“I’m not a weapons system. I’m a man.”
In 1998, 11 years after the first ROBOCOP movie, five years after the last ROBOCOP movie, ten years after the first ROBOCOP cartoon and four years after the first live action TV series came the second ROBOCOP cartoon, ROBOCOP: ALPHA COMMANDO. This was cartoon RoboCop reimagined for a very different age of TV animation. After the success of prime time cartoons like The Simpsons and the influence of Batman: The Animated Series, most cartoons were still aimed at children, but the standards for storytelling were a little higher, and many seemed like they were no longer made with utter contempt for the little shitbags they expected to be babysat by the fuckin thing.
Watching the three part pilot, “Justice Reborn,” the first thing that struck me was RoboCop’s size. That robot always had big shoulders but jesus, they redesigned them to be about three times the size of The Rock’s. I kinda like it, it distinguishes him from other RoboCops.
The second thing that struck me was the theme song. It has really good lyrics: “Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop. Ro-bo-Cop!” Something like that. I might’ve gotten some of it wrong.
The intro shows alot of action with Robo being involved in various forms of transportation including car, motorcyle, part 3 style flying, stopping a monorail, shooting at a space ship, throwing a tank, fleeing from a helicopter and we even see him on rollerblades, which he uses to zip around an ED-209 and tie up its legs Battle of Hoth style. However I was disappointed that we don’t see RoboCop using a boat or taking the bus.
Like the original Neumeier and Miner script for ROBOCOP 2: CORPORATE WARS, Alpha Commando finds RoboCop reactivated in the future (in this case 2020). The story opens in Washington DC where Secret Agent Nancy Miner of the top secret government agency Division Alpha is involved in a high speed car chase, trying to stop a robot attack on the fez-wearing premiere of some Arab-like country called Nekmenistan or something. “No assassinations on my watch!” she says. Agent Miner (movie co-writer hat tip, by the way) is voiced by Akiko Morrison, who you may know from one episode of M.A.N.T.I.S. At least I hope so because that would be awesome if any of you have an encyclopedic knowledge of M.A.N.T.I.S.
The guy is safe for now, but he’s headed for New Detroit’s One World Village, where they’re holding the “Celebrate Humanity” International Peace Exposition at One World Village, or “this peace wing ding” as Sergeant Reed later calls it. Sergeant Reed is the name of the commanding officer from the movies, but he’s voiced by Blu Mankuma, who played him as “Sergeant Parks” in ROBOCOP: THE SERIES. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be the same guy. Anyway, because of his new futuristic haircut I will call him MohawkCop.
Alpha Division know there will be more attempts on the premiere’s life by D.A.R.C. – the Directorate for Anarchy, Revenge and Chaos, who “use bribery and fear to create secret allies within the government” and who know such a tragedy at the peace fair would cause a world war.
So Miner is sent to her new partner, who they shoulda warned her was a robot because “I had a partner once. He was killed by a robot.” They just send her with no explanation Dr. Cornelius Neumeier (hey!) (Dean Haglund from The X-Files), bespectacled lab coat nerd, who switches on the “electro cryogenic containment unit” and resurrects RoboCop (David Sobolov), saying “He’s aliiiiiive. I-I hope.” So at least he gets that ROBOCOP was kind of a riff on Frankenstein.
Miner doesn’t trust RoboCop at first because he’s part robot, but Alpha Division want him because he’s not all human, and humans can’t be trusted. So she just has to suck it up.
He’s not quite the same Robo we remember. I mean, he’s still Alex Murphy, and even still remembers his son (now named Richie according to Wikipedia) talking to him about the T.J. Lazer gun spinning trick (that’s memory file 69.2 – you’d think it would be higher). He’s off his game in that the gun flies out of his hand when he tries that trick, but luckily Dr. Neumeier has built all kinds of (coincidentally non-lethal) devices into his body including a glue gun, a grappling hook (that uses rope it looks like), a signal flare, and I guess the rollerblades.
But the biggest difference is in his personality. The first thing he says is “Hello Dr. Neumeier. Who’s the babe?” And he delights in saying Schwarzeneggerian puns. When he can’t find his gun he says “Mmmm, my… leg is unarmed.” But then discovers his glue gun and says “At least I haven’t become unglued.”
After gluing some police officers to a wall he calls their boss on one of their headsets and says “They’re a little stuck up.” That’s practically “Stick around!”
I mean, he keeps going. They give him new arms, but one of the old ones is still moving, and he says “I guess I miss it. I was kind of attached to it.” Alot of arm humor in this one.
Miner and Murphy are on the case, they go to the peace fair, where they stop some little cute robots from assassinating the guy. RoboCop has to say “Don’t be alarmed sir, I’m saving your life” and lay on top of him. Ouch. One of the little droids is gonna blow, so he lays on top of him too. Like jumping on a grenade. RoboCop sacrifices himself alot, and they never think they’re gonna be able to repair him. I feel like they don’t really understand the advantage of RoboCop.
After they do repair him he returns to the police department, where all the cops line up and applaud him. He has come back from a big victory, from an injury and from a long absence, so this is nice, it’s all the reasons for that type of welcome. I guess he hasn’t been on the shelf as long as I thought, though, because the cops know him and even saved his locker for him.
There’s kind of a fight over RoboCop now. MohawkCop and the police department want him back: “He’s RoboCop. C-O-P. Not RoboFed. He belongs here!” The city wants to deactivate him, because there is an uptight bureaucrat guy who considers him city property. “Its unauthorized use stops now. Take it away!”
“He’s not just some clankin’ machine!” says MohawkCop.
Of course, the feds win out, that’s why RoboCop is an Alpha Commando in this series. He’s moving up the ladder. Eventually he will be a legendary ex-Alpha Commando mercenary and then a mysterious drifter who tries to be a pacifist but whose law enforcement and alpha commanding past come back to him when he has to save a small town from white supremacists or something.
I actually think this is a pretty cool setup as far as these things go, but unfortunately the second two episodes of the pilot just feel like a series of unrelated, not very interesting events. A Russian bomb lady spirits RoboCop to Canada to reprogram him. “Your delicious powers will be reprogrammed to serve me” i.e. assassinate the prime minister guy. Bad guys always gonna reprogram RoboCop, you can take that to the bank for a dollar or whatever.
One weird moment: the premiere guy says on TV “In the words of the prophet, can’t we all just get along?” This is like 6 years after Rodney King said that. It’s gotta be a reference, though, right? Is it saying that in the future there is a religion based on Rodney King? Or is it saying that Muhammed once said something that could be paraphrased that way? I don’t know.
The tone of ALPHA COMMANDO is not very Verhoeven. It has a better sense of humor than the previous cartoon, but not really a satirical one. I guess RoboCop being considered property is related to the privatization theme of the movie, but that’s about it. OCP doesn’t seem to have the same dominance in the future, and there’s even some other company called Botco made the killer robots, so there’s not the same monopoly.
Instead of Mediabreaks there are Newsbites, which have animation of teeth biting the screen with a funny chomp sound effect, and use the slogan “Give us 30 seconds and we’ll give you the world.” But they really just give us juxtaposition.
I do like the propaganda feel of the commercial break intros and outros. RoboCop saying things like:
“Back in one minute. 10-4, then “Welcome back, citizens.”
“Put down that remote. We’ll be right back,” while threatening us with some kind of built in weapon, then “And now, citizens, back to the show.”
Also there’s “We’ll be right back. Obey the law.”
After hearing Robo say “Citizen” so many times I started to get a STARSHIP TROOPERS feel. So I’ll give it that.
It is possible that this show got better. From the first episode I actually felt like I was gonna kind of like it. Other RoboCops I’ve seen have done such a poor job of finding an interesting way to rehash Peter Weller that I was excited to see this corny action hero version. It’s too bad they didn’t find anything worth his time other than enjoyably bad jokes. But it seems from the intro like there’s at least enough variety of action to do an okay job of fulfilling a kid’s wish of just having a robot going around fighting stuff.
To me, the highlight of this show is the scene where he suspects one of the cute droids is part of the assassination plot. He approaches the little guy and says “Excuse me. I wish to interface with you,” then threateningly extends the blade from his hand that he uses for that sort of thing. Man, R2-D2, Robo’s gonna fuck you up! Get the vaseline.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.