(WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)
The RoboCop remake comes out today and it is AWESOME. Although I was very young when I saw the original, perhaps a bit too young (not gonna lie: I remember being extremely disturbed by it), I am fan of it and sincerely doubted whether a remake would reach the bar set by its predecessor. I am glad to say I was proven wrong.
Having said that, the remake is not without its problems. One of the things I love about the original is the character of Anne Lewis; Alex Murphy's fellow officer and partner, played with scrappy determination by the criminally underrated Nancy Allen. If you recall, Lewis' arc in the original film is that of Murphy's advocate. OCP, being the shady, evil, underhanded organization they are, lies to Murphy's family about his death so that they could use his organic material for their RoboCop prototype without interference from his grieving relatives. Believing him dead, Murphy's wife and kid pack up and move away, leaving Anne to help her partner reclaim his humanity and agency from OCP.
Perhaps I'm giving the Lewis character too much credit, but to me, Lewis is a prime example of a strong, female character. Lewis isn't defined by who she is in relation to a man, she's defined by her attributes: tough-as-nails veteran cop and loyal comrade in arms. Lewis stands by Murphy, not because of any personal or emotional relationship with him, but because Murphy is a fellow cop; a colleague. Her character could have easily been played by a man, but the PTB happened to make her a woman, especially at a time when characters like her were few, far between, and considered revolutionary (although I suppose they still are...more on that in a moment).
Flash foward almost 30 years later and Anne Lewis is gone from the remake. In her stead is Officer Jack Lewis, played by Michael K. Williams. Why? Enter Clara Murphy, played by Abbie Cornish. The remake doesn't need Anne Lewis to help Murphy reclaim his agency from OCP because it gave that arc to his wife, Clara. Clara, by contrast, is defined entirely by her relationship to a man; that she is referred to as "Mrs. Murphy" throughout the film by various characters makes it quite clear. In turn, this ends up transforming Murphy's struggle to reclaim his agency from shady, evil, underhanded corporation from a fight against outsourcing and the corporate bottom line by discovering the true value of humanity, into a Tammy Wynette song — sing along if you know the words.
And if you think that's problematic, we're just getting started. However valid these points may be, there is a contingent who will vehemently disagree. All women's choices must be celebrated, even if we disagree with them, so long as said choices are the product of informed consent. Maybe Clara Murphy chose to take Alex's name, and maybe she chose to be a SAHM, because of practical reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that we live in a patriarchal society. Furthermore, isn't it anti-woman of me to presume that a wife and mother can't be a strong, female character? After all, some of us have (or had) moms we look up to, and there are examples of strong, female characters in media who happen to be wives and moms (Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, etc.).
That may very well be true, but in this particular instance, I don't know why Clara Murphy took her husband's name. I don't know why she became a SAHM. All I know is that I don't know anything about her other than that she's married to the main character of this film, she signed his remains over to evil corporation after they promised her to give him a second shot at life, and when evil corporation turned him from a person into one of their products, thus driving him away from her, she fought back. I further know that she exists in a universe where women are a) corrupt police chiefs who act as dragons for male crime kingpins, b) heartless corporate executives who are second in command to the male CEO, and c) second-fiddle assistants to the benevolent male scientist in charge.
I also know that we have far too many examples in media of women who are defined by their relation to others as opposed to their own attributes. In that respect, Clara Murphy is well represented, whereas the Anne Lewis' of the world are few and far between.