotics is going to become way more important – if you think about the war in Vietnam or in Iraq – the war ended because American soliders were dying, so we had to get them out of there.
"If you picture the same war with robots and instead and there no incentive to bring them home. So there is a relationship between being able to use robots for war and fascism."
Michael Keaton isnt playing a standard bad guy
One-time Batman Michael Keaton proved a big hit with the Con’s audience. His character, Raymond Sellars, is the man behind the company that creates all of the law-enforcing tech.
Keaton himself admitted that the character’s not so much a villain as an antagonist, and from the footage in the trailer, he certainly seemed to be playing up the character’s sympathetic side: there was no ruthless megalomania on display.
The character appeared to be in stark contrast with Ronny Cox’s Dick Jones in the original RoboCop , hinting at a different tone this time out.
America is Robophobic
As Jackson’s commentator points out, America is Robophobic. It’s this inherent distrust of the artificial intelligence that’s policing Tehran that creates the need for a RoboCop in the first place.
A fusing of flesh and metal seems to give Sellars’ customers the confidence they need for his machines to be walking the beat in their neighbourhoods.
Although, it does raise the tricky questions that the panel returned to again and again: how far can a robot take responsibility for its actions? And if it can’t feel fatigue or anger, can it feel compassion or remorse?
It looks as though Murphy's relationship with his wife (Abbie Cornish) is going to be used as a focal point to help thrash out these issues.
Gary Oldman will help breathe life into RoboCop
Gary Oldman was on hand to provide his own brand of comforting dependability as the scientist who helps to put the remains of Murphy’s body into the prototype RoboCop suit.
From what we saw in the trailer, it looks as if he’ll be more of an avuncular guide than a potential villain.
There will be nods to the original
The original silver suit is referenced in two ways. There’s a scene where Keaton’s Sellars is looking at a blueprint of the suit, which looks strikingly like the original film’s design, before he calls for something slicker, asking to have it in black (it’s not clear if Lucius Fox works for his robotics company).
Later in the trailer, as the action montage ramps up, we see a couple of shots of a silver suit in action, but it’s not clear if it’s Kinnaman in the suit, and it’s hard to tell what point in the narrative the shots might be taken from.
But those aren’t the only nods…
There are also nods to the originals weapons and voice
Despite the increased technology, it still seems as if RoboCop’s weapon of choice is an machine handgun (even if he has traded in his police car for a slick black motorcycle).
RoboCop’s voice also sounds similar to the digitally augmented tones of Peter Weller’s take on the character, not least when he delivers a reprise of the classic line, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
If there’s a major difference in the suit though (the colour change excepted), it’s that it seems to have less of the hulking presence that made the original so intimidating. The rebooted version has a much slimmer, more streamlined approach.
RoboCop opens in the UK on 7 February 2014.