25 August 2020
In a dystopian future where crime is everywhere, the city of Detroit is on its knees and a megacorporation OCP (Omni Consumer Products) has won a contract to privatize the Police force – in exchange for rebuilding run-down parts of the city. Their long-term vision is creating Delta City from the ruins of Detroit, but first they must garner more power and deal with the crime. Headed up by the “Old Man”, OCP see robotics as the future of law enforcement, they even have a prototype ED-209 droid (created by Senior Vice President Dick Jones’s department) which is a walking arsenal that can act as judge and jury. Unfortunately, the ED-209 demonstration goes wrong so OCP must go to a plan B (which is the brainchild of ambitious executive Bob Morton). Plan B involves mixed human tissue with robotics, so the cops’ routes have been fiddled with so that good candidates are put in imminent danger so they can potentially be harvested. Good cop, Alex Murphy, who has only just transferred in, is gunned down by crime lord Clarence Boddicker and his gang. His partner, Office Anne Lewis, finds Murphy on deaths door and calls for rescue services, but Murphy dies in the emergency room. Because he signed an OCP contract when he transferred in, he is OCP property. OCP use what is left of his body and fuse it with new cyborg technology to make ‘Robocop’, the police officer of the future. Law enforcement of the future, that does not need food or sleep, has no emotions to get in the way of bringing crime to its knees – and importantly a programmable cyborg that can do what OCP needs to help it advance. Robocop is unveiled to the police precinct where Murphy used to work before he was gunned down, his former partner, Lewis, is still there. After a few routine nights working alone problems begin to develop, Robocop begins to have memories of being alive as Murphy. A member of the Boddicker gang, Emil Antonowsky, recognises Murphy/Robocop’s mannerisms as the person he helped gun down and sparks some memories in the mechanical cop. Also, Robocop is confronted by Lewis who claims to recognise his mannerisms too, which doesn’t help the confusion in Robocop.
With his new old memories, Robocop goes looking for Boddicker to get revenge. After successfully confronting the him, Boddicker thinks he’s going to be killed and begs for his life saying that he is linked to OCP official Dick Jones and therefor is untouchable. As it happens, he is, Robocop’s programming prevents him from doing anything other than arresting him. Boddicker eventually gets released due to his connections with Jones, so Robocop goes to confront and arrest Jones instead. Hidden programming prevents Robocop from arresting OCP officials so Jones openly admits his crimes and further crimes too. He then activates ED-209 to destroy Robocop, but Robocop escapes because ED-209 cannot use stairs. Jones arranges for Boddicker and his gang to hunt down Robocop, he also convinces the police the Robocop has gone rogue – so in effect everyone is after him. It his partner that gets to him first though. Robocop and Lewis talk, and she finds out that Robocop is, or at least was, Murphy, and part of him has remained too. She helps fight of the attack from Boddicker’s gang, after which Robocop heads back to confront Dick Jones. He must first get passed ED-209 though. The other issue is the programming in place to protect Jones, but when the Old Man learns of Jones’ actions, he fires him. No longer an OCP employee, Robocop is no longer restricted under programming.
Released in 1987, this action, crime, sci-fi film was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also brought audiences other intense films like “Total Recall” (1990), “Basic Instinct” (1992), “Starship Troopers” (1997) and “Hollow Man” (2000). He also brought audiences “Showgirls” (1995) but let us not talk about that one. Starring as Alex Murphy/ Robocop is Peter Weller, with Nancy Allen starring as his partner, Officer Anne Lewis. The ‘Old Man’ is played by Dan O’Herlihy, Ronnie Cox is Dick Jones, Miguel Ferrer is Morton, and Kurtwood Smith is Clarence Boddicker. The film was written by Edward Neumeir and Michael Milner, who took inspiration from a 1982 poster for “Blade Runner”.
This is a no-holds barred 90 min high octane film which I remember fondly from the 80’s. The scene where Murphy is gunned down haunted my young dreams for years, I was 7 years old though – and it was the original R-Rated version rather than the cut down versions! A cyberpunk film before the world really knew what cyberpunk was this a film which divides its audiences, some love it, some hate it with a passion. I fall into the ‘love it’ category. It was a relative success at the box office, having been made for a modest $13 million it took $53.4 million.
Massive credit must go to Verhoeven for eventually having a vision and then delivering it. I say eventually having a vision as he almost passed up the script, it was his wife that read it from cover to cover and convinced him to make the movie. Verhoeven was able to create something that was multi layered, it wasn’t just an action film, it was a moving look at humanity, a look at an uncertain future which seemed to suggest interaction with machines, it was a social satire too. There is the type of gore and violence that you would typically expect to see in a Verhoeven film, very over-the-top and comic book style. It also contains themes of media influence, corruption, capitalism, identity, and authoritarianism.
Verhoeven’s catalogue of films all tend to deal with excesses, they can all be dissected and studied in myriads of different ways. Take this film and look at his 1997 “Starship Troopers” too – separated by 10 years but both having similar themes and set-ups. Both have satirical news reports randomly shown (breaking the fourth wall), both have OTT splatter and gore, both deal with death and resurrection, and to some extent, what is taken away when humanity is taken away from the vessel. With both, Verhoeven also deals with fascism, with greed and excess, and with forced conformity too. It is all wrapped up in an almost pornographically black humorous way.
This movie could so easily have fallen into a typical 80’s B-Movie category, but what Verhoeven does is give it an almost timelessness, he takes away the fact that it is an 80’s film and manages to make it an action film instead of an 80’s action film, or a sci-fi film instead of an 80’s sci-fi film (Interestingly enough I think he did the opposite with the aforementioned “Starship Troopers” which looks like it could be an 80’s based film, despite it’s content). There are minor aspects that make the film look a little dated nowadays, mainly with the animation/puppetry and the greenscreen work – but I can happily forgive that, I happen to love the stop animation used so I would not mark the film down for this at all. That, for me, is the only thing that makes the film slightly dated. The action, stunts, bullets, and explosions though, easily make up for it for anyone who is put off by the sight of a puppet ED-209 superimposed next to live action.
“Robocop” is constantly overlooked when it comes to discussing iconic films, but this is truly one of the greats despite what some critics may say. It spawned a franchise which was made up of more films, TV series, video games, comics, and merchandise. This definitely isn’t one for the entire family due to its graphic nature… violence… sexual reference… drugs… basically, don’t watch this with your kids… and your mum probably won’t enjoy it either.