Revisiting Robocop

Revisiting Robocop

August 19, 2016

By Furzee Glob

I saw this movie on television for the first time when I was a kid in the late 90s. I remember liking it just as any kid who likes television likes any action film. It felt a little outdated from my young point of view (note: I grew up in Mexico, so I might have seen it dubbed in Spanish which believe it or not gives action movies a cool b-movie value). I did like some older movies I had seen at the time, probably also dubbed, like Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and The Goonies. But those were friendlier films. My interests lied more in Jurassic Park 2 or The Phantom Menace. I would be simply a fool to deny it. This one, no one my age talked about at recess, or if we did we just didn’t care that much. Although I knew some of my uncles and old cousins liked it. For me it was just another action packed, maybe scary, noisy two hours and I honestly don’t even remember if I actually saw this one or its sequels. But don’t give me that “I-liked-Pulp-Fiction-since-I-was-four” crap. Everybody is a movie naiveté at that age. Not even Roger Ebert was a Silent-Era Ozu geek at 9. Robocop has lately been considered a masterpiece “disguised as an action movie” specially since it got picked to be part of the Criterion Collection a couple years back (let’s face it, more than half of its recent snob-worshipers who rapidly changed from 6 to 9 their IMDB rating of the movie as soon as it was announced wouldn’t care about it if it wasn’t part of it). I recently found a copy and decided to check it out.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Robocop is set in a futuristic Detroit, soon to be turned into Delta: a crime-free project planned by OCP, a corporation that “aids” people’s safety. At that point in the film, however, Detroit streets are full of mischief and transgression. The police is tired of this. OCP has plans for 24/7 surveillance robots watching out for the city. This is always a bad idea. There is, however, not a sign of people caring about society. News anchors spew away shocking news with smiles all over their faces. At the corporate building, a presentation on the the ED-209, a huge Metal-Gear-Solid-like robot is given. Something goes wrong and it kills one worker at the conference room. The Robocop presentation is given 20 minutes later with almost nobody caring about their recent loss. “Too bad about Kinney huh?” asks one of the officials in the elevator minutes later, “That’s life in the big city” Robert Morton, a piece of shit soon-to-be-made vice-president, responds. He is the hooker/cocaine addicted head behind the Robocop project.

Criminals don’t mind shooting cops (or anybody for that matter) in the film. In fact, Clarence Boddicker, the main antagonist played by, Kurtwood Smith and his colleagues, shoot our main character, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller), who is a cop recently transferred to the Detroit precinct. First they explode his hand with a shotgun, then fill his body with bullets and end his human days with a clean, direct shot in the head. The criminals look more like street pirates than burglars. Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), a woman who was lightly injured previously on this failed chase scene, rescues his corpse. OCP gets his hands on it and use it to build the new Robocop prospect. He is given the body of a silver/bluish and black metal costume. He speaks, although he becomes a man/robot of few words. He has an android-like face that is later revealed to be a mask. The only piece of flesh visible in his body is his lower face. His lips don’t show a glimpse of human emotion. He saves the city in a series of crime sprees: your typical grocery store assault, guys raping a fine lady, and a dumb terrorist with hostages asking for fresh coffee, threatening to kill the mayor at city hall. Robocop easily saves the day. The kids love him, he is their out-of-an-action-tv-show vigilante dream come true. His advice to them: “stay out of trouble.”

Of course the movie touches the theme that no machine is perfect. Flaws start to pop-up but the metal officer harms no innocents. His consciousness starts to make a comeback in his head and the film becomes a revenge movie with Robocop willing to do anything to find the bastards that gave him this fate. He fights the bad guys. There’s a revelation of a main antagonist being Dick Jones, the former corrupt vice-president corporate in OCP (the president is actually a really nice guy). Nothing surprising there. Robocop fights these big bandits throughout the film with his mix of human hate combined with super strength. He wins. He has a hard time doing it. And receives a couple thousands of bullet shots in the process. And yes, he has this brief fight with the ED-209 that ends with a hysterical twist, and a last showdown of an unmasked Robocop against Clarence & co aided by heavy military firepower provided by Jones. He outperforms them by means of toxic-waste, explosives and a helpful knife that comes out of his hand. Back in the city, he confidently blows up the ED-209’s upper body and inside the building at the the 50-something floor sends Dick Jones to the grave. It concludes with one of those always comforting though-guy remarks. The story is pretty straight forward. 

What makes this a really special one is the great bits that constitute it: several times people are shown watching television laughing like crazy at stupid TV shows, the Robocop creation process is a transmission-like sequence that is visually original for its time (it is also great on this same sequence when a lady doctor kisses him, making her lipstick residuals blur the lens), Robocop shooting a lady below her vagina to save her from a rapist, Morton being assaulted at home by Clarence and hookers leaving his place begging him to call them back (Morton explodes along with his house), a TV commercial about a nuclear-bombing board game (a personal favorite), ED-209 falling from a staircase and whining like a little child, automatic real estate services at houses open to the public, criminals doing their thing at the same time eating candy bars, Robocop throwing the same criminal out the window sparing the TV crew some time to get footage of him before he goes to jail, a Strategic Defense Peace Platform satellite misfiring lasers, burning by accident thousands of acres in California, killing hundreds, including two ex-presidents, a shot of two executives taking a leak from the point of view of another one taking a shit, and many more. Believe me, these are not the highlights, just a few random picks. All this madness results into a compilation of degenerated, whacky scenes packed with medium-well violence.

It does have its cheesy parts. Or maybe just obsolete. Cuts of Robocop driving around the city with that heroic score music are a little ridiculous but they don’t last long. It is as entertaining as Die Hard with the social commentary of Logan’s Run. Like many science fiction flicks, this one warns its viewers that one must behave correctly, avoid to become dependent of technology, and try to build a better world while we still have morals and resources. We’ve always been warned about that. The true success of this film is the way it is made visually, how it mocks modern advances in technology, the amazing humor, and the crazy society that inhabits it. It is in many ways a winner, and still as young and relevant as ever.

Find yourself a copy, grab some baby food, and knock yourself out.

Note: I refused to talk about the negatively criticized recent remake because I have not seen it and I am not throwing dirt to it unfairly.

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