This week, while promoting the divisive second season of “The Killing,” Joel Kinnaman was asked about his newly inked lead role in MGM’s RoboCop remake. Kinnaman said this to MTV:
RoboCop is going to be a lot more human. The first movie is one of my favorite movies. I love it. Of course, Verhoeven has that very special tone, and it’s not going to have that tone. It’s a re-imagination of it. There’s a lot of stuff from the original. There are some details and throwbacks, but this version is a much better acting piece, for Alex Murphy and especially when he is RoboCop. It’s much more challenging. [...] It’s not going to be jaw action. They’re still working on the suit and how it’s going to look, but the visor is going to be see-through. You’re going to see his eyes.
Paul Verhoeven’s original, often remembered for the “I’ll buy that for a dollar” catch phrase and late ’80s look, is an overlooked sci-fi classic. Its clever social commentary, on mostly corruption, is fundamental science fiction (from writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, who went on to more action-packed social skewering with Starship Troopers). The original is dark and violent, with parallel scenes of human criminals and cops unloading bullets into the hero’s body.
The eyes are an integral part of Verhoeven’s original. He shoots several scenes in first-person, providing that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a computerized body. However, eyes in his helmet? Nope. KITT from “Knight Rider” had more optical expression than RoboCop. Verhoeven deliberately covers Murphy’s blue eyes, until a gradual, emotional third-act reveal. “You may not like what you’re going to see,” RoboCop says, before revealing not just his eyes but an eeirly human mask. The movie ends when he proudly answers his name. “Murphy.”
Kinnaman acknowledges the “re-imagining” is headed in a new direction, though the see-through visor suggests otherwise. An “acting piece” involving a half-human/half-machine inevitably falls back on the common sci-fi theme: the dueling identites of cyborgs. Six Million Dollar Man. Terminator 2. Battlestar Galactica. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Even Darth Vader.
Maybe this RoboCop remake has even bigger surprises in store, thought that seems less likely considering the “green” genre folks involved creatively. Maybe that’s an unfair assumption. Admittedly, I’m still in mourning for Darren Aronofsky’s aborted take. Honestly, I just hope it’s a true, R-rated “re-imagining,” and that Kinnaman is practicing his best robot moves.
Oddly enough, we’ve seen a reversal of this mentality with another upcoming remake: Judge Dredd. Pete Travis’ Dredd hits theaters eleven months before the RoboCop redo and star Karl Urban told me Judge Dredd will never remove his helmet, in accordance with the almighty comic book. The production team is insistent Dredd will keep it on, the entire time, hoping to appease fans after Sylvester Stallone’s un-helmeted disaster in 1995.
Of course, Dredd isn’t a cyborg like RoboCop, but each is his own indestructible one-man-army, an unwavering symbol of law programmed to uphold it in a dystopian society. If the eyes are the window to the human soul, what does it say about a movie that refuses to show them? Do you prefer the dark enigma or the soulful connection with an automated killing machine?
A similar debate surfaces with any discussion of a Halo movie: how do you base a movie on a character — the game series’ surrogate, Master Chief — who never shows his face?
Naturally, how the helmet masks or reveals a hero depends on the story, and we’ll have to wait and see how the two play out. I suspect Dredd may also have an issue following The Raid: Redemption as a straightforward thriller about storming a high-rise full of murderous thugs.