RoboCop Returns? Maybe!

It doesn’t get much more classic than 1987’s RoboCop, Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian sci-fi masterpiece. Even those descriptors don’t begin to cover it: the movie is action-packed, hilarious, subversive, steeped in allegory, bitingly satirical, at times surprisingly moving, and just so, so violent. RoboCop announced Verhoeven, a professional provocateur, to the world — and it’s safe to say that audiences saddling up for the film based on its title alone got way more than they bargained for, in the best sense of that phrase.

The two sequels that followed the movie were — how shall we put this — not fantastic, despite a pretty strong pedigree. Both films were written by comics legend Frank Miller, while 1990’s RoboCop 2 was directed by Irvin Kershner (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back) and 1993’s RoboCop 3 was helmed by Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad).

In the years since, RoboCop — AKA Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who is part man, part machine, all cop — has retained his hold on the collective pop culture imagination. He’s had not one, not two, but four television series, and a 2014 feature reboot (which, despite the presence of the excellent Joel Kinnaman in the lead, was terrible). But in 2018, it was announced that original RoboCop screenrwriters Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner would be writing a new film: a direct sequel to the original, titled RoboCop Returns, based on a screenplay that the pair wrote in the ’80s.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, then you know that extremely belated sequels to beloved sci-fi films have become a very, very dicey proposition of late. 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 and 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate spring immediately to mind; despite warm critical receptions, both movies underperformed pretty severely. (Okay, there’s no sugarcoating it — Dark Fate was a massive flop.) Also, interestingly enough, Justin Rhodes — one of the screenwriters behind Dark Fate — has also been hired to assist Neumeier and Miner with the revision of their original script.

We should not, however, underestimate the place that RoboCop holds in the hearts of moviegoers, at least those of a certain age. After a period of development by District 9 helmer Neill Blomkamp, Neumeier and Miner’s script has been passed off to Abe Forsythe (Little Monsters), who will do his best to satisfy both fans of the original movie  and newcomers to Old Detroit. Read on to learn everything we know so far about RoboCop Returns; you have ten seconds to comply.

We don’t yet have a wealth of details about the plot of the new movie, but in early 2019 — when Blomkamp was still attached to the picture — Neumeier doled out a few interesting tidbits in an interview with HN Entertainment. According to the scribe, Blomkamp’s intention — which presumably will have rubbed off on Forsythe — was to make a “proper Verhoeven [style film], if Verhoeven had directed a movie right after RoboCop.” He went on to suggest that the villain that Murphy will be facing this time around will be slightly more formidable than RoboCop’s Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) or Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), who had to hide behind armies of police officers and the ED-209 killbot to try to take out Murphy. No, this new villain will be quite capable of taking on RoboCop himself.

“I don’t want to spoil anything,” said Neumeier, “but we had some ideas about, shall we say, about the future of augmented humans, and one of our villains is that — and our other villain lives in the corporate world somewhat as before, but, you know, the RoboCop thing for me was always exploring man’s relationship with technology, coping with technology.”

It sounds like RoboCop is going to be dealing with a RoboCrook in the new picture; one thing we don’t yet know, however, is if he’ll have to come out of retirement to do so, as it’s unclear whether the film will be set shortly after the events of the original or decades hence. It may depend largely upon one thing: whether or not Weller returns to his iconic role.

No casting news has yet come down the pike for RoboCop Returns, but there’s really just one announcement that everyone’s waiting for: who will be in the lead. As to the involvement of Weller, all we know for sure is that when Blomkamp was attached to the project, he lobbied publicly for the star’s return — although some outlets have since reported that Weller was offered the role, and turned it down.

Of course, Weller is now in his 70s, but if he were to agree to return, there are a couple of ways this could be addressed. First, Miner has said in an HN Entertainment interview (those guys have really been all over RoboCop Returns news) that in the original script for the film, there was a 30-year time jump. Now, the original intention was to make the film in the ’80s, so the plot dealt with Murphy being placed in suspended animation, then thawed out to deal with a new threat decades later, Demolition Man-style. With a few minor tweaks, however, this could be changed to make Murphy an older, seasoned, veteran RoboCop.

Second: they’re doing wonders with digital de-aging these days, and it’s worth noting that Weller’s face and voice are the two most important components of his performance as Murphy. For that matter, even if the star weren’t willing to squeeze into the suit himself, it’d be fairly simple to use a stand-in while shooting the picture, then digitally insert Weller’s face (and have him overdub the dialogue) in post-production.

For the time being, though, this is all pure speculation. We’ll have to wait to see whether Weller makes a triumphant return to his signature role until RoboCop Returns gets a little further down the pre-production road, and casting officially begins.

It may not surprise you to know that RoboCop Returns does not yet have an official release date, and since the flick is not yet cast, it won’t be going before the cameras for awhile. Assuming a typical time frame to complete pre-production and casting now that Forsythe has taken the reins, though, we can guess that principal photography may commence by summer 2020; it would likely be completed by the fall, and if so, we’d likely be looking at a release in the spring or summer of 2021.

This is just an educated guess, though, and it’s always possible that the production could hit another stumbling block or two on its road to the screen. Of course, we’ll be keeping both ears to the ground for any and all official announcements having to do with RoboCop Returns, and you can count on us to keep you up to speed.

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