This is a fairly unexpected bit of news, but I have to say… I like it.
Jose Padilha is a very smart filmmaker, and in Brazil, he’s been responsible for two gigantic monster commercial hits, “Elite Squad” and “Elite Squad 2,” and the sequel is actually the biggest movie of all time in that country. I can see why, too. The first film was pretty much a straight action movie about Captain Nascimento, who is assigned to try and clean up or at least contain the favelas of Rio before the Pope visits the country. He’s given carte blanche to do it any way he can, and in the first film, he is an unrelenting badass.
In the second film, though, Padilha turned everything inside out, and Nascimento, played by Wagner Moura, goes after the crooked politicians and corrupt policemen who keep Rio so divided, and watching him work his way up the ladder of corruption was a cathartic release for Brazilian audiences. They’d never seen anything like it, and to actually watch a policeman stomp a politician into the dirt was unheard of.
In a way, Padilha’s in the exact right place to pick up the challenge thrown down by Paul Verhoeven on the original “Robocop.” In addition to his “Elite Squad” films, he’s also a strong documentarian, and his films all have a political point of view. The fact that he can also handle unhinged action sequences and strong character material makes him a pretty solid package all the way around, and his sensibilities seem to me to be a nice match for where Verhoeven was as a filmmaker when he was given his opportunity to make “Robocop.”
The thing about this particular property is that none of the sequels or TV versions have ever recaptured the thing that made the first “Robocop” so wonderful, which was its jet-black sense of humor and its pointed take on corporate politics. Anyone could have made a bloody action movie called “Robocop,” but to take that material and tweak it into something with a soul and with a social conscience… that wasn’t easy.
If they’re serious about doing “Robocop” again, I hope they aim high. Darren Aronofsky was an intriguing choice because I don’t think he’d let himself make “just” a dumb action movie, and while Padilha doesn’t have quite the same amount of clout built up with American studios, he’s proven that he can mix the action with the ideological, and that he understands that you can bury any message, no matter how subversive, in what looks like an action movie if you’re crafty.
I’m curious to see if this all comes together, but this is a very promising name, and I’m pleased to see this is how MGM’s thinking about “Robocop”.