Fast Track Summary:
After the debacle regarding the Robocop 2 Project, OCP’s financial fortunes fall so far that it is purchased by the Kanemitsu Group, a Japanese mega-company. After restructuring the Executive Board, a new group of soldiers are recruited called “The Rehabilitation Squad” to clear out the Cadillac Heights section of Old Detroit to begin the first phase of construction for Delta City. Their efforts are opposed by a resistance movement led by Bertha, a long-time resident of the area. The Heights have been struggling with gang activity caused by the Splotterpunks, although none have shown themselves to be a match for Robocop in the slightest.
The commander of the Rehab Squad, Paul McDaggett, has expressed a hatred of Robocop and uses this to his advantage when Officer Lewis is killed by falsifying a report that Robocop was her murderer. Robocop joins the resistance and is befriended by a young girl named Nikko Holloran, a gifted computer hacker and fan of Robocop. Her parents were taken away by the Rehab Squads and subsequently killed. She was taken in by the Resistance and even helps Dr. Marie Lazarus repair Robocop.
Mr. Kanemitsu, frustrated with the lack of progress in readying Cadillac Heights for demolition, sends Otomo, a highly advanced android, to Old Detroit to eliminate all resistance. Robocop tracks down McDaggett, but he escapes thanks to a traitor among the resistance. The traitor also gives the location of the stronghold and the Rehabs conduct an assault. Many of the resistance fighters are killed, including Bertha. Dr. Lazarus is taken to OCP headquarters where Nikko helps Dr. Lazarus to broadcast a plea for help for the residents of Cadillac Heights.
McDaggett and OCP Vice President Johnson head to Metro West Police Headquarters and orders the Police Department to mobilize against the residents of Cadillac Heights. Sgt. Reed protests and eventually turns in his badge. This leads to a mass exodus of Police Officers who agree with Sgt. Reed. Reed takes the officers and head for Cadillac Heights to stop the Rehabs.
Robocop returns to the now destroyed resistance stronghold and finds only Otomo. The two of them fight, and Robocop eventually emerges victorious, although damaged. Robocop takes his flight pack and defeats the Rehab/Splotterpunk invasion of Cadillac Heights before heading off to OCP. He confronts McDaggett, but McDaggett had two additional Otomo androids waiting. Dr. Lazarus and Nikko arrive and hack the Otomos to kill each other. This activates their failsafe devices: A small thermofusion bomb. Robocop grabs Dr. Lazarus and Nikko and fly away before the building is destroyed.
Mr. Kanemitsu tours Cadillac Heights and concedes defeat to Robocop.
Review and Analysis:
This movie is the end result of a franchise that started out as a commentary on the state of America and Corporatism and meets and ignominious end as a children’s accessible action franchise.
When Frank Miller’s Involved, Bad Things Happen:
Frank Miller wrote both the original story of Robocop 3 and the screenplay which Robocop 3 became, and having had the fullness of time to read over his body of work both in comic books and in the movie arena, it is clear that he does have many issues concerning race and gender that permeate even here, as Robocop 3 would be considered early in his career. Besides the fact that he has a full-blown hatred of the Superman character, Miller has shown that he also holds chauvinistic views towards women in general and bigoted views of people of color, in particular non-Christians. Many of these views are on display here in Robocop 3.
Frank Miller was hoping to use Robocop 3 to springboard him into the world of Hollywood scriptwriting. This movie left him disillusioned for a time, although it would provide him with inspiration to make Sin City. His comic book 300, which has been rightly lambasted for its bigotry and sexism, was made into a movie in and of itself. Frank then defended his premise behind 300, calling Islam “6th Century Barbarism.”
The Meta-Commentary of the Robocop Movies:
Lost in the action that permeates through the Robocop movies is how the ideas of Free-Market Fundamentalism, Capitalism, Crony Corporatism, and Facism have all been intertwined. In 1987, the parody commercials that were sprinkled through the Robocop movies seem to strike a prophetic chord, as many of the themes (corporate and personal excess, materialism, and marketing uselessness) can be found in television commercials of the 21st Century.
It was here that Paul Verhoven’s Robocop articulates the dangers of Corporate Capitalism better than James Cameron’s Aliens attempt at the same thing. You will find more commentary on Robocop‘s observations on this subject than you will for Aliens, mostly because the Aliens fanbase spends far too much time gushing over Ellen Ripley to notice. However, the other reason is that the commentary provided in Aliens comes off more as a ‘bug’ or add-on in what is essentially a horror franchise set in space; in Robocop, it is more of a feature, because of its use of science-fiction as its backdrop. The other advantage that Robocop uses is the blending of Corporate and Government power, making the distinction between them irrelevant.
The Revolution Will Be Sanitized:
As stated earlier, the Robocop franchise started out very bloody and very violently. The first Robocop movie was so violent (although not very gratuitously) that the MPAA gave it an ‘X’ rating. After editing some of the violent scenes (which included Murphy’s death), the MPAA relaxed the rating to ‘R’. The violence in the first movie was a feature, highlighting the dangers of living in Old Detroit versus the sanitized world of the well-off as illustrated by the Shining Tower of OCP’s headquarters.
Unfortunately, the Robocop franchise was a big hit for kids, and so the attempts to sanitize the franchise while still remaining relevant began. And, like everything else that gets sanitized, the Robocop franchise did not survive in its original form. Although the Robocop TV series does continue the original movie’s Corporate Capitalism commentary, the violence in the series was bloodless and relatively tame.
Robocop 3‘s sanitation completed the cycle, where everyone who is shot gets a small hole in their clothes where the bullet penetrates…and very little blood anywhere. Although part of it is due to the budget of the film, much of it is due to the influence of Robocop‘s popularity with the kids, thanks to the arcade game by Data East; home video game versions for every popular game console and home computer systems of the time; comic books (from Dark Horse and Marvel); and a cartoon version of Robocop. Because of this sanitation, the commentary provided by bloody combat is lost for good.
How to Hate Women and Promote Gender and Racial Stereotypes at the Same Time:
This scene was a poor rehash of a similar scene from the original Robocop movie, where a young (blonde) woman is chased by two would-be rapists before she is rescued by Robocop (Your move, creep!). This was to establish that the Rehabs were indeed heartless thugs.
The problem with this approach, however, is that this had already been established.
And so on…and on.
What the scene outside the motel was supposed to do is remind viewers that innocence of young white women is to be protected at all costs.
Anne Lewis meets her end in this movie. The off-screen reason was that Nancy Allen did not want to continue to be a part of the franchise, especially since Peter Weller declined to reprise the role for the third movie. Some screenwriters will usually take to removing such a popular character by simply writing them out of the series (with a possibility of returning in some fashion).
Not here. In order to show that McDaggett is indeed the bad guy and that no one should want to root for the villain, he blasts Lewis several times. It should be noted that Lewis is written to make a rather silly decision in not taking her body armor with her in order to justify her death scene.
As for women of color…this will be addressed later.
One of the other things that Robocop avoided in the first movie was casting European/Australian actors as main villains. While they did lose points on casting both a Black man as villainous comic relief and an Asian man as the first casualty among Boddicker’s lieutenants, the main bad guys were indeed American men.
That changes all the way around in Robocop 3. As I said, when Frank Miller is involved, bad things happen…
Hollywood loves casting non-American people in the role of the bad guys. It continues here with McDaggett (shown left) and Seitz (shown right). Both die from exploding bombs.
At least Robocop 3 had the temerity to cast an actual Japanese person to portray a Japanese CEO.
The Kanemitsu Corporation was supposed to be commentary about the growing concern that Japanese corporations were buying American interests wholesale with their newfound trade surplus wealth back in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. As Robocop often made commentary on the fact that American manufacturing had waned significantly – as symbolized by the conditions of Old Detroit – The Kanemitsu takeover of Omni Consumer Products was supposed to symbolize an Endgame here; a Japanese company was going to finish the project of building Delta City when “The Old Man” found himself ousted after the Robocop 2 Project turned into the debacle and Dr. Faxx turned out to be not quite the human shield he needed from her.
In the United States during the 1980s and 1990s when Japanese companies also purchased small tracts of land as part of the efforts by the United States to pay for some of its national debt, Nationalistic interests decried the “economic Pearl Harbor” the Japanese companies were performing (from the Nationalists point-of-view). This newfound economic power Japan had came from 2 main areas: Their automotive manufacturing, where Honda and Toyota began gaining larger market share as the reliability and fuel efficiency of American vehicles nosedived considerably in the early 1980s; and their home electronics, with Sony developing a portable cassette player called the Walkman, which took the world by storm, and refining the technology behind the Video Cassette Recorder and Compact Disc.
With every step forward in this movie, there is always a step back. According to Hollywood, Asians are all the same. And if it can be done, the Asian character will not utter a word and only stick around for the martial arts and/or swordplay.
Also, Otomo, who is supposed to be a Japanese Ninjabot, is played by Bruce Locke, who just happens to be Chinese. IIRC, Bruce had very little martial arts skill at the time Robocop 3 was filmed, but it is apparent that he does have a certain presence on screen.
Asians are the Same in Hollywood, Part 2:
Considering how poorly this movie did in theatres, there have actually been some good things mixed in with the bad. Keiko Holloran, played by Jodi Long (above), is supposed to be Japanese-American. In this case, there was no side-Yellowfacing, because Jodi Long is Japanese-American.
But, the other side of the coin has Nikko Holloran played by Remy Ryan. She is of mixed descent (mostly Latino), so she looks just “exotic” enough to play a young Japanese-American girl. On the flip side, her casting in this role is slightly less problematic as Dakota Fanning’s was in the movie Man on Fire.
The Resistance Effort:
One of the other meta-commentaries Robocop offered was how Corporations dealt with union employees, particularly (former) government workers. The struggle for how such employees having to answer to a private entity, yet still enforce the laws on the books, comes to a head in this movie.
Up until the third act of the movie, the OCP board tasked its Security Concepts division with running the day-to-day operations of the Detroit Police department. With the exception of trying to leverage the strike by the Police Union to expand the role of Security Concepts in dealing with the crime in Old Detroit, OCP and the Detroit Police have maintained an amicable if contentious relationship with each other.
The tides changed with this movie, however, when the Security Concepts division hired former soldiers from the Amazon Wars to act as supplemental force to the Detroit Police Department. These mercenaries were given duties not unlike a sheriff’s department charged with serving eviction notices. When OCP was finally forced to augment the Rehab Squads, they ordered the Police to do so. The result, however, was a mass resignation.
Science Fiction Tropes of Women of Color #4: The Tragic Warrior
I had previously written about Big Bertha’s tragic case in this essay. Science Fiction and Speculative Fantasy have not been very kind to Women of Color. Sci-Fi/SpecFan have not been friendly to Black Women in particular. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with franchises that are praised by (White) Feminists and Feminist Allies. Many of the same people who praise such shows are all too willing to handwave the racism and gender bigotry because the series features a woman holding a gun or performing choreographed kung fu.
In the case of Robocop 3, Bertha’s worthless sacrifice is supposed to be ameliorated with Sergeant Reed setting up the defenses against the Rehabs and Splotterpunks. It was then to be completely forgotten with the final scene when he tells the now-former OCP President to call him “Robocop.”
The Curse of the Action Hero “One-Liner”:
Frank Miller and Fred Dekker spend an inordinate amount of time having Robocop deliver Schwarzenegger-style one-liners throughout the movie, which is emblematic of action movies that are pandering to younger audiences. While many of the these one-liners are written in the style of those in Robocop 2, it should be noted that the one-liners were delivered by a Robocop that had been over-programmed by OCP (by Dr. Belinda Faxx) to turn Robocop into a PR disaster. That PR disaster was supposed to garner public support for a newer Robocop. For Robocop 3, the one-liners out of character for Robocop himself.
Also present in Robocop 3 is the excessive expenditure of ammunition for showboating. When Robocop first makes his presence known in the movie, he fires his auto-cannon from a new weapon attachment at the roof of his car before punching his way through…and delivering an action one-liner. I suppose that the Miller and Dekker were trying to one-up the entrance of Robocop in the previous movie; but it does not seem to fit Robocop’s style.
When Frank Miller’s Involved, Bad Things Happen – Part 2:
Looking at both Robocop 2 and this movie, Frank Miller has some typically bigoted notions about the roles for men and women of color, especially when they have nothing to do with the main plot of the story. The characters of Johnson (OCP VP) and Sgt. Reed were created by the franchise before Miller wrote his screenplays for 2 & 3, but Reed was sidelined considerably in Robocop 2, and Johnson for 3.
But this scene is the most instructive. There was no storyline reason for the Pimp, in particular, the Black Pimp. Nor was there a necessary reason for the Black Pimp to have a White Female Prostitute. And, no reason for the B@%#$ Betta Have My Money anthem (Warning NSFW language), either. Taken at face value, this is the only Black character that Miller creates that shows up on the screen for more than a few seconds in this movie that lives. Bertha is the other one he created, but she’s dead.
A Trite Wrap-up to the Story:
With time running out and watching a very poorly constructed plot crumble quickly, Miller and Dekker decide that the OCP Rehabs needed to be shown once and for all that they were not only evil, but desperate. Since the Splotterpunks were supposed to be the criminal element in the film, having McDaggett hire them to help clear out Cadillac Heights of its residents would seem to make sense.
Except that the Splotterpunks exist only as an anarchist gang. Or, more to the point, as cannon fodder. For Robocop’s Auto-9 Supercannon. As a gang, the Splotterpunks exist only to kill people and menace police officers. They also, as a rule, dress like 80s Punk Rock Band rejects.
This was supposed to the turning point in the film, where the movie finally decides to make its message plain: OCP is evil and must be stopped at Cadillac Heights or it will move on to your neighborhood next. While it sounds like good copy, it really does not work that well as a call to action. This scene also shows how Dr. Lazarus failed to understand what Bertha and her Resistance were fighting for. She inured herself to the Resistance not out of cause, but because she had no other options. Or maybe it was to strike back at OCP for firing her. But it was not out of any concern whatsoever for the residents of Cadillac Heights, save maybe Nikko. In fact, she is rarely seen interacting with the Resistance outside of Robocop’s maintenance.
But we are supposed to take her plea for help as a call to action. One wonders how the viewing public would have reacted if it were Bertha making the same plea.
She is supposed to be a representation of the disparate residents of Cadillac Heights defending their homes against the incoming corporate tyranny.
This was to have been the moment where the audience cheers; Robocop saves Nikko and Dr. Lazarus, and McDaggett dies from his own failsafe (brought to you by Blofeld, No and Goldfinger). Except now that OCP no longer exists, and the main facilities to maintain Robocop, as well as plans for spare parts, maintenance, and software upgrades no longer are available. Maybe it was believed that Kanemitsu would have a copy of all of these.
It is the small scenes like this, which serve no purpose in the film, that reveal much about the writers, producers, and directors involved. Did we really need a scene of Mario Machado (as Casey Wong) picking his nose? And why was this necessary? If the idea was that Nikko was tapping into the OCP over-the-air broadcast, then it was already established seconds ago with the Media Break ambiance. And the same effect would have been achieved if instead we had Casey being primped and pampered in preparation of the next news report.
Instead, we get a Man of Color picking his nose for a cheap laugh from the 5-13 demographic.
Commence Primary Ignition indeed.
A thin story is brought down by Foreign Villainy; a bad guy who also has to hate the hero personally; and Frank Miller’s patronizing chauvinism and racial scaremongering. The cheap jokes and Arnold-style one-liners betray the movie’s attempt at corporate commentary; it is as if Miller and Dekker waded into Robocop like party crashers, not knowing what the party was actually for.
Fred Dekker would have an otherwise uneventful career as a writer and director. Most of Dekker’s work is couched in the horror genre before and after Robocop 3, and only Ricochet (with Denzel Washington & John Lithgow) could be deconstructed similarly to a post like this.
Thus, the onus of the rolling Indiana Jones Giant Ball of Doom could be planted squarely on Frank Miller’s shoulders. The fact that we see his attempts to write movies like a comic book over and over again is apparent, even here. His bigotry and misogyny are on display here, as his Paternalism. One could also wonder about his assumptions on sex work, prostitution, and courtesans, but that could take up a post on its own.
Robocop 3 is the albatross of the franchise. And it needs to be cooked and served with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and baby food.