Over-Thinking an Under-Achieving 80s Action Movie: Why “RoboCop” Could Have Been Smarter

While traveling through sci-fi movie memory lane, I thought of how a nearly mindless action movie had more intellectual potential than it mustered.

By Scott Mason

There are 4 movies throughout the 70s and 80s that sometimes find themselves in crossover media. From comics, movies and video games four universes have duked it out at some time or another. “Alien,” “Predator,” “Terminator” and “RoboCop.” Having recently watched “Alien,” which I now appreciate in ways that I couldn’t ten years ago, it got me thinking, “why don’t I see brilliance in, “RoboCop?” Like the former, it deals with some heavy political subject matter about corporate greed. Arguably more so, even. It paints a grizzly picture of what happens when the rule of law is literally bought and sold. It’s one long exercise in police brutality at a time when it has never been more politically relevant. So what keeps this ultra-violent sci-fi action movie from being a movie for thinking men?

Whenever I think about the independent city-state that Omni Consumer Products is trying to turn Detroit, Michigan into, it frightens me because Disney World already seems pretty close to it legally. The notion that criminal law itself functions differently within the United States is unsettling. The idea that littering or cursing in The Magic Kingdom is greeted with a type of detainment that any sane person would call “legally dubious.” “RoboCop” brings up the dangers of owning densely populated private land, that was up until recently a city with a few million people residing in it. Smart concept so far, right?

And what about the problem with corruption? How a supposedly well-to-do business man is perfectly capable of forming a professional working relationship with a band of murders, led by the future dad from “That 70s Show,” I might add. Is that really too much of a jump from, let’s say, doing business with money launderers? That’s a very real problem in corporate America. Why do I feel so cheated by the lack of intellectual substance in “RoboCop” when I feel satisfied in “Blade Runner” or “Alien?” The immorality, inequity and injustice are overwhelming present in this dystopian sci-fi movie. What gives?

Yes, the movie is packed full of of abuses of power. In law enforcement. In big business. In local politics. For a lot of characters, that makes sense. A gang leader and his droogs can get away with laughing and giggling as they travel through the streets leaving wrecked stores, blown up cars and a trail of dead. One or two businessmen can have a sadistic streak. If one of their non-central co-working characters waves a thumbs up while grinning when the cyborg kills the evil Company Vice President at the end, as if he truly cared about the co-worker that the veep had already murdered, is one instance when the ability to take the immorality of the movie seriously is viciously impounded.

If an alien came down from space in the late 1980s, walked into a movie theater and sat through the 102 minutes of this film, it would point them in the wrong direction of why police violence and gun violence happens in our developed and feeble-minded country. It’s not the result of robotic error or impulse. It’s a variety of human flaws from incompetence to prejudice, to panic in the moment. The case of Breonna Taylor’s shooting is an example of everything flawed and wrong with policing in the United States. Getting the wrong address. Eagerness to use a service-weapon. Racial profiling. If there’s any fantasy in “RoboCop” that undermines it’s moral argument, it’s the tone that robots are so much worse than people when it comes to keeping the peace.

There are so many avenues of thought that could have been explored in greater depth to make “RoboCop” more cerebral than it turned out to be. Corporate and political accountability. The rule of law. Law and order (there is a distinction). Economic inequality. Yet, a few ridiculous on-camera actors’ choices and semi-fascist storytelling destroy the brilliance it already has and prevent it from getting more brainpower to reach it’s full, unmitigated processing power.

Cranky old guy in a 33 year old body.