The 1980s was an interesting time for America. The Watergate Scandal was still fresh in the minds of most people, despite the fact that America had been seeing newly found prosperity under the Reagan administration. Of course, it affected much of the science fiction to come out of that decade.
Enter RoboCop, the dystopian science fiction film that chronicles the resurrection of deceased policeman Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) into the perfect law enforcement machine, or so it seemed until Murphy embarked on a personal vendetta against his killers.
RoboCop is set in a future Detroit that has turned into a capitalistic paradise. The corporation aptly named Omni Consumer Products literally owns everything, including the Detroit police force. Due to corporate greed and mismanagement, the police find themselves outmanned and outgunned by the criminals that roam the streets of Detroit.
More than anything else, where RoboCop succeeded was in creating its own atmosphere. Detroit at the street levels looks like a complete mess where only the stupid would feel brave enough to walk. Even the glamorous OCP headquarters looked repulsive. An example of this is how the restrooms are segregated by rank, and the higher ups have the privilege of using those called “Executive Lounges”. The movie also had commercials for (fictional) products interspersed through the movie, such as a car that ran at 8.2 miles per gallon; it helped make Detroit appear as your average liberal’s perfect nightmare.
Even more so than the (for its time) terrific special effects and set design, the movie had great characterization. It is a positively tragic character study of Alex Murphy, a man who was a victim of circumstances completely out of his control, such as Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), the greedy head of OCP’s RoboCop division. The latter got a chance to do his project when Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) botched a demonstration of his robotic law enforcer and inadvertently caused the death of an OCP board member.
While that is a scene that has been parodied in Dexter’s Laboratory, it was extremely violent. In fact, despite being a 1987 movie, RoboCop is easily one of the most graphically violent movies I have seen in recent memory. It’s fair to say Murphy’s death scene at the beginning of the movie is easily much more brutal than anything that happened in a Saw movie. While I did feel the gore was necessary in helping paint the bleak picture of Detroit it did, many may find it was excessive.
That said, I do have two minor issues with the movie. While most of the cast (especially Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker) turned in fine performances, I was a little disappointed in Weller’s as the title hero. I know he was supposed to be a robot for most of the movie, but I felt his acting as Murphy in his pre-RoboCop state came across as a little wooden.
More importantly, I felt the overall plot of the movie felt a bit forumulaic. It was actually pretty reminiscent of 1978’s Superman: The Movie in terms of pure plot structure. As a result of that, I kind of knew how the movie was basically going to play out despite seeing it for the first time.
Still, there is a reason why RoboCop is considered a science fiction movie classic, despite being from a time that was absolutely full of fine science fiction movies. It was a violent satire of American prosperity of the 1980s with great characters and amazing special effects, and for that reason it deserves a viewing by those who can handle a healthy helping of gore.