Monday, June 18, 2018

RoboCop (1987) Review

What does the future hold for society?  It's ambiguous, yes, but for many years it has fueled the fire for the science-fiction genre.  Authors and directors alike have treated us to visions of the future both good and bad.  Optimistic creators have shown us a world where people drive flying cars, consume food in pill form, and wear new-age outfits.  On the other hand, there have been just as many tales where due to reasons like a shortage of resources, a totalitarian leadership, or an increase in crime, society has fallen apart in the years ahead.  1987's RoboCop shows us a version of Detroit that is falling apart due to rampant crime and a failing infrastructure, and to keep a sense of order, a new form of police officer is deployed on to the field, one who is part human and part machine.

At an unspecified point in the future, crime runs rampant in the crumbling city of Detroit.  Gang wars, drugs, murder, and rape have corrupted the once-shining metropolis.  Therefore, a mega-corporation named OCP plans to buy out the city with the intent to eliminate all crime, renovate the town, and rename it Delta City.  An executive named Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) attempts to launch a line of robotic law enforcement units called ED-209 in an attempt to move his way up the corporate ladder.  However, during a test run, an ED-209 malfunctions and kills one of the executives at the meeting, much to the dismay of OCP's CEO, the Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy).  Afterwards, a younger executive named Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) believes this is his chance to start plans for his own law enforcement unit, the only problem is finding a worthy test subject.

Meanwhile, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) has just been assigned to the eastern precinct of Detroit and is partnered up with Ann Lewis (Nancy Allen).  While on patrol, word comes in over the radio that a bank robbery took place, and the person responsible was the notorious Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith).  Murphy and Lewis intercept Boddicker and his fleeing henchman, and their pursuit leads them to an abandoned steel mill.  The two cops split up, only for Lewis to be knocked unconscious by one of the cronies.  Murphy keeps searching and finds two goons, but he's ambushed by Boddicker.  Unable to call for back-up, the gang proceeds to gun down Murphy.  Lewis wakes up, but is too late to save her partner.

A few months later, Bob Morton is ready to introduce RoboCop, his personal project, to the public, and the person chosen to be merged with machine is none other than Alex Murphy.  OCP stations RoboCop in the eastern precinct, where he then begins to make quick work of the thugs of Detroit.  He's branded a hero by the general public, but Lewis notices something oddly familiar about RoboCop, particularly the way he puts up his gun, which reminds her of how Murphy used to holster his.  While at the station, Lewis runs into RoboCop, where she says, "Murphy, it's you."  This triggers flashbacks to Murphy's previous life, and he starts to remember who he once was, but also the men who killed him.  With this knowledge, RoboCop starts tracking down Clarence Boddicker and those who had a hand in Murphy's murder.

Fans of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon will
recognize the pistol RoboCop uses.  On that note,
when are we getting Blood Dragon 2?

On the surface, RoboCop sounds like the set-up to a cheesy B-movie or Saturday morning cartoon, but writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner take this set-up and turn it into an excellent picture that's equal parts action, tragedy, satire, and black comedy.  The tale of Alex Murphy and his mechanical resurrection is more or less akin to Jesus Christ.  The film never hits you over the head with religious symbolism, but ideas like death and resurrection and what it means to be human are the driving force behind RoboCop as a character.  At first, he's nothing more than a product of OCP, and a damn good one at that.  He's bulletproof, wields a pistol that never seems to run out of ammo, and he can punch guys so hard they go flying across a room.  After his encounter with Lewis, though, the man he used to be slowly works its way into RoboCop's memory.

It's powerful stuff, especially the sequence where RoboCop returns to what used to be Alex Murphy's home, only it's abandoned, and the wife and son have moved on, believing he is dead.  At the end of the picture, the Old Man asks who he is, to which RoboCop responds, "Murphy," in a humanistic voice, indicating Alex Murphy is back.

Additionally, RoboCop's secondary cast of good and bad guys are just as strong as the titular robot.  Ann Lewis is probably one of the greatest sidekick's ever.  She can handle the job and helps RoboCop rediscover who he once was and gets out of dire situations.  There's also a no-nonsense police chief named Warren Reed (Robert Doqui) who deserves a mention, simply because regardless of what happens at the police station, he keeps everyone in line.  Then, we have the villains, as RoboCop shows us, people who work for corporations will screw over one another for the sake of more respect and a bigger paycheck.  Dick Jones wants the power, and when Bob Morton steals his thunder, he sets out to make sure Morton won't become best pals with the Old Man.

He hires Clarence Boddicker to kill Morton and later RoboCop.  The other thing he does is secretly implant a directive into RoboCop that prevents the cyborg from arresting or killing anyone who works for OCP.  Thus, when RoboCop attempts to arrest Jones he can't because of the directive.  Then, Jones sends his ED-209 unit to attack RoboCop before calling the police as a means to frame him.  Clarence Boddicker is just as intimidating, if not more-so than Jones.  He's psychopathic, showing no remorse for those he kills, but if you look closely at his mannerism you'll notice he has some degree of intellect to him.

RoboCop's reaction to MGM deciding to remake the original.

Though an action film at hear, RoboCop could be also considered a comedy given the amount of satire and dark humor present.  Interspersed throughout the picture are various commercials and news breaks which tend to take bleak ideas and spin them into something positive.  For example, one of the ads promotes a board game called Nuke'em.  Imagine Battleship if instead of naval boats it was an arms race, and the losing site gets nuked.  Then, there's the comedy.  RoboCop is a violent picture, featuring numerous scenes of graphic violence and blood squibs, lots of them, but there are times when the carnage gets so crazy it borders on hilarious.

For instance, take the ED-209 demonstration scene.  The executive who is killed by this robot isn't just shot up a few times, no, he's ripped to shreds, and for a good thirty seconds the audience is left and shock by this unspeakable act, but in a bizarre twist, you find yourself laughing at what's going on rather than horrified.  An equally amusing moment is when RoboCop stops a pair of muggers from raping a woman by shooting the man holding her hostage in the balls.  Afterwards RoboCop tells her, "Madam, you have suffered an emotional shock.  I will notify a rape crisis center." My personal favorite moment of over-the-top violence happens during the final act.  One of Clarence's men gets doused with toxic waste while chasing down RoboCop and Lewis.  Next time we see him, he's running around and screaming in agony until he gets splattered across Clarence's car.

Effects-wise, RoboCop is a tour-de-force of practical effects and most important of all, blood squibs.  All of the effects, from the animatronics to the stop-motion of ED-209 holds up tremendously.  I especially like the use of matte paintings to enhance the scope and size of downtown Detroit and OCP's headquarters.  The only effects shot that doesn't hold up is Dick Jones' death.  When he's sent flying out of the OCP building by RoboCop's bullets, a puppet is used in place of the actor himself, and it's very noticeable, especially with how comically elongated his arms are.  The music composed by Basil Poledouris is amazing.  When the RoboCop theme kicks in for the first time, you feel a sense of unstoppable power as the music plays.  Yet, the score is at its best when it plays on emotions, like when RoboCop visits the abandoned house, and the somber yet beautiful tone of the compositions sell the tragedy of such moments.

Nukem! Before they nuke you!

When you get down to it, RoboCop is a great movie and one of the all-time classics of the science-fiction genre.  It's violent, funny, highly quotable, but also surprisingly emotional.  RoboCop is just a machine, or is he?  The film explores this idea to tremendous effect.  Make no mistake, though, this is still a hard-hitting science-fiction/action flick worth watching, and one featuring one of the greatest protagonists to ever grace the silver screen.

Final Score: 9/10

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