RoboCop (1987)

2012 #80
Paul Verhoeven | 103 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

RoboCopIn a crime-addled future Detroit, cop Alex Murphy is gunned down by a gang of crooks, only to be resurrected by evil megacorporation OCP as the future of law enforcement: RoboCop. Obviously — that’s the title.

Hailed by those who love it as some kind of satirical masterpiece, RoboCop does manage to raise itself above other mindless ’80s action fare, at least to some degree. Equally, should you choose to watch it brain-off then I doubt you’ll be too troubled by its criticisms of corporate greed or the privatisation of public services (at least, I assume those are the targets — this is an American film and don’t Americans love privatisation? But then, Verhoeven is European, so who knows). There’s gory action and the odd one-liner to enjoy, as well as Murphy’s battle with identity once he becomes the robotic enforcer.

At this point, I think RoboCop has become a film you had to be there for. Viewed now, 25 years after release, it looks dated. The stop-motion rendering of big bad robot ED-209 appears jerky and cartoonish now, like something from a kids’ action/adventure film rather than an 18-rated satirical thriller. RoboCop beats it by making it fall down some stairs, after which it can’t get up, wiggling its legs in the air comically. Maybe that was Verhoeven’s intent, to make it laughable, but I’m not sure. I’m loath to criticise old-fashioned effects because, a) that’s all they had access to at the time, and b) they can often look better than today’s CGI-obsessed major movies; but where the likes of Back to the Future or Star Wars still stand up to scrutiny, I don’t believe RoboCop cuts the mustard.

There’s a remake coming soon which has seen a lot of criticism levelled at it by fans, especially over leaked photos of the new costume. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but nor am I dreading it — the concept’s a good’un and could withstand a refresh. Plus the version of RoboCop presented here, all stompy and bulky and slow, wouldn’t cut the mustard in an era that’s decades on from the T-1000 and can see small, streamlined technology every way we turn.

In the meantime, there’s this, but I do think it’s rather had its day.

3 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

1 thought on “RoboCop (1987)

  1. RoboCop blew me away when I first saw it at the local ABC cinema. If I remember properly it was around the time Predator came out. It seemed like genre movies were growing up, becoming adult Heavy Metal-kind of tales. And that whole cyberpunk thing was getting popular. Felt like underground filmmaking, anti-Hollywood cool. Funny to think of it as so tame nowadays. To be honest the visual fx was pretty poor even back in the day.


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