Auteur’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nostalgia can be a film critic's Kryptonite, or in the case of Robocop, their "Directive 4;" sometimes it just cannot be overcome, and leads to the destruction of any hope of objective analysis. I reject the idea that subconsciously I am predisposed to films released during a certain time period, based solely on when I was born. That would mean you could gather together a group of 100 film critics, each born in a different year, and between them find praise for every film ever made. I was thirteen when I first saw Robocop, and it's been over two decades since the last time, when it earned a place on my Top 100 Of All Time, though I suspect it has since fallen off. This year's remake afforded me a perfect opportunity to revisit it, and see if it really is as great as I remembered, or if dreaded nostalgia for the time in my life when films were shaping me the most, has been keeping it alive on life support in my circles of praise over the years. I always upheld that director Paul Verhoeven's vision, his desire to meet the absurdist, darkly comic exaggerations of the story with extreme, censor-pushing graphic violence underlined the film's socio-political commentary of life in the Reagan eighties, when government spending on law enforcement was drastically cut, and corporations quickly began taking over the world. But could it have been the one-liners, could it have been the violence itself, divorced from context, or could it have been toxic waste man ("hellllp meeeee") that had been fueling my love all these years?
I bring this up because with all the negative reviews coming out for the remake, I'm left wondering how much of a part nostalgia is playing in the wealth of hate. I happen to love the remake. It expands the world of the original to include more of a human story, and updates virtually all of Verhoeven's commentary for 2014, and all the current hot button issues plaguing America today. But more on that another time. Suffice it to say my admiration for it created an even greater challenge for a rewatch of its predecessor.
Thankfully, Verhoeven's original remains one of the finest examples of the science-fiction genre ever created. He is subversive enough to tie every single act of bloodshed to his argument against corporatism, and his hyperbolic commercials are weirdly prescient, dead-on forecasts of the world we live in today. Peter Weller is fantastic as Murphy, the police officer who gets blown away on the job only to come back to life as Robocop. The practical effects are delightfully outdated, a breath of fresh air from all the computerized ones of today. And the villains are well portrayed, lingered on a bit too much, but aptly drawn as objects of Robocop's vengeance, meting out justice with the cinematic rhythms of a slasher film. Sure there's more that Verhoeven could have done, the remake makes that surprisingly clear with its inclusion of Murphy's wife and child, but in 1987 too much of a human story would have hobbled a film that relies so specifically on non-stop depravity and violence and greed to retain its laser focus.
The best genre films are usually the ones that are the most deceptive. The ones that dazzle their audience with expertly crafted, intense scenes of action, but offer additional layers of meaning to those who crave more than just entertainment. Paul Verhoeven delivers in spades, elevating the routine cop picture to near artistic heights, and crafting his greatest film ever made in the United States. Robocop is timeless; it is a film with topical themes that will be debated until the end of time, and I'm happy that my thirteen-year-old self was able to tap into that universal subtext beyond the visceral thrills. But really, I'm just happy I'm not that guy on my Facebook feed who said the remake is ok, but could have used more tits and blow.