Steven Lisberger’s Tron (1982), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), dystopian fantasies dressed in dark stylistics and perceptive social commentaries. Substantively, though, it’s rather simplistic: whereas its counterparts matched their welcomingly off-center premises with just as interesting intellectual provocations, RoboCop is more a big-budgeted, visually daring B-movie. It’s a smart, albeit cheap, thrill.
Many hold it in higher esteem than I do. Just glance at the film’s Wikipedia page, which credits the movie for touching upon no less than 10 thematic elements by the second paragraph. (This is, arguably, a stretch.) In watching RoboCop, I didn’t so much get the feeling that I was watching intentionally cerebral sci-fi. Clearer was a sensation that I was witnessing something made more to stay in touch with genre curiosities of the era, only incidentally appearing as something more considerable from time to time.
This shouldn’t suggest that RoboCop is a subpar product – it is, by most standards, inspired. What it should instead suggest is that it is an entertaining pastime regarded too highly, nothing more than a fun popcorn movie people tend to view with a gratuitously philosophical lens. If screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner dug more deeply into its shallowly explored thematics, maybe I’d stand among its utmost fans. For now, a casual liking’s more fitting.
In the film, we are thrown into the metallic and smoggy jungle that is a futuristic Detroit, the movie's primary setting. Here, life is miserable, dangerous. The states have become dystopian. Local governments are desperate: the crime rate is jacked, cities are unmanageably chaotic, and the economy's collapsing.
Detroit is particularly hopeless, though, and this inspires the mayor to sign a deal with mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products just as the movie's opening. Since OCP’s so financially invincible, a hope hovers in the air that it'll be able to reverse the city’s dire circumstances. The upcoming deal with allow the company to both control and fund the Detroit Police Department, and begin turning the more downcast areas of the city into an upper-class-baiting utopia called Delta City.
Amid this corporate backdrop lies a human story, however, and it involves Murphy (Peter Weller), a newly appointed Detroit officer. Young and hopeful, he’s at that weird middle ground in your 30s where you’re experienced in your field (and in life – he has a wife and a couple kids) yet nonetheless still have myriad doors waiting to be opened. But before we can really get to know him, or even his professional partner Anne (Nancy Allen), he’s caught in the crossfire of a brutal shootout, pronounced dead on the scene.
Then he’s given a second chance. Earlier in the movie, OCP’s VP tried pitching the implementation of a robot cop, called an ED-209, and failed. But in Murphy’s death, the company sees a renewed opportunity. What if scientists revived him, replaced his damaged organs with cybernetics, and made him not into a robotic police officer but the official RoboCop?
This sets the stage for a rather goofy thriller that finds Weller’s eponymous freak of modified nature battling the thugs who offed him in the first place. Eventually, it even turns into a roller coaster of a tale seasoned by police corruption and corporate greed. But it’s faux perceptive. Attempts at Philip K. Dick-level commentary are there, but they never fly quite as high as the visuals or special effects. At least our adrenaline valves are tickled and the performances are effective.
So it's just rowdy pulp, hyperviolent and sexily futuristic. That RoboCop catered more to my eyes than it did my mind is not necessarily a bad thing in this case, though: with the film, director Verhoeven successfully brings the sensorial and optical stimulations of a graphic novel to the celluloid strip. Such should be celebrated just as much as the overrated instances of cognitive chutzpah. B
1 Hr., 43 Mins.
RoboCop January 11, 2018
ong touted as one of the best science fiction films of the 1980s (and, in some circles, of all time), Paul Verhoeven’s cyberpunk RoboCop (1987) doesn’t as much look like an unaging masterpiece in 2017 as it does a retrospectively zeitgeist-defining artifact of its time.
Aesthetically, it fits in with the decade’s premier sci-fi features: we’re reminded of