“Good night, sweet prince.”
In a futuristic Detroit, crime is rampant and steadily on the rise. Criminals run the city, and police officers are dying daily. Morale is low in the force, dilapidation is damn near everywhere, and hope seems like a foreign concept. In those two sentences, I may have just described today’s Detroit…
All joking aside, in RoboCop, new precinct officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) arrives at the wrong time. In Detroit, thugs really do hold all of the cards, and, as the news telecasts show (pretty reflective I might add), these lowlifes aren’t afraid to express their displeasure with the boys in blue. The situation has got the Detroit force so riled up that they are planning to strike, in large part because they are being put into these dire straights by Omni Consumer Products (OCP), a mega-corporation that has recently signed a contract to manage Detroit’s finest. OCP knows that crime must be eradicated before plans to build Delta City, a new Utopian metropolis that will sit where “Old Detroit” is, can begin.
Unbeknownst to the force, the megacorp has meticulously been working on a way to clean crime. Funded by OCP President Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) is the Enforcement Droid Series 209, knows simply as ED-209. During a presentation to the board and its “Old Man” CEO, this game-changer looks to be everything it has been hyped as, until something horrible happens during the demonstration. Sensing an opportunity, rising executive and rival to Dick Jones Bob Morton informs the CEO that his team has been working on an alternative plan in case ED-209 failed. It is known as RoboCop, and it is ready to launch. All they need is “some poor schmuck” to volunteer, which shouldn’t be hard because Morton has had prime candidates in the force assigned to high risk areas.
Meanwhile, on his first day on the job, Murphy and his partner Anne respond to a crime in progress and come face to face with cop killer/kingpin Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his mercenaries. A car chase ensues and ultimately ends at an abandoned warehouse. With no backup on the way but a chance to apprehend the city’s most wanted, the duo go for it. Things look solid until the duo is separated, and Murphy is brought to his end (spoiler!, but then again, the movie is A: Over 25 years old, and B: Describes the character dying in 95% of movie summaries) rather gruesomely by the gang. However, maybe Murphy’s end is just what the doctor ordered for Morton’s master plan…
With the remake on the way in 6 days and already in theaters in some cases, the original is starting to get a boost in popularity, and it should. While it is cheesy and dated effects-wise at times (which should be expected with a movie titled RoboCop), it is also one of the finer science fiction and satire films around. This is my second time viewing this film, and while I liked it the first time, it is really starting to grow on me and most likely will upon repeated viewings.
This film deals with many ills of society, and all of them are examined in solid depth. The main themes do revolve around identity and technology, but corruption, capitalism, urban gentrification, and dystopia are featured prominently, among others. Is RoboCop pure cyborg, a cyborg with human traits interspersed, or maybe even still human but supported by technology? Is technology really a cure-all for all of our problems, or does it create more problems and more separation? How much power is too much power for corporations, and can we even stop them from acquiring it? Despite these themes and potential questions, the film never feels too heavy, and is at times light and funny. But the themes are what takes this film to high points, and honestly, I think these themes may be even more prevalent today than in 1987, which makes it a sci-fi that only feels dated in its visuals.
Yes the visuals are dated, but if you remind yourself that this film came out in 1987, you’ll quickly realize that they are fairly amazing and well ahead of the release time. I would even argue that a lot of the effects and CGI are better than not only director Paul Verhoeven subsequent film after RoboCop in Total Recall, but most 90’s fare. The makeup and costume crew deserve high praise alone for the RoboCop costume. It looks futuristic yet also carries an older, “knight-ish” air to it as well. Sound mixing was stellar as well. Every hinge, creak, track, and movement was melded perfectly.
The acting is really nothing to write home about as a whole, but there are some standout performances. I believe not enough credit is given to Peter Weller. His death is one of the more tougher ones to watch in movie history, and he really makes us feel the pain he undergoes as his demise is painfully prolonged. As RoboCop, his facade is never revealed until later, so he is forced to emote only through his lower face for a large portion of the movie, which is not easy. Underrated performance for sure.
Ronny Cox is effective as conniving and jealous Dick Jones, bu maybe he had a reason to be? Kurtwood Smith, undoubtedly known from his role as the dad in That 70’s Show, is good as the kingpin Clarence, in a role that isn’t particularly deep but doesn’t need to be. However, my favorite character in the film, hands down, has to be Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton. Morton is kind of a douche and can be quite arrogant and just as conniving as Jones, but in his screen time, I couldn’t help but like him amid his shortcomings, and I firmly believe that he did have good intentions in mind but went about them in the wrong way.
Look past the occasional cheese, ultra-violence, and dated factors and you’ll find a well crafted film that feels very relevant today in a multitude of ways. It will appeal most to science fiction fans but that shouldn’t turn off others who are not traditionally but still desire social commentary in their films. I will definitely check out the new RoboCop in a few weeks, but I am going in with low expectations as I do not expect the 2014 version to top its predecessor.
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