Picture the scene if you will as a Disney-eyed, painfully innocent 11-year-old me pops into a local corner shop and emerges having being rented Robocop on VHS. This absurd looking pre-teen scampers home clutching the tape closely to his chest, quivering with excitement as he’s been desperate to watch this movie for ages because he loves movies about shooty robots and that’s precisely all he knows about the contents of the film. But this child had no idea as to the cinematic epiphany that awaited his hungry little eye sockets. How could he? He was raised on Star Wars and Transformers cartoons, he was utterly unprepared for the detonation of violent behavior of Paul Verhoeven’s thrilling American debut going off in his fizzing little brain.
It turns out that seeing Robocop in all it’s gory glory as an adolescent was oddly the best way to do it because as I matured and learned about capitalism and satire and all the stuff this cyberpunk extravaganza mocks, the film matured with me, showing me something new with every subsequent viewing and thereby becoming one of my favorite films of all time.
It’s the near future (too near for my liking) and Alex Murphy is a street cop who has just transferred to the urban warzone that is Old Detroit. Crime is everywhere and the police force has been privatised by the mega-corperation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) leading to a desperate situation where the overworked, outmanned and outgunned officers are considering striking to get their needs met. On his first day on the street Murphy not only meets his kick-ass partner Lewis but he also is introduced to the maniacal Clarence Bodicker and his brutal gang who welcome Alex to town by surgically blowing him to pieces with unrelenting shotgun fire. As “luck” would have it, Murphy had signed a release form with OCP so that in such an event so his still warm body is handed over to their Robocop programme, a project ready to go after a previous attempt at militarizing urban pacification went horribly wrong.
Thus Murphy is reborn as Robocop, a metal encased dreadnought against crime with state of the art firepower and starts cleaning up the crime element in Detroit with a literal iron fist. However, a chance run in with one of the members of the gang – who so cruelly relieved him of one of his limbs and a good portion of his brain matter – sends Robocop into a spiral which allows him to regain a sense of himself and start towards arresting those responsible for his murder. However, machinations at the highest levels of OCP reveal that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and the corporate back stabbing is becoming worryingly literal. Can Murphy regain a semblance of what he’s lost and bring justice to the streets of Old Detroit, even if the trail goes right to the top of the corporation that made him?
Robocop may have a mahoosive firearm hidden in his unbearably cool leg holster but the movie’s secret weapon is it’s a big old brain under all that blood ‘n guts.
Dutch lunatic and cinematic genius Paul Verhoven’s switch to the world of American cinema was confusing to him, after all in his native land he was a respected art house filmmaker so why was he getting all these action scripts. Fortunately he was advised to look a little closer at Ed Neumeier’s scathing commentary on 80’s capitalist USA and realised he could put his confusion at American culture to good use at mocking the levels of violence and rampant commercialism he saw when he turned on his television set.
Despite his clumping big feet, Robocop treads the satirical line beautifully, nimbly dancing between brutally violent future shock and intelligent commentary often at the same time. No other movie stands as splay legged across the right wing/left wing divide with it’s fists to it’s hips, booming arrogant laughter at the heavens as it dares you to cheer the absurdly ultra-violent police brutality while simultaneously showing how ineffectual it is when handling the long term aspects of crime. Don’t believe me? How’s about the bit where Robocop saves a woman from a would-be rapist by shooting him clean in the dick only to be inadequately equipped to give the victim emotional support immediately afterward.
Not only is the movie a sly shot at big business and Reagan era politics but Verhoeven is also poking fun at American action movies too with Robocop’s virtual invincibility in the face of hails of bullets mirroring the invulnerable nature of characters like John Rambo: watch the scene as Robo casually strides through a drug lab picking off pre-targeted hordes of criminals at his leisure.
Of course all this talk of satire would mean absolutely squat if the world and characters wasn’t up to scratch and thankfully the movie is more than up to the task with virtually every scene being excessively memorable . Be it the elephantine clumsiness of Murphy’s towering predecessor; the ED-209, or watching with grim fascination as a luckless criminal takes an unexpected bath un toxic waste only to melt like a wax candle, Robocop makes being iconic look absurdly easy not to mention it being one of the most quotable films ever made.
The cast are all magnificent (extra kudos to Peter Weller, whose monotone drawl was made for this role as he slowly goes insane while entombed within Rob Bottin’s peerless suit design, and That 70’s Show’s Kurtwood Smith leaking undiluted criminal scumbag out through his very pores) as is Basil Poledouris’ catchy, hard as nails, score.
Simply put, 12-year-old me and I are in agreement as Robocop is blatantly one of the greatest movies of all time.
Yeah, I said it. Your move, creep.