Comfortable and Furious

Robocop 2014


We’ve got the future under control.

Entire Story in fewer words than are in this sentence right here.

A more family friendly Robocop is more friendly with his family

Corpse Count:

I got about 28, though there was some tasing mixed in and it was sometimes hard to tell.

Novelty Death:

Clutching at straws here. This is where we really feel the restrictions of the PG-13 rating. Shit, it could almost have been PG. I didn’t see anything to keep it from airing on Network TV, given that Hannibal does so. Rather than dishonor the memory of Emil M. Antonowsky, I’ll just say, Padilha is a fine action director and he gives us some very good sequences, but they are free of novelty deaths.

Was there a stupid chief?

Yes. A ball-busting sister who turns out to be in league with the crooks. Robocop almost kills her.


You know, until I reached this section I had forgotten all about the gay. The movie has a tough talking, drill sergeant type. Murphy’s partner is a man. Yet there isn’t a dick or sodomy joke to be found, probably because the movie hangs to the left and, in action movies, sweaty man lust is in a semi-exclusive relationship with right-wing politics. Murphy dances with his wife. That’s kind of gay.

Why did they make him black?

The executives in the movie change him from blue to black as a marketing decision, so I could come up with all sorts of clever reasons. But, no matter how you slice it, he looks like a cross between Batman and KITT, i.e. worse.

robocop motercycle bike move review

How bad was it really?

Not as bad as most people feared. I liked seeing Michael Keaton again and he was good as Dick Jones re-imagined as some TED Talk giving asshole. Joel Kinnaman is fine as the new Murphy. Gary Oldman is good too. But the criminal villain is poorly developed and forgettable. If you’ve seen Elite Squad or Elite Squad 2, you know that this director has tremendous ability and it shines in a few sequences. There’s tension, creativity and excitement. But there’s also a lot of people standing around talking. If you’re interested in the stupid political content, you’re likely to enjoy the movie. If you want action and fun, you’ll be a bit let down. Again, the biggest problem here is the PG-13 handcuff. If the action jumped off the screen, the scenes involving corporate boardrooms or Murphy trying to reconnect with his family would float by in a sea of adrenaline. But there are limits to what can be done with guy gets shot and falls down, especially in the shadow of Verhoeven’s spectacular violence. Robocop 2014 carries on the subversive politics of the original, but in every other sense, this is a sanitized version. And there’s one more deficit…

One Liners:

There are a couple of homages to the original wedged in. One guy says of a first draft of Robocop, I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar. But nothing new and quotable. Robo says, thank you for your cooperation to a crooked cop before tasing him.

Stupid Political Content:


How does the political content of the Robocop reboot differ from that of the original?

The original is a remarkably prescient warning. It warned of police militarization. It predicted Detroit would go bankrupt. It showed us Fox News before it existed. Or maybe it wasn’t just Fox. The news in general would become superficial, corporatist propaganda, scrubbed free of intellect, investigation or serious analysis. The government would become increasingly ineffectual and big business would identify government corruption so that it could slime in and substitute its own. And, of course, robots would take over combat roles.

So now that Robocop has basically come true, what does the reboot cover?

The reboot is about the process and the logic of that outcome, more than the fact of that outcome. It examines our transition into the world of Robocop. How is this happening? It’s a movie about dialectics, in the Hegelian or Marxists sense.

Shit, if we’re going to do this, let me shoot up with some Nuke first.

I barely remember what I learned college anymore, so I won’t be able to talk about it much. However, Jose Padilha, the director is Brazilian, as are many of the others involved in the film. I know how these people think. They’re really into Marx and stuff like that. They sell Marx at newsstands in Brazil. As is evident in the Elite Squad movies, this isn’t a guy whose worldview is informed by comic books.

hegel history
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lady Killer Extraordinaire

Ok, goddamnit.

Short and painless. History progresses when a thesis emerges, like liberalism. It meets an antithesis, like totalitarianism. They have a big fight and one wins. But then they have makeup sex and produce a synthesis: a new reality with elements of both. That is how history moves forward.

I’ll allow it. But you have to promise not to mention Hegel or Marx again.

Agreed. So right off the bat, you have Robocop himself. In this version, he has a human hand and more fuss is made about his human face. He is a synthesis brought about to resolve a conflict. The government/corporations are using robots as weapons against non-compliant populations in foreign countries, so why not at home? Because it is illegal due to a popular law, banning the use of drones in the U.S. (yes, lol at the idea of our government enacting such a ban. But Robocop pretends that our democracy still has a fairly strong pulse as kind of a plot device.) By grafting the drone onto Murphy’s remains, OmniCorp is able to circumvent the law and win a lot of popular support, once people see how effective Robocop is. He’s a synthesis of drone and human.

And more broadly?

He symbolizes the conflict between a mechanized, technocratic existence and a messy one ruled by the whims of human animals. Some good jobs have already been lost to machines. Grocery store clerks are on the way out, for example. More jobs will be lost in the future. Of course, the film suggests the cops and soldiers will be phased out. What will all of those people do? Well, no matter how bad things get for them, they won’t be able to resort to crime or any other kind of disorderly behavior. Robocop perfectly exploits mass surveillance and facial recognition software, making it impossible for criminals to hide and he is poised to render human police work mostly obsolete.

Robocop 2014 drone bad guy

In general, ever more components of our society are being solved, like a mathematically based game. The film covers issues like focus groups, and how politicians and corporations have gotten manipulating the public down to a science. The problem of a free press has been solved, in the film and real life, through media oligopolies that reward journalists with wealth and fame if they get with the program and cultivate an internal culture of thoughtless conformity. And that news is based on still more focus groups, and a general knowledge of how to draw in and manipulate viewers to increase ratings and profits, smashing any competition. The Robocop reboot knows the honed tricks of the demagogue, like the Orwellian way in which Samuel Jackson’s grandstanding infotainer turns the table on liberals by switching words around, accusing them of robophobia (Futurama reference?). It’s the people who don’t want military drones roaming the streets, blasting undesirables who are guilty of fear and hatred.

The mechanisms of political corruption have been refined into a softly purring machine. Omnicorp throws money at senators, but it doesn’t bribe them in the crude way that criminals bribe the Detroit police. In spite of the initial resistance, the OmniCorp executives spend a lot of time calmly working out exactly which buttons to push on this big machine to hasten the inevitability of their agenda being accepted.

It brings to mind any number of real issues. Internet freedom, regulation of Wall Street. War (there must always be at least one). The public and a few politicians might take a stand on an issue and rebuff the elites today. But tomorrow, champions of the public interest will be fatigued and the same proposition will be repackaged and pushed through. We can’t resist the money, propaganda and manipulation expertly applied by full time professionals forever. They never tire and will eventually get their way. And when they do, it’s for good. After Robocop makes a successful debut, more money is thrown at the politicians, a new propaganda campaign is launched and the bill banning drones is repealed.

So, like it’s predecessor, this film describes fascism in America. Is that another dialectic? Liberalism/Fascism?

Yes. Though this dialectic might be something like liberalism/corporatism, the ideology presented really is just fascism. When people think of fascism, they think of a bunch of guys in stupid hats murdering Jews…

Objection! Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, they had pretty cool hats.

Sustained. But that’s not really what fascism is at its core That’s not why people were seduced by it. The basic idea was that it would be a form of totalitarianism in which big business and big government cooperated to get things done. They would be free to cut to the chase, instead of dicking around with a fickle public, free range intellectuals, independent journalism and other elements of society that slow progress. The aim wasn’t to make everyone miserable. It was to offer them security as tiny parts of a big, shiny, flawless machine. Instead of taking pride in your individuality, your ability to express yourself and to have your little piece of influence, you step back and admire the grandeur of what you are a small part of. Like people who helped to build the great cathedrals.

I get it. A mechanized society. A glorious machine. Robocop. Fascism. It all fits together. You know, fascism doesn’t sound so bad, once you take out the concentration camps and stuff. Maybe we should just roll with it. If I get blown up, maybe I can be a Robocop one day.

I don’t care for fascism regardless of the hat it wars, but I think an interesting conversation could be had on the subject. The film depicts an inevitability. The liberal (in the broadest sense) characters are the scientist who makes Robocop and his assistant. They value Murphy’s humanity and have concerns about a militarized home front, but they are worn down. A blank check for medical research is offered. It is promised that lives will be saved. So much progress can be made. They are seduced by the promises of fascism, which wins round one.

Once the compromise goes too far, the scientists, along with Murphy, fight back and reassert the liberal thesis. They just barely prevail because of extraordinary effort and luck. The President vetoes the law allowing drones. But it’s clear which side will win. It will be the side that figured out how to game the dialectic and will put the machine back to work the next day, not the side that relies on pulling out miraculous victories just to keep from losing ground. The humanitarian/liberal struggle is not to defeat fascism, but to maintain some core presence in the synthesis of liberalism and fascism. To inhabit the machine and imbue it with some sense of compassion and justice as it executes the will of elites with an iron fist. That’s the best we can hope for. The idea that we might attack the roots of crime, or work for a freer more egalitarian society are things of the past. Nobody seriously advocates such things anymore and if they do, arrangements have been made to insure that nobody hears them. Resistance is so easily smashed that the consequences of injustice can be cleaned up efficiently and with little struggle. This is the most depressing action movie I’ve ever seen.



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