When Jose Padilha’s “RoboCop” remake hit theaters a few months ago, audiences might have been surprised at how political the PG-13 action movie was compared to its R-rated 1987 predecessor. While the film still had plenty of (CGI) violence, the film also deals with prudent issues surrounding drone warfare and law enforcement technology.
“The movie’s about drones. If you look at a movie like ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ you see the training of the soldiers so they kill without criticizing what they’re doing. Today, [some want] to get the soldiers out of the way for machines. And I thought that idea, which was fictional in 1987, ain’t fictional anymore. We’ve got drones,” Padilha told The Wrap at the film’s premiere party.
“Yesterday, there was an article about whether America could kill an American with a drone in Afghanistan. It’s just like in the movie. If it’s a Pakistani guy, then we can kill him, but if it’s an American, it’s a legal issue? The movie’s about that, and it’s going to be true of every country,” predicted Padilha.
Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of films with the underlying tone of “drones being ran by bad guys.” In Joseph Kosinski’s 2013 post-apocalyptic science fiction film Oblivion we saw Tom Cruise’s character initially embracing the utility of drones before the film ultimately shows us (with the help of Morgan Freeman) how treacherous they can be. In Marvel’s superb Captain America: The Winter Soldier we find out that the flying fortresses (which is basically one big drone) are utilizing predictive analytics and data mining in order to establish who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, then using that information to promptly take them out.
When asked by Mother Jones why the choice was made to make a comic book movie about domestic spying and drones, Winter Soldier director Joe Russo gave a rather simple answer. “[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller,” he explained. “So we said, ‘If you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience.’”
Most recently Bryan Singer’s excellent (yet plot-holed filled) X-Men: Days Of Future Past deals with this issue via a dystopian future where robots known as Sentinels are exterminating mutants and tyrannizing humans who harbor the genes that lead to mutant offspring.
When X-Men screenwriter Simon Kinberg spoke to The Daily Beast, he was asked about Hollywood seemingly targeting the U.S. drone program; “I think the best science-fiction, especially literature, is political in nature and is often an allegory about something problematic in our world, and it’s something that makes the X-Men comics so relevant—they’re about xenophobia and prejudice. There is a slightly more political bent to the movies, and we all have a political point of view, and it creeps into the films.”
As far as actually politics, Barack Obama shouldn’t be too concerned—at least not yet. Hollywood focusing on drones lately is one thing. The question now is whether they can persuade the rest of us to care as well. This is also not to suggest that these films are purely think pieces. These are still big-budget genre movies that have been met with emphatically mixed reviews. But in the cinematic doldrums as of late, moviegoers will have an opportunity to grapple with many of the same questions now consuming their elected leaders — minus Magneto, Robocop and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.