So this subplot about the cops going on strike in the first two RoboCop movies has me feeling…conflicted. As I mentioned last time, the primary way America’s ruling class has made sure nothing like the 1960s ever happens again is by conflating the demands of all protest movements (that they don’t secretly bankroll, like the Tea Party) with the demands of spoiled children. I want to pass a cop on the street without fear they’ll shoot me in the back seven times and then get away with it by calling me “no angel” on a news program my grieving mom will, in all likelihood, see. And that’s exactly the same as requesting a unicorn that shits gold nuggets.
This works spectacularly well…except when the cops go on strike. To be fair, in our dimension, most big city cops aren’t even legally allowed to strike (and that’s a whole other issue), but they are allowed to do what they call “work-to-rule” and what every other unionized workforce calls “a slowdown” – that is, do the bare minimum their job requires. This is the form most police “strikes” have taken in the past twenty years, and they’ve only occurred when the cops started acting like the spoiled children they pretend the rest of us are.
The big example (that I could find by doing the bare minimum my job requires) comes from the Actually Important City of New York, after the cops who choked Eric Garner to death actually had to face a jury over it. That jury, naturally, declined to indict them, but that didn’t matter to the spoiled children of the NYPD – allowing it to get even that far was a massive injury to their already-fragile egos. So for about seven weeks, starting at the end of 2014, New York’s Finest Sore Winners stopped doing the kind of “proactive” “broken-windows” policing made famous by Commissioner William Bratton back in the 1990s. No more stop-n-frisks, no more citations for, say, drinking outdoors, and a lot fewer misdemeanor arrests. And the real hell of it is, rather than descending into the violent hellscape we usually see depicted in movies where the cops go on strike (like say, for example, RoboCop 2), New York City got along just fine. If anything, according to research published in Nature, “our results show that crime complaints decreased, rather than increased, during a slowdown in proactive policing, contrary to deterrence theory.”
So what’s my point? “Oh, this movie about a cyborg cop from 1990 is actually unrealistic. Zero out of Ten. Worst Sequel Ever.” No. My point is, the original RoboCop trilogy (which is what I call these films, half ironically, for the sake of brevity) emerged at exactly the point when American metropolitan policing began to mutate into its modern form. That’s why the cop strike is portrayed both as a useless, if not outright counter-productive distraction…and also in a way that’s deliberately meant to inspire sympathy. That’s a good, ol’ fashioned, blue collar picket line they’ve got going outside Metro West in this film, instantly recognizable to, say, Michael Moore’s United Auto Workers grandfather, who participated in the first sit-down strike. And when the opening Media Break has a cop on to say, “OCP cut our salaries by forty percent and cancelled our pensions,” half of me can’t help but go, “Damn…that’s a dick move.”
But the other half of me knows the cops in my town get a budget of $250 million a year. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a Star Wars movie’s worth of money to play with, every year, with no civilian oversight that isn’t a complete fucking joke. For a city of barely more than half a million people with one of the lowest murder rates in the country. Forty percent of $250 is $100 million, and it sure would be nice to have that go to, say, schools. Or our pothole-filled roads. Or the fucking parks, whose budget is regularly raided to fund the cop’s requests for more gold-shitting unicorns. Or more tear gas. Or more tacti-cool body armor. Those Punisher skull and white supremacist militia tattoos aren’t going to cover up themselves.
The best thing about RoboCop is it’s self-contained – a near-perfect movie that ends on a perfect note, allowing us all to move on. Except we live in an avaricious, capitalist hellscape, built around the idea that we can never really move on from anything. Even if we do, that thing will instantly become fodder for the Nostalgia Factory, which has been running at full capacity for my entire lifetime, and most of the parent’s lifetimes as well. It devoured RoboCop instantly and RoboCop‘s cash-strapped production company, Orion Pictures, couldn’t ignore a win. They desperately needed one at the time.
Nineteen Eighty-Eight saw Orion become the prize in a pissing contest between two billionaire assholes – TV magnate John Kluge, whom you’ve probably never heard of, and Sumner Redstone, whom you probably have, since he just died and his family are still the major shareholders in Viacom (which in turn owns CBS and Paramount, which means Star Trek and the Transformers and the Ninja Turtles and a lot of other things I used to think were cool). Kluge won the battle for Orion just in time see his prize release two years worth of flops, including everything from Milos Foreman’s Valmont to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s UHF. The closest thing they had to a hit was this gory, sci-fi social satire about the existential crises inherent to life under capitalism. Exactly the kind of thing one would want to mine for franchise fodder, am I right?
And mine it they did, licensing Murphy out to Marvel Comics, which produced the first RoboCop monthly and the first RoboCop animated series. Like a lot of late-80s animated series, it was primarily about making twenty-minute toy commercials. But it also did episodes about workplace prejudice (our SWAT leader pal, Lt. Hedgecock, playing a major role in that), Middle Eastern-coded “terrorism,” and OCP’s pollution of Detroit’s rivers. That one guy we see behind the ED-209’s controls for one second, Dr. McNamara, was the main villain. And it was…fine. Nothing special, especially with the Ninja Turtles already ascending, but it was at least better than the back halves of G.I. Joe and The Transformers. Funniest thing about it I could find out about it is, allegedly, Marvel took the money earmarked for a thirteenth episode and used it to make Pryde of the X-Men instead. Look me in the eye and say they made the wrong call, I dare you.
One piece of late-80s topicality the animated series didn’t deal with was the so-called War on Drugs. First declared by the demon Richard Milhouse Nixon early in his reign, really all he did was put a name to Lyndon Johnson’s already-existing war on the fun young people who rightly opposed their country’s multiplying wars on Southeast Asia’s civilian populations. Which was itself an extension of the US ruling class’ ongoing war against non-rich people in general, but especially those with more melanin in their skin, under the cover of the so-called “Cold War” that, actually and unfortunately, wasn’t all that cold for a lot of people.
Throughout history, the working classes of the world have used various types of drugs to temporarily dull the pain of their otherwise miserable lives, and the ruling classes have used that as an excuse to inflict more misery. This brutality tends to get worse in periods of economic stagnation and political turmoil…like the 1970s and ’80s. So it’s no surprise the devil Reagan and his CIA handler George Bush the First ramped things up to the point where Bush invaded Panama just to get one drug dealing general/self-declared president-for-life…who’d been a US ally for decades, with a CIA salary and everything, until he got a little too loud and proud about cracking down on local protestors…and even staged his own “counter-protest” outside the U.S. embassy in Panama City, once.
Noriega – the really real Noriega – surrendered on January 3, 1990, six months and nineteen days before RoboCop 2 premiered. Nobody in my country remembers the invasion of Panama anymore, despite it killing at least 300 (and perhaps as many as 3000) civilians, and inspiring no less a figure than Captain America himself to go on a rant in the street this one time. But now that I’ve reminded you, perhaps you can see why Dangerous Drugs were on everyone’s mind, and why a RoboCop film might want to deal with them. Had the original writing team stuck around they still might’ve failed to equal the sublime perfection of the original…but they might’ve at least made something I could call “good.” without all the qualifications I’m going to have to add.
Instead, comic book writer Frank Miller, fresh of the success of Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, got the job of penning at least one (and possibly two) RoboCop sequels. Miller and his co-workers have told several contradictory stories about what happened on this job over the years. Either Orion took his script and butchered it, ripping out parts it would eventually re-purpose into RoboCop 3 and replacing them with crap…or his script was crap to begin with and the producers rightly brought in Wild Bunch co-writer Walon Green to at least make it coherent crap. The 2003 Avatar Press comic, supposedly based on Miller’s original script but actually written by Steven “2 Guns” Grant, seems to bear this out. Or maybe all Miller had to give Grant were fragmentary notes and half-remembered plot points from what was, by then, thirteen years earlier. Whatever really happened, the events left such a sour taste in Miller’s mouth that he spent the rest of the 1990s, and half the 2000s, swearing he’d never let Hollywood touch his precious word-babies ever again. Only Nixon could go to China and only Robert Rodriguez could make the Sin City movies.
The result of all this is a RoboCop 2 whose infrequent attempts to move Murphy’s story forward are continually ignored in favor of telling a poor redux of the last movie. It’s a text book example of what my friend and colleague, the historian Chad Denton, once called a “Xerox Sequel.” A term I told him I was going to steal for exactly this essay the moment I saw it.
So Officer Alex Murphy of the Detroit Police Department once again becomes a pawn in Omni-Consumer Product’s (OCP’s) plan to bankrupt the city of Detroit and replace it with the first city that’s also a wholly owned subsidiary of a multinational corporation. He also has to face off against a gang of cliched, late-80s action movie drug dealers, with a leader who’s Designated as Charismatic by the script, but in the finished film comes off as the kind of serious asshole who’d be unable to lead a pack of meth heads to a shady apartment complex. Unlike the previous film, said drug dealer is not some OCP big wig’s retainer…at least, not a first. And even at the end, not by choice. But it all culminates in a big fight at OCP headquarters, with those most directly responsible facing what passes for justice in this world, while the company as a whole (personified by the Old Man in charge) escapes to screw Detroit over another day.
A stunning number of RoboCop fans rejected this film’s characterization of the Old Man, as they did in Marvel’s initial comic book run, feeling he’s way more evil than he was in the last movie. I, on the other hand, love the fact he’s just flat-out corporate evil now, and offer my colleagues the contention that, just because he didn’t get the opportunity to be so in the last movie, that doesn’t make him good. I’d go even further and say that my fellow critic’s apparent mass willingness to trust the Old Man, seemingly by virtue of little more than the fact he’s played by the great Dan O’Herlihy, who looks and sounds like everyone’s jovial Irish grandpa, explains how OCP got away with so much in the first place. Someone turned OCP into the company it is when we come in, and the suspect list gets shorter with each flick. No matter how much he “means well,” or how “sweet” he was to his underlings, the fact remains: the Old Man raised a Dick Jones, just like Adam raised a Cain.
Dick and Bob Morton were really not much more than Mark II versions of The Old Man – the next generation, who didn’t have to build anything, only kiss the asses of those who did long enough to get the key card to the really nice bathrooms. The Old Man here is still very disappointed by the failure to produce more RoboCops so, if nothing else, his love for a product that actually works remains consistent. But his breed of sweet-seeming, corporate paternalism is no less evil than Dick’s amoral greed or Bob’s shark-like drive to enable his own licentiousness. The Old Man displays both qualities here, coldly telling the mayor of Detroit about his plans privatize the city and, a few scenes later we (through the now-head-of-Security Concepts, Johnson) catch him sharing a hot tub with the real secondary villain of this picture, despite all the dangers inherent in screwing one of your employees – one of the few things corporate tycoons of the early ’90s genuinely feared, if Michael Crichton’s novel Disclosure is anything to go by.
The only legitimately sweet thing we saw the Old Man do in the last film was treat Murphy like a person, even after he burst into a meeting covered in industrial run-off and Clarence Boddicker’s blood. “How can we help you, Officer?” he asked, like your supposed to with a cop. And at the end he said, “Nice shooting, son. What’s your name?” He seems to have no life outside of work and no biological kids that we see, so maybe his calling Murphy “son” was more than an old school verbal tic, common to Westerns (which that scene explicitly referenced in its cinematography and Murphy’s gunslinger stance). Maybe he views his products as his children and his “dream” of Delta City is the ultimate baby. During this film’s climactic battle he screams “Behave yourselves!” at both RoboCops, a line that was perfect for the trailers, and exactly what a dad would yell at a pair of squabbling siblings.
At the same time, the Old Man must’ve re-read Bob Morton’s briefings about how Murphy’s not supposed to have a name between films – that he’s supposed to be a product – because at the start of this one, OCP is using the Detroit police strike as an excuse to deploy ED-209’s across the country and fast track the creation of more RoboCops. Neither project is going well. The EDs are still beholden to their own design flaws, and all the RoboCop 2s keep committing suicide. In desperation, the Old Man turns to psychologist Juliette Faxx, who manages, over the course of the film, to take control of the entire RoboCop program by literally sleeping her way to the top.
Faxx is, without question, the most “Frank Miller” character in the film, an incarnation of Miller’s Madonna/Whore Complex (guess which one she is) and obsession with what he perceived as the failures of popular psychology in general, and criminal psychology in particular. Like a lot of Dirty Harry fans, Miller never wanted to hear about the causes of crime, be they actual or proximate. Knowing those tends to mitigate the transitory dopamine rush you feel when a movie’s Designated Good Guy shoots a Bad Guy, and who wants that? Besides, psychology (for Miller, at least in this period) was nothing more than quack bullshit, and you know who’s into that? Chicks. Broads. Dames. And other synonyms for women that you better be damned good friends with before you start casually throwing terms like that around in their presence.
But as a social justice pyromancer, I would say something like that, wouldn’t I? Like everything else, psychology’s long-since been assimilated by corporate America’s “anything to make All The Money” ethos, which utilizes psychology for purposes that have nothing to do with the metal health of individuals, or their society. Quite the opposite. Corporate psychology’s primary concerns are either (a) leveraging people’s subconscious drives to sell them crap they don’t need (also known as “advertising” – and one thing I legitimately love about this film are its truly psychopathic ads) or (b) grinding the edges of a person’s morality down until their souls become as smooth as a beach rocks. Would it surprise you to learn a lot of Too Big to Fail financial institutions keep shrinks around specifically to help their employees not feel so bad about selling worthless financial products to, let’s say, just for example, city and state pension funds? The kind of thing that makes cities go bankrupt in real life? It surprised me. Because as cynical as I like to think I am, something always seems to come along and prove I’m still hopelessly naive.
As an avatar for all this, on paper, Dr. Faxx has the potential to be great. Her twin plans to both turn Murphy into the product his original creators wished him to be and smooth out the kinks in OCP’s RoboCop production line are perfect continuations of the franchise. The rest of her character is…less than perfect. She’s as ruthless, in her own way, as the Old Man…but I’m not really sure why, beyond the general, one-dimensional ruthlessness of this series’ entire society. She’s ruthless without being cunning, so I have no idea how she climbed high enough in OCP’s ranks to make bedroom eyes at the Old Man in the first place. She’s a doctor, so she must’ve at least heard of the Hippocratic Oath at some point, but that doesn’t stop her from altering Murphy’s programing or turning off a man’s life support and looking him right in the eye as his dies. Other doctors don’t have this problem – the lab coats in charge of Murphy’s upkeep in the precinct basement (neither of them named Lazarus, just FYI) both seem fine, and even the human weasel in charge of the cyborg side of the RoboCop 2 program has enough basic medical ethics to spend the whole movie objecting to everything Faxx does.
The real problem is we spend most of our time with Faxx after she’s no longer required to exercise any cunning. Within ten minutes of meeting her she’s “made it”…by “making it” with the Old Man. This whole company seems to be run on his whims so, once you fuck him, you apparently get free reign to fuck over everyone else. I like to imagine years of listening to OCP executives whine about how hard their jobs were built up a burning contempt in kindly Dr. Faxx – a resentment for everyone around her, well deserved, since even the best of them kinda suck. Maybe she sublimated all that into a lust for power, and that’s why she and Old Man connect…beyond the obvious. Or maybe I’m just desperately looking for some way to salvage a character who’s not even complicated enough to be called a “femme fatale.” A one-dimensional place holder villain, more fit for a TV episode than a two-hour movie from the director of The Empire Strikes Back…just like the drug dealing cult leader Faxx eventually turns into RoboCop 2, Cain.
Yes, his name is “Cain,” as in “and Abel.” It’s even spelled the same way, scientifically designed to make people like me go, “Oh, ok – so he’s RoboCop’s evil brother.” Except he’s not…again, he’s not much of anything, unless you stretch real far. Murphy had a wife and son, and we know what happened to them. Cain has Angie and Hob…but is theirs a familial relation relationship, or is that me reading between the few scenes we see? If we’re doing that, then Clarence Boddicker was a better evil brother to Murphy than Cain. Murphy wanted to be the protagonist in his kid’s favorite cop show, and somewhere a monkey’s paw heard him and one of its finger curled. Clarence already was the antagonist of a cop show – moreso now, I’d argue, than in 1987 – and he at least knew how to run a local drug empire. He was always on that grind. Cain’s grind seems to consist of him tooling around in his extra-large Cadillac, surveying his drug sweatshops, or just straight-up chilling in his dilapidated factory/lab.
Cain’s actor’s most popular previous role (these days) was as the Red Dragon in the first film adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel of the same name, confusingly called Manhunter. But I didn’t see Manhunter until well after I saw this, so Cain doesn’t even get the goodwill from me that superficial recognition brings. When Murphy’s falling into the trap they set for him at the factory, we pan over a weird collection of stuff that’s the closest thing Cain gets to actual characterization: a picture of Mother Teresa, a picture of Jesus, and a skeleton in an Elvis costume inside a glass coffin. Like Lenin’s. Except I know what Lenin’s tomb represents to the people who built it and the people who fear it. I have no idea what the Entombed Elvis means. That Rock is dead? I mean…no arguments here, even if Grunge was about to come along and give it a few years of Extraordinary Measures.
Like Dr. Faxx’s motivations, I can only speculate about Cain until I wind up rewriting the film entirely. Thanks to the power of BluRays and Pause buttons, we can now read Cain’s profile on Faxx’s computer, right before she shuts off his life support, and find out all kinds of wonderful stuff that we should’ve found out at least an hour prior. Like the fact his profile doesn’t even have his full name, or his age…but it does have the fact that he was dishonorably discharged during the Amazon War (presumably not from Brazil’s army). And all God’s children said, “What the fuuuuuck….?”
So in my head cannon, the CIA created the designer drug Nuke, and they’re using Cain to flood the streets with it, further destabilizing a United States that’s already falling down. Otherwise, nothing Cain does makes sense, either from a drug dealer’s, or a cult leader’s perspective. A lot of cult leaders use drugs to keep their cults in line, and a lot of drug dealers have cults of personality form around them when they get rich enough…but by trying to make Cain both, the movie only winds up creating a another incoherent villain.
It looks like they were going for a Charlie Manson type, with his tea shades and his grandiosity, but he’s too ’90s to be a Charlie – look at the size of that nose ring, or his series of badass long coats, some of which I still covet. His cult isn’t even a cult, really – apart from Angie, Hob, and that guy who looks like he stole a suit out of the Joker’s closet, they’re all the kind of standard issue, gun-toting thugs you can hire by the dozen in Gotham City. And as drug kingpins, this crew just straight-up sucks. Society used to tell children the lie that drug dealers love to hand out free samples, but even as a kid I figured nobody gives away free samples of things with the kind of profit margins you get out of drugs…never mind designer drugs.
Remember when designer drugs were a thing to actively fear? It happens every few years, but we’re in a lull at the moment. The thing about designer drugs is, they’re expensive as hell to make, since you need a lab and more than a basic knowledge of chemistry. (Shout-out to comic book writer Frank Miller, who plays Cain’s chemist in one scene and then dies via suicide bomb in his next.) That means you’ve gotta shift the cost to the costumer, so your only clients are going to be rich assholes and their dumb kids. Most of the truly popular drugs – the kind you can sell to a population as miserable and beaten down as Old Detroit’s looks in his film – come out of the ground and can be processed into salable forms with little more than a few pans you can throw away when you’re done. That’s where crack came from, and do you see where my friends and I got the idea that Cain is really CIA? Where else could he get the money for his sweet lab? Or make enough money off a designer drug to have whole bomb disposal vans full of cash…and gold bars! Stamped with what looks like the seal of the president. The president of what, you ask? That’s not funny, Pliskin.
About the only member of the Cain Gang who acts like a drug kingpin is Hob…who inspired his own micro moral panic when this film came out. I still remember Roger Ebert’s hand-wringing: “I hesitate to suggest the vicious little tyke has been shoehorned into this R-rated movie so that the kiddies will have someone to identify with when they see it on video, but stranger things have happened.” They have indeed, Roger. I myself hesitate to suggest certain critic’s alter boy upbringings in the suburbs of Chicago made them unable to continence the only half-interesting villain in this cast…but in fairness, little man doesn’t come into his own until the last twenty minutes, only to die just as he unveils his plan to save Detroit from OCP with millions in untraceable, probably-not-but-maybe-CIA-supplied cash, if only the mayor will legalize drugs.
If they were going to go with the multiple villain thing, so ruinous to so many superhero movies in the future, they should’ve settled on Cain and Hob: the next generation of Detroit gangster, filling the void Murphy created by killing Clarence Boddicker. Or maybe they should’ve gone with Hob and the Old Man – that, at least would’ve juxtaposed decrepit, creeping fascism with the amoral, status-obsessed youth it tends to create. (Which we, who were youth at the time this came out, didn’t identify with at all, thank you very much, Roger – we were too busy identifying with Murphy.) Hell, even a Hob and Faxx team-up might’ve worked – the amoral youth and the soulless corporate shrink studying him. Early on, Johnson whispers to the Old Man, “I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be a robot.” To which I say, “What, you’ve never met a twelve-year-old boy? Weren’t you a tweleve-year-old boy at one point, Johnson? Did you want to grow up to be some old white man’s toady?” Apparently there was a scene where Cain, Angie and Faxx met…but it got cut for time. Because why would you want to see the scene where our two villains meet for the first time and one gets the idea to turn the other into a killer robot? Nope – doesn’t sound important at all. Totally expendable.
While I’m arguing with my dead inspirations, Hob’s death scene isn’t just in deference to his tender age, Roger – it’s the closest thing to a resolution we get to the subplot about Murphy’s family. The first time Murphy sees Hob, he flashes back to his own son, and we soon discover he’s been driving past his old family’s new house on the regular. Mrs. Murphy’s responded by making moves to sue OCP, leading OCP’s lawyers to force Murphy to admit, on camera, “Nope, I’m just a machine. No Alex Murphy in here, no sir.” And then admit it again, to his wife’s face, making her break down and him sad enough to wander the precinct without his helmet. Hope you enjoyed this bit with Murphy’s family – it’s the last we’ll see of them until the remake, and by then, they’ll be boring. But near the end, with Hob, by bonding over the fact that dying of multiple gunshot wounds does indeed suck, Murphy gets a species of surrogate son, even if just for a moment – a kid who knows what he’s gone through, hopefully more than his bio son ever will – and a species of closure with said surrogate son. The kind he’ll never have with his own (unless you want to watch Prime Directives, which…you can if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it).
And really, that’s just a moment in a two hour movie (that probably should’ve been even longer). A movie I don’t hate…all evidence to the contrary…but I only love the bits of it I love in isolation from the greater, incoherent whole. There’s ten minutes in the middle where Faxx uploads a set of hundreds of committee-designed, focus group-approved Directives into Murphy’s head. Most of my fellow critics focus on this bit because we like to imagine it’s how this movie itself got made, and why it turned out so disappointing. And we might not even be wrong. But most of us miss the true horror of this reprogramming: that it gives Murphy a psychotically optimistic outlook, which is the closest thing we have in the United States to a national religion.
If anyone’s earned the right to be down in the dumps, it’s our boy Alex. But in a society as awful as ours we’re taught to conceal our depression at all costs, since it’s generally viewed as a font of weakness instead of a completely rational response to depressing circumstances. You know what’s viewed the same way? Drugs, and the usage thereof. Shit sucks, and the people supposedly in charge are getting too rich off of shit sucking to do anything about it, but don’t you dare acknowledge that fact, or do anything that might temporarily alleviate the suckage. Chose the wrong substance for the latter, or just be loud and annoying enough about the former, and the cops’ll drive tanks through your house…or send a walking tank with a chaingun for an arm, as in this case. A walking tank that is itself addicted to the very drug it was constructed to eradicate…and that’s actually the best metaphor for capitalism I think I’ve ever seen. Shame it’s burried in RoboCop 2, where only freaks like me will notice.
Capitalism wants to turn us all into malfunctioning murder machines, and the drug it feeds us is alternatively called “freedom” or “personal responsibility.” Does your life suck to the point where you’re considering dangerous drugs? Well, that sounds like a “you” problem. You’re obviously not working hard enough. Don’t you know capitalism is the best, most just economic system ever conceived by the hand of man or beast? Look at all the “innovation” it’s “inspired,” and how many people it’s “lifted out of poverty.” Never mind its predication on winners and losers means that, for ever person you lift out, someone else has to be crushed down. That certainly won’t have any consequences down the road…and even if it does, the people actually responsible for all this misery and death won’t feel them. They’re already too rich. Need a beer? Cuz I sure could use one.
Oh, look – I just found a thematic connection between this movie’s two half-baked plots without recourse to just making things up. Would’ve been easier if we got some idea of what Nuke does to people, but this movie’s not very concerned with getting in its character’s heads. Even Robo-POV shots, so crucial to the last movie, are few and far between here, and they drop off as things go on. Yes, instead of taking him apart like an old car, I’m saying our villains should’ve given RoboCop some drugs. Gods know he needs ’em. There’s one scene, in the lab, where Cain gives a little monologue about how Nuke allows its users “to control every aspect of their emotional lives.” Some take this to mean Nuke gives people fake emotions, just like Dr. Faxx’s tender attentions gave Murphy all that fake optimism. If that’s true, either nobody told anyone that on set, or they didn’t figure it out until way later. All Nuke seems to do is make people calmer, which…hey, its’ a narcotic, so I’ll buy that for a dollar. But booze has the same effect on pretty much the same dose, so why is this “the most addictive narcotic in history” again? Oh, wait, that’s right – it’s because all drugs are the same to someone fighting a war on them…or to creative people who probably haven’t touched anything harder than a Diet Spirte in years.
I said I didn’t hate this, didn’t I? Hard to tell, so let’s rattle off some stuff I like for balance. I like how Murphy seems way more comfortable with his new body now that “about a year” has gone by. I like the little bits of business Peter Weller came up with throughout to illustrate that – like this moment where he just touches a baby’s head, ever so slightly, trying to give it what comfort his oversized, robo-mits can give.
I like the production design in general, the fact this Detroit (now played by Huston instead of Dallas) looks way more populated than last time, and that said population consists almost entirely of homeless people, aging small business owners, and the criminals who prey on both. I like the day-glo, neon graffiti, used here years before the Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies got ahold of it. I like the Little League Gang, and how Lewis uses Murphy as mobile cover during the gunfight with their coach. I like how Lewis read her “how to save someone from electrocution” safety pamphlet – hitting ’em with the nearest available chunk of wood really will work, so keep that in your back pocket. In fact, I like every aspect of the Lewis & Murphy Show, the one bit of this movie I wish I had more of to enjoy. (And would have, if the deleted scenes are anything to go by). I even like the guy who yells at them after they drive through the picket line. “The union’s got a list! We ain’t forgottin’ who you are!” Yeah, no shit, pal. He’s the only chrome-covered co-worker you have she’s the first person to recognize who he was under all the metal.
You’d think that line would have more weight in a movie with a major subplot about Murphy getting reprogrammed to the point where he pretty much forgets himself…but, once he gets up close and personal with the precinct’s electrical system, all his Directives are erased…including his Initial Three. So he enters the third act freed from all his programing, free to do…whatever the hell he wants, really. It makes sense the first thing he’d want to do would be to take out Cain, but after that, we still have all the same questions we started out with: what does RoboCop actually want? What can he really get now that, under all the plastic, metal and wires, he’s just a couple of chunks on a coroner’s table, not even a corpse? (Almost had a left arm, goddamnit, but somebody nixed that idea.) Oops – no time for all that. We’ve got a RoboCop 2 to introduce and so many other subplots to resolve that the movie straight-up runs out of time for Murphy. And Lewis, for that matter.
Does Cain get any Prime Directives? If so, we don’t see them, and there goes the last opportunity this movie has to build any effective parallels between he and Murphy, apart from the obvious. In an aside, Roger Ebert also asked, “The bad robot has a head that looks like a Nazi helmet; did its inventors know they were manufacturing a villain?” And all I can say to that is, “Dude – have you seen OCP’s flag? Look at that fucking flag, Roger! Hello? Is this thing on?” Even the Kekistan assholes had enough sense to turn theirs green.
I keep coming back to Mussolini’s definition of fascism, as “a merger of state and corporate power.” Other definitions of fascism are longer and more fashionable in my circles, but when the rubber meets the road and the RoboCops meet in battle, the merger of state and corporate power’s what we get. Here, a corporation is literally taking over the state, and the only people who seem to care by the end are the mayor, Lewis and Murphy. Lewis echos the anger we, the audience, are supposed to feel at the Old Man getting away with his fascist takeover, but Murphy councils patience. “We’re only human,” he says. Too bad this movie ran out of time before it could really explore what being “only human” really means.
I no longer hate Ebert’s dismissive review, I just wanted to settle some old scores. In fact, I’ve gotta hand it to Roger: it is “strange how funny it is for a movie so bad. Or how bad, for a movie so funny.” What’s really strange is, the first movie was a massive pain in the ass to make, start to finish, yet it watches like it emerged fully formed from its creator’s heads. This movie was, by most accounts, a relative breeze, but when you’re watching it you can almost see the behind the scenes arguments that must’ve taken place. There were too many ideas and no one willing to fight for their particularly one hard enough to triumph. So they combined them all into something that feels more like a half-season of a TV show, especially now that every show tries its best to feel like a thirteen-hour movie…and I’ve watched at least three, increasingly disappointing, RoboCop TV shows in the interim.
We’re left with the movie equivalent of taking a week’s worth of left overs and turning them into a pizza. The result is still pizza, and that’s better than nothing, just like this is still RoboCop. It comes down to a question of what you’re willing to sit through in order to get more RoboCop…a question we’ll have no choice but to grapple with as we enter the purgatory of RoboCop 3 and the Hell on Earth that is the remake.