For those who’ve been following Film ‘89 since it went live, it will come as no surprise whatsoever that we’re all big fans of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Action/Sci-fi classic RoboCop. In fact, I’ll go one better than that, it’s my personal favourite movie, period. So it was with feelings of both positive and negative anticipation, that I learned earlier today of the proposed new RoboCop film under production at MGM (now under the ownership of Sony Pictures).
The reveal, although scant on specific details, came via the co-writer and producer of the 1987 original, Ed Neumeier. Neumeier, who along with writing partner Michael Miner, had created the character, had very little to do with the two sequels that followed. Although he was given a writers credit on the poorly received 2014 remake, this is more than likely down to having crafted the character as opposed to any new creative input to that film.
Neumeier spoke to Zeitgeist Magazine magazine about the upcoming project;
“We’re not supposed to say too much. There’s been a bunch of other RoboCop movies and there was recently a remake and I would say this would be kind of going back to the old RoboCop we all love and starting there and going forward. So it’s a continuation really of the first movie. In my mind. So it’s a little bit more of the old school thing.”
Now whilst other news outlets will understandably resolve to picking apart the meaning of this statement and the possible directions the new film will go in, instead I’ll indulge in a little personal wish fulfilment if you’ll allow me. Now you can read my very personal pieces on both the 1987 original, it’s 1990 sequel and the 2014 remake (see links below). To sum up the latter, it was, in my opinion a dull and lifeless remake that brought nothing of any worth to the table. It was representative of a Hollywood that has lost its teeth, a neutered, risk averse film aimed at such a broad demographic as to end up completely without aim, purpose or direction. I found it so average as to be offensive given how completely subversive and ballsy the original film was.
If Neumeier and MGM are listening, what I’d like them to do, and what they really should do, is ensure that they avoid a repeat of the factors that led to the rushed 1990 sequel reoccurring. By that I mean an ailing Orion Pictures, desperate for a quick buck, and the original director, Paul Verhoeven, whose style was so crucial to the feel of the original, being unavailable (he was making Total Recall at the time). Now if MGM learn from their mistakes with the 2014 remake and allow both the writer, clearly a man with an affinity for the character, and the director – yet to be announced but if not Verhoeven then at least someone with the guts to make a daring and subversive film in the same style as the original – to do their thing unencumbered by studio interference. Many believe that it was just such studio interference that led to José Padilha’s remake ending up the way it did, one of its biggest drawbacks being its restrictive PG-13 sensibilities. Because have no doubt, any decent RoboCop sequel has to be aimed squarely at adults, it can’t pull any punches because the Old Detroit of that film simply isn’t a nice place.
My other suggestion is to not underestimate your audience but also not to pander to presumed fan expectations. Now that may sound rich coming from a self confessed über fan of the original but the sequel I’ve had floating around in my mind for the longest time wouldn’t necessarily be the expected balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza one might expect. Whilst it would indeed have more than its fair share of grandstanding action and violence, I would also like to see a film that gives sufficient attention to an organic progression of the Murphy we saw at the end of the first film. He was steadily regaining his humanity but would still need to deal with the fact that his physical body had been stripped away. Something like that would, in all probability, lead to someone not wanting to exist without being able to experience the intimate human interactions most of us take for granted. A film that explored the deeper implications of this would be a natural and logical progression of the place we left off. The original film, for all it’s reliance on superbly staged shoot-outs and big explosions, had several underlying themes subtext and social commentary that made it so much more enriching than the majority of its peers. I’ll take some of that in my sequel please, not Samuel L. Jackson ranting on about drones! I have a further idea as to how I’d conclude such a film but I’ll keep that to myself for now. If in a few years I find myself writing about this new RoboCop film and they don’t go with an ending like that, I’ll be sure to reveal it.
This new film doesn’t have to be set 30 plus years on as might be expected. Murphy can either be (carefully) recast, or Peter Weller can just be made up or subtly enhanced with CG. Ultimately there’s every likelihood that Peter Weller won’t return to the project as he’s recently told the creators of the forthcoming RoboDoc that he’s effectively done with talking about the character ever again and one may also assume that that equates to him not wanting to ever don that suit again. Whilst not ideal, that can still be worked around and ultimately, a suitably well made and well written film could make up for such a change.
Do we need another attempt at capturing that elusive lightning in a bottle formula that made the original film so enduring? Given the quality of almost every iteration of the character that followed that’s a valid question. But God only knows that the 1987 film is finally deserving of a worthy follow-up as what came in it’s wake went from disappointing to utterly woeful. I don’t think there’s a film out there I’d like to see more, a sequel that stands true to what made the original great, that compliments it whilst taking its central premise and characters in believable directions. It can be done. Danny Boyle did just that with Trainspotting 2 last year as did Sylvester Stallone with both Rocky Balboa and Rambo IV. Those films felt like they were borne out of a reverence and respect for the original films whilst feeling like they existed in the same universe and ultimately wrapped things up nicely for their central characters.
If it doesn’t come to pass then I’ll deal with it. As a lifelong fan of the original I’m used to such disappointment but if they don’t try then we’ll never get that great RoboCop sequel that I know in my heart can be made by the right people with the right sensibilities.
Oh, and one more very personal suggestion… if your going to make a sequel to the original that truly aims to ignore all that followed… call it RoboCop 2.