Thoughts on Robocop

This photo was taken for the new Robocop movie coming out. As you can see, the newly designed suit is not unlike the redesigned Batman suit of Nolan’s series of films. I’m not exactly sure what prompted the need to be different from the old silver suit worn by Peter Weller before Robert John Burke.

If you don’t need to be reminded, skip to the next section after…

Rebooting your Memories

The original Robocop was a strange, interesting conglomerate that satirizes commercialism, discussed unionization of police forces, internal corporation rivalry and exposed a world where the line between government and corporation was thinning. The financially strapped city government hires OCP, Omni-Consumer Products, to contract out the police force as a cost saving measure. OCP in turn, looks for ways to automate the labor, resulting in the revivial and cyborgization of one Alex Murphy.

The second movie was different on many levels, and in some ways is more interesting to talk about. The CEO of OCP had a new vision for how to handle Detroit: privatization. Basically, that meant turning an entire city into a home owner’s association. With the Detroit city government growing closer to defaulting on its debt to OCP, taking over of the city somehow becomes a possibility. Apparently, seizing a government somehow includes seizing everyone’s private property as well. Yeah, I don’t think that’s how the law really works.

This vision for Detroit can be seen as benevolent, but flawed by its methods. If they explore it again in the new movies, it would be a great way to shake up the tiring “profit hungry corporate mindset” of a villain.

With the police force still on strike against OCP, the corporation needs new volunteers to produce a bigger and better version of Robocop, their one success in a sea of failed prototypes. When Robo’s war on drugs happens to put drug lord Cain in police custody however, an OCP executive sees a chance to produce to a new prototype that she can control. Themes of the drug war, gentrification, public budgetary concerns and corporate image were all present, but these themes were not well explored.

The third involved a corporate take over just as OCP moves to seize control of Detroit. It involved robot ninjas. I think I’ll leave it at that.

A World to Mold

Robocop, formerly Alex Murphy, is a product of his setting. The world of Robocop’s Detroit is not unlike modern life, but differs on a simple key point. In reality, the government often comes after corporations waving a stick, and corporations in turn lobby and strike a deal (more often to their, not always our, mutual benefit) to calm the bureaucrats down. In Robocop’s world, the corporations have somehow near fully reversed the bureaucratic-food-chain, and have the government by the cojones.

In this shaky situation, a figure like Robocop can have dozens of variations, as he tries to walk a line between respect for private rights while upholding the public good. While justice is a rock, hard and unyielding, law is the wind, changing direction to match the times, so what is to be done in the face of sometimes contradictory legal arrangements? And the question must be asked as to whether he is man or machine by legal definition, for the outcome of which defines him as person or property.

In the second movie, others resisted becoming a robot cop. But Murphy survived the complexities of his psychological arrangement in that his original raison d’etre was to be a cop and a believer in law and order to begin with. But that is not to say he didn’t have his own internal struggles as his directives conflicted with his past life as father and husband.

There is a lot of depth here to explore beyond the ultra-violence of the original comics. And to that effect, the new Robocop movie seems to have enlisted some intriguing talent. Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton are all thrown around on the IMDB listing. But the titular role is left to Joel Kinnaman, formerly of AMC’s The Killing.

I certainly hope they intend to Nolanize the Robocop series, at least in the psychological way. But I do miss the familiar silver suit of the Tin Cop.

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