When Deadline first announced that South African director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, Chappie) had been tapped to put Delta City back on its feet by directing Robocop Returns, our initial reaction was something like this:
…but, to be fair, that’s our reaction whenever a white male director of a certain age tries to mount his fan fiction as a continuation of an inert franchise – something Blomkamp has tried to do before with his mooted Aliens sequel before Ridley Scott put a stop to that (bit of a lose/lose situation there, really).
Further reading, however, gives us a glimmer of hope. Original Robocop writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner are on board on the production side of things, while Justin Rhodes, who penned James Cameron and Tim Miller’s Terminator reboot, is rewriting a script that Neumeier and Miner wrote years ago as a sequel to the 1987 Original Recipe Robocop.
That Robocop is, of course, a stone cold classic. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven took what could have been a cheapie SF B movie actioner and made… well, a cheapie SF B movie actioner, but a really subversive and satirical one, dripping with black humour and loaded with a cynical, nigh-misanthropic take on ’80s-style unchecked capitalism. Starring Peter Weller as the titular cyborg cop, the film’s influence cannot be understated, both on cinema and, damningly, the real world (check your newsfeed – we are living in a satirical sci-fi dystopia).
Which explains Blomkamp’s interest in the project, apart from him being a Nerd of a Certain Age. He has, for better or worse, always tried to imbue his films with political themes, highlighting the refugee crisis and wealth disparity in particular. Speaking to Deadline, Blomkamp said, “The original definitely had a massive effect on me as a kid. I loved it then and it remains a classic in the end of 20th Century sci-fi catalog, with real meaning under the surface. Hopefully that is something we can get closer to in making of a sequel. That is my goal here. What I connected to as a kid has evolved over time. At first, the consumerism, materialism and Reaganomics, that ’80s theme of America on steroids, came through most strongly. But as I’ve gotten older, the part that really resonated with me is identity, and the search for identity. As long as the human component is there, a good story can work in any time period, it’s not locked into a specific place in history. What’s so cool about RoboCop is that like good Westerns, sci-fi films and dramas, the human connection is really important to a story well told. What draws me now is someone searching for their lost identity, taken away at the hands of people who are benefiting from it, and seeing his memory jogged by events. That is most captivating. The other thing I am excited by is the chance to work again with Justin Rhodes. He has added elements that are pretty awesome, to a sequel that was set in the world of Verhoeven. This is a movie I would love to watch.”
The original Robocop spawned two sequels, two TV series, and two cartoons (if you squint, Verhoeven’s hyper-violent anti-capitalist parable being watered down and repackaged for the Saturday morning crowd looks like part of the satire), before being remade to underwhelming effect by José Padilha in 2014, with Joel Kinnaman under the visor. Real talk: all subsequent takes on Robo have been various flavours of terrible (although Robocop 2, written by Sin City‘s Frank Miller, has its moments). The bar is incredibly low here. If Blomkamp can clear it by even a couple of inches, that’s a win.
In the meantime, watch this: