The 2014 remake of RoboCop reads less like a dystopian tale of police oppression than the original, and more like contemporary tales of recovery from a spinal cord injury. Multinational conglomerate OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars has wanted to sell fully autonomous robot soldiers and police officers for some time now, but finds the public won’t accept them without the human element. He and his team evaluate a number of injured cops for possible conversion into cyborgs, but reject each candidate for various reasons: one for being overweight, another for having ataxia. A paraplegic candidate clearly into wheelchair sports is rejected for being unstable, despite the female assistant’s obvious attraction to him. It isn’t until Alex Murphy, a cop and family man, is critically injured by a car bomb that OmniCorp decides he’s the perfect candidate, pressures his wife Clara into signing all manner of consent forms, and whisks what little remains of his mortal form to their laboratories in unregulated China.
Murphy wakes up from his pleasant drug-addled dream of dancing with Clara to the harsh reality of immobility and Kafkaesque conditions of the laboratory. Dr. Dennett Norton tries to ease the adjustment with a steady flow of antidepressants, but when Murphy demands to see the extent of the damage to his body the shock is overwhelming. Murphy wants to die, but Dr. Norton convinces him to see it through.
Alex Murphy: Holy Christ, there’s nothing left.
Dr. Dennett Norton: Your body may have gone, but you’re still here.
Alex Murphy: That’s not even my brain.
Dr. Dennett Norton: We had to repair the damaged areas. But we didn’t interfere with your emotion or your intellect. Do you understand me, Alex? You’re in control.
Alex Murphy: I’m in control?
Dr. Dennett Norton: Yes.
Alex Murphy: Okay. If I’m in control, then I wanna die. Just unplug whatever it is keepin’ me alive and end this nightmare.
Dr. Dennett Norton: Now, say I did that. Which as a doctor would almost be impossible for me, but say I did. What do I say to your wife? What does she say to your son?
Alex Murphy: That it didn’t work. That you tried. Somethin’ went wrong. You did everything you could, but I died.
Dr. Dennett Norton: So after all they’ve been through, all the pain, all their hope restored, we would just rip that away? Your wife loves you, Alex. She signed the consent forms herself. Otherwise, you couldn’t have undergone the procedure. She loves you and she gave you a second chance. I need you to take it.
Alex Murphy: I don’t wanna see myself like this again. Ever. And the same goes for my family. Just put me back in.
Dr. Norton is beholden to his corporate masters, though, and they have little patience for Murphy’s psychological needs or the autonomy Dr. Norton claimed to have restored. Murphy must show that all the money spent on his recovery was a worthwhile investment, and he’s brought to a military training course to demonstrate his new robotic abilities. When his trainer, Mattox, refers to Murphy as if he’s an inanimate object, Murphy offers his hand to shake and blandly remarks “It’s nice to meet you too.” Mattox doesn’t take the hint to treat Murphy like a human being, though, and later shows he’s one of the villains by referring to Murphy as “Tin Man” and taunting him by playing “If I Only Had a Heart”
Murphy makes an ill-fated attempt to re-integrate himself into his family life, which doesn’t go well at first. His young son is unprepared for all the technological innovations that now surround Daddy, and his favorite chair and marital bed weren’t designed for his sudden robotic bulkiness. Murphy is at the point of despair when he’s compelled back to the police force, and must begin to grapple with the larger questions of his injury and recovery. Did the company play a role in injuring Murphy? Does he really still have autonomy, or is he just the ghost in the machine? Murphy must adjust to his disability in order to face his oppressors and finally answer those questions.