Thursday, October 27, 2005

Day 27: Robocop 2

So, the thing about Robocop, as portrayed in the original movie, is that he’s a symbol for the power of humanity over the cold, heartless mechanisms of technology and corporate enterprise. Robocop tells us that a corporation works much like a machine, treating the human elements as cogs within the machine and that eventually, due to the capacity for emotion in the human brain, these cogs will fail to function as they’re intended and will eventually take down the inhumanity of the machine by appealing to things like loyalty and compassion, or at least have the audacity to question what the machine is doing. Further, the movie Robocop depicts an iconic police hero while simultaneously deconstructing said police hero by creating the perfect cop who, like Dirty Harry, is remorseless, unstoppable, and driven by a sense of duty that overwhelms every other aspect of his life and also happens to be as robotic as these traits imply. But, ironically, where the robotic cop’s perfection fails is in a conflict of identity: Robocop is swayed by fleeting memories of a life lived in which stopping crime was not the only thing that motivated him, a life where he felt things that he is no longer able to. Robocop shirks his duty as he seeks answers to the inevitable questions, “Who am I? Where do I come from?”--the answers to said questions being two-fold: that he is first a product of corporate manufacturing and, second, a being with a name (Murphy) and sentience and, thus, an identity beyond his technological components or programming. So, when Robocop shoots Dick Jones at the end of the first movie and is asked by the leader of the heartless corporation what his name is and Robocop replies “Murphy,” it’s a symbolic victory of the power of human identity, no matter how tenuous, to override whatever programming may be inflicted on us by life and/or genetics. The movie also states that free will is an integral part of being human, one that will overcome all programming and that this is preferable, even at the great risk it entails, to the alternative (witness the failure of the purely robotic [and thus, anti-human] ED-209 due to its inability to take in
new information and Robocop’s persistence to get around his own robotic limitations).

Additionally, Robocop was a sly, though not subtle, critique of Reagan-era policies, realistically projecting the effects of favoring pure capitalism as the means to solve the problems of society to the point that the police department is privatized and ineffectively managed by Omni Consumer Products (OCP), causing the police to strike. There are quick digs at a society based on “cowboy-style” militarism (a family board game depicted in the film is called Nuke ‘Em) and the Star Wars missile defense system (which, when it malfunctions, only adds to the robotic/human crisis in the movie). Robocop also pokes fun at the very idea that corporations can effectively provide social services, since Robocop is prevented by his programming from arresting any members of OCP, at least one of whom is involved in illegal activities, particularly with the notorious criminal Clarence Boddicker (the man who happens to have killed “Murphy,” thereby providing the opportunity for Robocop to exist at all). The equating of crime and corporatism, technological failure and inhumanity provides a rich subtext over which a conventional Western (the cowboy kind) revenge story plays (reminiscent of the plot featured in the movie Hang ‘em High) as the noble sheriff relentlessly seeks closure to a crime that personally affected him.

To take it even further, the story of Robocop is a reinterpretation of the Christian myth (something I never thought of until I heard the film’s director, Paul Verhoeven [by all accounts, a madman] mention it on the Criterion Collection’s DVD commentary track), depicting Murphy as spiritually pure (he arrives in the tempestuous city from the beatific suburbs), tortured to death, and resurrected to administer judgment on the crimes of humanity, this time in a very literal sense. The movie wisely casts the members of the OCP corporation as members of the heavenly arena, working above the common folk of Detroit in lofty towers, led by Dan O’Herlihy’s benevolent “Old Man” character, designing a new, utopian paradise called New Detroit, something that would be rather simple for them to build were it not for this pesky problem of misused free will (i.e. crime) among the human population. When tasked with ridding Detroit of this problem, the #2 guy at OCP, Dick Jones or, if you will, Lucifer, comes up with ED-209, a purely robotic solution that hilariously malfunctions at a board meeting, causing the Old Man, or if you will again, God, to come up with a new solution, one that can make decisions based on the experience of having lived in the shoes of a man and thus, Robocop or, if you will one more time, Jesus.

In fact, the ending of Robocop encapsulates the thesis of both The Passion of the Christ (that the sacrifice of Jesus is instrumental in containing the devil in hell) and The Last Temptation of Christ (that Jesus’ sacrifice was the act of a superhuman making a conscious decision to create a better world for mortal mankind) as Robocop eliminates the Lucifer character (the Old Man’s favored staff member) from heaven. Dick Jones is even, funnily enough, depicted as falling out of the heavenly towers, plummeting to the earth, cast out of Heaven and sent to hell. Heaven is therefore purified of a corrosive, jealous element and Robocop has found a way to combine both his human-like free will and his robotic super powers (which carry the limitations of programming) by taking on the mantle of the people’s protector.

I fucking love this movie!These are half-assed, undeveloped, sophomoric reads on the film, each one of which can be elaborated on, all of which are firmly supported by the film, all of which play with and against one another simultaneously in the film, and there are probably a great many more reads one could apply to the movie. The movie is a superb example of how a surface-level, stupid, simplistic and commercial idea (PART MAN, PART MACHINE, ALL COP!) can be developed into something far beyond its facade by taking a plot chock full of conventions and clichés and using it as a framework on which to hang something that says much, much more than the simplistic narrative would. Robocop, the character, is taken from human, to robotic, to a synthesis of the two that is compelling, exciting, and, like a Shakespeare play, appeals to every aspect of my psyche, from the groundling desire for Old Testament-style revenge to the high-minded desire to see society and humanity seriously and effectively examined. I mean, I like to see men mutated by toxic waste and smooshed by cars and to see the bad people in the world get what’s coming to them as much as anyone, but at the same time I want to think about why I feel that way and what it means to be a “bad guy” and where “get what they have coming to them” comes from. Robocop is a movie that provides all of this and it’s funny too. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

So what the fuck happened with Robocop 2? There’s a scene about halfway through the movie where OCP needs to reprogram Robocop and they take the opportunity to make him “friendlier,” to have him shoot less and solve conflicts in a more non-violent fashion. The result is something that should be a funny comment on design by committee, but is not (I’ll explain why in a second), as Robocop consequently walks around smiling, teaching hoodlum kids lessons about hygiene or saying to a man whose shooting at him, “we should talk this out.” This isn’t funny in the movie because prior to this scene in the movie, the script has already neutered Robocop into being the lamest, squarest Joe fucking Friday by-the-book cop you’ve ever seen! He’s got these lame one-liners as he offs baddies, like Robocop has watched a bunch of cop shows or, hell, even the original Robocop (where the one-liners like “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” originate from the Murphy character in a naturalistic way [by that I mean, Murphy actually means “dead or alive you’re coming with me” when he says it, even though Murphy’s personality is also informed by watching a show called T.J. Laser {the key to, perhaps, a further read of the original Robocop}] so, when Robocop says these things, it’s depicted as nothing more than a distorted reflection indicating that some of Murphy’s memory has been retained and furthers the movie’s robotic/human questioning) and Robocop 2 emphasizes Robocop’s disdain for those who break the law to such a point that whatever nuance and humanity he learned (or remembered) during the events in the first film have, apparently, been tossed out the window. For God’s sake, before they reprogram and defang Robocop, he’s already admonishing children in an arcade to go back to school, he’s already defanged by, for some reason, not being able to assault a child who menaces him with a gun (Robocop’s three prime directives are “Serve the public trust”, “Protect the innocent”, and “Uphold the law,” which means that in the eyes of this movie, children are alwaysinnocent, even when they’re clearly not, a perspective that’s furthered by the tenderness with which the menacing child’s death scene is depicted [a scene so unintentionally schmaltzy, I wanted to throw my TV out the window] and a perspective which would seem to defy all logic in face of the fact that the movie is constantly depicting children breaking the law and hurting others [and one wonders at which age Robocop is suddenly allowed to hurt someone... is it 18?]!), so this “funny” bit where he’s a “by the book” socially mannered nice cyborg is painfully boring, as Robocop has already been depicted as someone with a robotic “users are losers” or “crime doesn’t pay” attitude, despite his ascension from one who rigidly follows the code of law to someone who learns how to negotiate subtleties within the law in the first film.

Additionally, gone is the sly critique of the Reagan-era policies; instead we have the most strident endorsement of them since Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” educational videos. Robocop encounters a cache of a futuristic drug called “Nuke,” sighs and shakes his head ruefully, and then says “Nuke” in a mournful tone. He might as well say, “Those kids today, when will they learn?” Additionally, though the police force is on strike again (in both cases I’m reminded of the air traffic controller strike that happened during Reagan’s term) Robocop is quite content to be a scab, one of the only cops working. Later, Robocop even indirectly inspires his fellow police officers to break their strike in order to fight the evil force that is soon to
plague the streets. Take that, you pinkos!

I think the problem with this movie is that someone, somewhere in the production took the whole concept of Robocop seriously. Verhoeven’s film was parodying itself while it played, constantly poking fun at its own moral code and asking the question of whether or not a robotic enforcement of the law would be such a good thing. This movie doesn’t get the joke and treats Robocop as seriously and with as much reverence (and as unsuccessfully) as The Passion of the Christ depicts Jesus. Yes, the movie says, Robocop is a good cop, particularly when he’s obeying his prime directives. The movie apes the original in style, but never what was going on underneath the style. To wit: the commercials and newscasts in the first film were satirical and brilliantly expositional, projecting a world where violence and technology were more commonplace than the time the movie was made. Here, they’re just silly, Saturday Night Live parodies of television commercials and newscasts exaggerated to the point that they’re completely unbelievable (though they are funny), nowhere near as smart as what was going on in the original film. The same thing goes for the corporate stuff: it’s all so arch, it’s as if it was made for kids. Strike that: it’s as if it was made by kids. The movie ends with Robocop stating, “we’re only human,” referring to the question of whether Robocop is a human or a machine. But this is one question Verhoeven’s film did answer. It concludes that he was both, but he got to choose how he saw himself, and I think it also suggested that this is true for all of us. It makes me angry because the sequel ignores this. I’m also angry because the original Robocop asked a lot of other interesting questions, and Robocop 2 either ignores them or answers them as if they weren’t tough questions to begin with. In fact, the sequel acts as if there are no tough questions at all as long as you’ve got a tough cop to gun them down.I fucking hate this movie.


Ash Karreau said...

Cool. Now do all that but with Piranha and Piranha 2.

David Wester said...

I'll bet I could. But I don't feel as strongly about Piranha as I do about Robocop (this is oddly enough a 1:1 correlation for how I feel about Dante:Verhoeven)

Matt Eppright said...

I think you're being a bit hard on this movie, Dave.

Granted, it's really nothing compared to the power of the first film. I agree with you there -- and fails with it's attempt at dark humor in many places in the film, coming off pretty mean spirited and cold-hearted.

But I don't know, the latter half I got into with Robo on the harley chasing Tom Noonan in the truck. And the final face off between the hulking Robo-monster Cain and Murphy was just cool... I mean with Robo's line "Cain! Let's step outside!" and Daniel O'Herily responding with "Behave Yourselves!" Phil Tippett really outdid himself with the F/X work in movie, too.

Now Robocop 3, that's not even worth your time. But R2 has it's moments, despite it's many flaws & problems.

Just my few cents.


David Wester said...

The movie is funny, I'll grant. But I think it's empty and shits all over the first one by virtue of being associated with it. My hatred is, perhaps, unwarranted and a little extreme, but I couldn't get interested in this thing and was wondering why and these are the answers I came up with.

Matt Eppright said...

Yeah, it seems like any sequel to a Verhoeven film is destined for failure. Take Starship Troopers 2... now that is a shit film, I honestly couldn't make it through that one -- especially when it just turns into a complete ripoff of "The Thing".

Good lord, I really wonder how "Basic Instinct 2" will turn out? Sharon Stone is TOO OLD!!!


Ash Karreau said...

When do we address the Robocop TV show?

David Wester said...


Sam Kahn said...

Great review. I think Robocop is a success that Verhoven hasn't been able to duplicate in the same sense (except maybe for Starship Troopers, which is good but not in the same way).

I saw him speak when promoting Hollow Man, and he talked about all of these philosophical connections and implications behind the film. He talked about Plato and a whole lot of other stuff. I went to see it a couple weeks later, and was disappointed to see one of the worst movies I could remember.

David Wester said...

I'm glad Verhoeven's been taking a break since Hollow Man. I don't think the script supported what Verhoeven wanted to do in that movie. It was pretty conventional. I think that movie completed a downward slump for him that started on Total Recall. I am praying to many Gods that he someday makes his own historically accurate Jesus movie that he's talked about making, if only to see the shitstorm that follows.

Matt Eppright said...

Good to see Verhoeven returning to his roots with his new Dutch film "Zwartboek" (Blackbook):

I think it was wise for him after Hollow Man to do a small film back in Holland. Looking forward to it.


phoenikhs said...

Wouldn't want to criticize your movie reviews, but would like to appreciate the undying spirit you have shown in writing. Hats Off!

CHG said...

wow that was long, maybe you should just post the screenplay next time, it would be shorter.

The Trick said...

I've been enjoying your reviews and this is one of the best so far. Nice work!

M. Gants v4.0 said...

Robocop = Awesome. Robocop They should have ditched the story and just relaized his awesome destructive power and made a movie about robocop kicking bad guy ass and destroying things.

I would rather have seen ED-209 (which was soooo completely awesome) resurrected and watch an amazingly destructive showdown between it and robocop than sit through the story of robocop 2.

Now Robocop the arcade game...that was cool.

David Wester said...

CHG: Thanks for keeping your comment so short and substance free!!!!

click here to see hurricane pics said...

Police work is the one area where the government CANNOT turn it over to the private sector.

We all noticed that during the Katrina aftermath, that churches and private organizations did what the government and all it's money could not, they helped people in need. In the town where we delivered 12 tons of supplies, only churches were feeding the 50,000 people there a week and a half after the Strom hit. The government is always slow and inefficient. The private sector always gets the best bang for the buck.

Any government response and program will be red tape upon red tape. It will have the efficiency of the DMV, work ethic of the state highway department, and the fairness of the IRS. Government never does as well what private industry does in competition. Fore example, the U.S. Post Office was sold to private industry so it could complete with UPS and FedEX.

That is why God does not put caring for the needy in the hands of people who don't care. Biblically, feeding the poor is not a government job. As we read the New Testament and understand that much is said about caring for those who cannot care for themselves, we also realize that the responsibility is placed on those who are local, responsible and care.

Study it for yourselves Christians. First of all we should all work hard to pay our own way in life. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12) The needy are first to be cared for by their immediate families. (Read Mark 7:7-13) Next we see, that when their immediate family cannot care for them, only then should the local church should care for them. ( 1 Timothy 5:3-16)

The burden of benevolence is never placed on the back of government because it was not designed to do that. God has given three divine institutions. The family, the government and the church. They each have distinctive roles. They should give each the freedom to play their part without metling in each others business.

Governments true role is in protecting the rights of life, liberty and property of the citizens by punishing the evil doer. (See Romans 13:1-8 & proverbs 31:8-9 for Governments role) Unfortunately today, our government is neglecting the role of protecting the lives of innocent babies in the womb. It is not protecting the property of it's citizens. It is not defending their rights to public prayer and religious expression. It has abandoned it's true Biblical calling of giving justice by punishing the wicked. Now we have "correctional facilities" not a hangman's noose. We have no justice in our justice system. Liberties are slowly being eroded because a lack of security produced by a lack of justice through punishment of the wicked. (Proverbs 16:12, 25:5, 29:4, & 29:14)

Meanwhile, as the government abandons it's true role, it has invaded the home, taking over the role of educating our youth, rather than parents. It has taken over benevolence from the charity of the church through socialism and wealth redistribution programs such as welfare and social security.

Rather than punish murderers with guns by executing them, their solution is to steal the rights of the honest citizen to have a gun for hunting, sporting, self and national defense. Rather than use the full force of power on anyone who would dare threaten us, we steal the rights and civil liberties of our citizens away in a futile struggle to create a "secure homeland."

Governments solutions to needs that are really family and church responsibilities are always ineffective and often disastrous.

Government must punish the evil doer. But do we have the will to let government do it's God given job? Security comes with the utter defeat of those who would harm us. That was true for Germany and for Japan. And only when we totally defeat our enemies and rebuild them in our image will we have peace with them that will last until they are our allies selling us cheap cars and buying out our own auto manufacturers like Toyota and Daimler Chrysler.

Today the individual doesn't want to take care of himself. He wants the government to do it. The Families don't want to take care of their own. They want the government to do it. The churches don't want to feed the poor and help the needy. They want the government to do it. And the government was not meant to meet these needs. It can't even when it tries.

Meanwhile, the government is not allowed to do what it should be doing, punishing those who do evil. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

God help us!

Anonymous said...

Dear "click here to see hurricane pics,"

Okay, when David writes a really long review, it's a good thing, because the review is filled with insight, wit, and interest. Oh, and it stays on topic: movies.

When you, on the other hand, dump an insanely long and idiotic rant into the comments, it’s annoying. Your comments lack insight, wit, and basic grammar. Oh, and you’re not on topic. The topic is movies, not fairy tales.

Your irrelevant, overlong ramblings seem like a desperate attempt to tag your didactic Christian diatribes onto the coattails of someone who’s doing something people are actually interested in.

In short: shut the fuck up.

Sam Kahn said...

I think that this "click here to see hurricane pics" person has missed the point that this is a blog about movies.

Phoenix said...

This review is dead-on accurate, in every respect.

Although, I think I enjoyed RC2 much more than you did. But I viewed it as a separate entity from the original, much like The Matrix vs Matrix 2 and 3. Allegedly sequels, but not in the same ballpark.

Phoenix said...

Ach, that's not the preview button!

Where was I?

Yes, the movie says, Robocop is a good cop, particularly when he's obeying his prime directives.

No, he's an adequate cop when he's obeying his prime directives, but he's a better cop, a GREAT cop when he has no prime directives limiting him. The point I saw here was that, even with no forced-programming prime directives to follow, he still chooses to Serve the public trust; Protect the innocent; Uphold the law;, although Uphold the Law no longer limits him to obeying the law himself.

If you saw this movie on its own, if it weren't a sequel, if there were no Robocop original, you probably would have enjoyed it.

The problem is that the original Robocop was SO brilliant, no sequel could hope to do it justice.

David Wester said...

Phoenix: I agree with everything you said. I think you're right about how Robo still obeys the prime directives after he's freed of them, but the movie never challenges him with anything difficult as a result... Without the prime directives he's just able to get the bad guys better. And the bad guys are very, very clear.

It's a very moralistic movie and I hate that.

Tibetan Underworld said...

I'm really enjoying these reviews, David. It's good to see someone look back at old films as well as review new releases.

I have to agree that the Robocop review is by far the most enjoyable one I have read so far. So passionate, thoughtful, and down-right hilarious at points. Its refreshing to read another film buffs views - and I like your analytical take at the film, rather than looking at its craft.

Meanwhile, I know this is off topic, but I have to respond to 'click here to see hurricane pics' comments. I promise I'll be quick.
How can you stupid ultra-conservative Christians preach the right to an unborn babies life, and at the same time support the death penalty? How can anyone take that view seriously.
If you believe that God has given us the right to life, then how can you say that we as mere mortals have the right to determine who should live and die? If someone murders another, how is it our place to decide that they too must die? If you believe in the afterlife, then surely it is for your God to make that judgment, and to send the bastard to hell!

Fucking Catholic schooling. It was all bullishit.

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