Adam Cook’s review:
Choosing your favourite action film from the 1980s is no easy task. Whether it is the relentlessness of The Terminator, the everyman charm of Die Hard or the frankly ridiculous but brilliant, Commando, the decade saw its fair share of genre classics. However, much like choosing your favourite child, you tell yourself they are all equal but deep down there is always one a little smarter and a little funnier that you secretly love just that bit more. For me that film is Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi masterpiece, RoboCop.
RoboCop is a film that manages to revel in the decade’s excess whilst openly condemning it too. It is a film very much of its time (and it will be interesting to see how the remake works in today’s world) with its artificially created and righteous role model bringing justice to the bad guys. Yet whilst the character of RoboCop is entirely in keeping with this Reagan ideal, Verhoeven systematically pokes fun at everything his regime believed in. It is one of the key elements that makes the film so appealing because whilst it more than delivers the relentless action, brilliantly choreographed set pieces, amusing one-liners and bursts of ultraviolence, it is a film that attempts to achieve more than the competition.
Is the satire sophisticated? Not particularly. Is it even subtle? Hell no! But nor should it be. For it to succeed it needs to be as blatant and as in your face as it is here. Its condemnation of big business, privatisation, vulgar commercialism and the growing rich-poor divide is delivered as swiftly and succinctly as RoboCop delivers justice on the rough streets of Detroit. It is a film that could only ever have been made by an outsider, somebody who could stand back from this excessive brand of capitalism and see how destructive it could become. From the satirical advert and news breaks to the extreme ruthlessness of the businessmen, the film is packed with a black and genuinely amusing wit. Even RoboCop’s Christ-like arc adds an extra layer of detail to the film; from Murphy’s ‘death’ mirroring the inconceivable suffering during the Passion to his miraculous resurrection (Verhoeven goes all out and even gets him walking on water near the end), he is a character not only suffering for our sins but created by them too.
Between the unrestrained violence and social satire it is easy to forget the film has surprising heart. At the centre of the story is a good man trying to make a difference who is used and destroyed by the system he tries to uphold. It is not an easy role to play; the actor is encased in a costume that shows little more than his mouth yet Peter Weller (an actor deserving of a better career) delivers real emotion, particularly in the scene where he returns to his empty home. The rest of the cast are deliberately broader but the film contains some of the finest bastards in cinema with Kurtwood Smith, Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer all on fine villainous form.
In a genre that strives for little more than excitement, RoboCop proves you can still deliver the goods whilst being smarter, funnier and more emotionally engaging than those around you.