Written by: Sam Henry Miller
An intergalactic green dwarf once said, “Do, or do not, there is no try”. Well, bollocks to that, I (and probably Wayne Gretzky) retort. You see, I have a cyborg friend with a screenplay that begs to differ. The newly rebooted RoboCop, while perhaps malfunctioning miles short of ‘doing’ (what a successful film should), certainly ‘tries’ the hell out of it’s premise. In fact, the film spends so much time and energy exploring the practicality of its high-concept, that it forgets to tell a story. However, in this tangled attempt to program an overly abstract concept into a narrative that pales like an 8-track to an MP4 in comparison, there is value. There is something to garner, calculate and contemplate.
RoboCop is the story of a mangled cop and family man, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), made machine by the omnipotent Omnicorp in hopes that a hybrid police officer could effectively quash an endemic, American “Robophobia”. Murphy happens to make the ideal candidate. His wife and beloved son promote and provoke that good ole’ human heteronormativity (key-word “normativity”) that reads as “security”, and his robot half, a boon to his capabilities as a law enforcement officer. The idea of a hint-o-human machine is also enough to sway the Senate into repealing a bill against robotic cops, by a majority vote, of course—and it’s made all too obvious where that majority received its campaign funding from… Quite bluntly,RoboCop’s plot is dispensable—essentially the same b****-slap-heavy-handed anti-corporative propaganda we’ve witnessed weaving itself into our films’ antagonists since the U.S. financial crisis of 2008. I consider myself quite liberal and I can still see the red mark on my cheek (or should I say blue mark?). Perhaps, then, it’s best to set aside our cyborg’s pop-politic, copy-paste plot for a moment and instead focus on where RoboCop has value, and why it fails (as a film), ironically, because of this.
Granted, an inherent “robophobic” tendency of the American majority is justified; robots have been enslaving the human race for countless of years in hypothetical future scenarios (just a joke). But seriously, if one wishes to speculate on the consequences to humanity when the ‘machine’ element is integrated (either somatically, neurally, or both), RoboCop is far from an ideal crop to reap (literature may perhaps be the best avenue of exploration). However, for a big-budget, Hollywood reboot, the film stands defiant in that it cedes the sensationally lucrative value of CG-eye-candy to intellectual stimulation. It does this weakly, but again, it ‘tries’. Conversely, I can scarcely recall a big-budget reboot that ‘tried’ so little at cashing-in on its dead franchise with state-of-the-art spectacle. After all, isn’t this the primary allure of reboots for both the consumer and producer? Well evidently, not for the creators of RoboCop. Don’t expect to see an orgy of action here; and where action surfaces, don’t expect it to impress.
Lackluster action may render RoboCop obsolete at the box office, but the novel treatment of its concept, even as weak as it is, will enable the film to thrive critically. Being devoted to thrusting its cyborg into the beautiful/gruesome realities of human nature—and the essences that are provoked, almost by necessity, from each—imbue the experiment with value. Ancient psychological and philosophical questions are complicated and some very deep-seated, controversial topics are prodded. For example, during a press conference aimed to appease qualms about the stability a half-robotic cop, Murphy’s dopamine levels are lowered significantly to induce artificial sociopathy. This flattening of Murphy brings him to a safe, calm and controlled demenour—but not an ‘uncanny valley-esque’ inhuman one. The reality of the situation, however, is quite the opposite of controlled: just minutes prior to the conference, Murphy had been experiencing an acute anxiety attack while recalling the memories of his own murder catalyzed by the evidential database on his hard drive. In response, Omnicorp took swift action to protect it’s image, ordering its lead scientist—played quite sympathetically by Gary Oldman—to dial down Murphy’s feelings. This scene provides not only profound, ample and relevant speculation about mental cyberization for the near future, but also serves as a keen analogy for drug therapy, drug abuse, and mental illness, for the present. One could write a thesis on this topic alone; but again, one would be hard pressed to find RoboCop surface in the academic search engines.
This is not to say, absolutely, that the concept of human cyberization can’t be explored deftly in a screenplay’s length and through a standard film’s duration. But rather that it should be attempted symbolically, rather than in a scientifically exhaustive sense. Yet, RoboCop ”went there”, which inclined it to go further and further until it became more of a messy “Scientific American-article-on-the-screen” than a story, with characters we care about and emotions that ring true.
The aforementioned press conference scene is exemplary of just one among (too) many in the film that, while filling our hungry neurons with food-for-abstract-thought, absolutely vanquishes any potential to tell a proper and compelling narrative. The writer(s) simply mega-bit off way more than they could chew through the medium of screencraft—a paradoxical case where too much turns up too little. Ultimately, RoboCop’s flimsy attempt to balance artistic/intellectual integrity and lucrativeness plunges it into a half-hearted no man’s land, where it, attempting to embody the jack of both trades, becomes a master of neither. But hey, at least it ‘tried’.