Starring Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, Jesse D. Goins, Calvin Jung, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Expectations: I love RoboCop.
From the moment in 1987 when I first heard the title RoboCop, I knew that I had to see this film. I never saw it in the theater, but I clearly remember renting it shortly after its VHS release. Re-watching it now, I’m a bit shocked that I was even allowed to watch such a violent movie at the time. Perhaps this one rental spawned my obsession over horror movies and physical gore FX. I hadn’t watched RoboCop in about four or five years, so obviously a re-watch was my destiny. This was all put on the fast track when conversing with a couple of co-workers, and we discovered that one of us had never seen RoboCop. We’re all roughly the same age, so there is an expectation that we’ve all seen the big cinematic touchstones of our times such as RoboCop. How do you get through the 80s as a male and not see RoboCop? We hounded him to watch the film, assuring him that it was actually a very good film and one hell of an action movie.
This all led me to re-watch the film myself and even I was not prepared for just how good this film is. I watched it twice in the space of a couple of days. Beyond the cool gun and all that macho shit, it’s actually an impeccably well-made movie. There are loads of incredible Steadicam tracking shots, most notably during the opening section of the film in the police locker room and in the OCP board room. Paul Verhoeven’s shot selection and framing is perfect and RoboCop is easily one of the best edited action films of all-time. It even got nominated for a Best Editing Oscar if you can believe that! I’d buy that for a dollar!
There’s also the choice to show the creation and activation of RoboCop through the first-person perspective of Murphy/RoboCop. Along with the humanizing intro section of the film, this first-person aspect allows the viewer to throw themselves into the mind of RoboCop. It also increases the intrigue and mystery as you experience the evolution of RoboCop, all without knowing exactly what he looks like. This isn’t a kick-ass 80s montage with metal licks a-wailin’, it’s played completely serious. It’s a stroke of genius that pays glorious dividends when RoboCop finally gets into his car and starts patrolling the streets, accompanied by the strong, powerful score by Basil Poledouris. His music is an integral part of the magic, responsible for as much of the awesome as Verhoeven’s filmmaking.
Peter Weller plays the role of Alex Murphy/RoboCop perfectly, never missing a single beat. In his early scenes as Murphy he is able to create a likeable everyman father character that the audience can identify with and care for. These scenes are key because if you can’t feel the pain of Murphy, the movie doesn’t work. It’s really a superhero movie in this sense, where a likeable guy is given superpowers and needs to come to terms with his humanity. Despite his transformation into RoboCop, Verhoeven keeps the story focus on the Murphy arc and how RoboCop must deal with his past. Our humanity is something that binds each and every one us and even after his death & resurrection as RoboCop, Murphy cannot escape his.
The special FX are yet another reason why the film succeeds. Rob Bottin does an incredible job of selling every aspect of the character and the city he inhabits. From the optical overlays of RoboCop’s computerized vision to the physical gore FX when ED-209 kills an OCP board member, everything is absolutely top-notch. One of the most impressive looking moments, even today, is when RoboCop removes his mask towards the end of the film. It looks real and utterly believable that this dude is fused with the circuit boards, his skin stretched tight over a robotic head, further selling the fantasy and the reality of the situation. Not to mention the badass suit! That thing is awesome!
I’ve always loved RoboCop, but re-watching it reminded me just how well-made of a film it is. Multiple pieces of the puzzle come together in the best way possible and create what is easily one of the best movies of the 80s. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and strap in for one hell of a ride. It’s a science fiction/action/revenge movie for the ages. The future of law enforcement is here and his name is RoboCop.
I couldn’t agree more with you on this one, Will. Robocop IS a great movie!
It is! And not just a great action movie, it transcends its genre to be simply a great movie.
Nice review, Will. And, you’re right, Verhoeven was running a clinic on craft with this one. Solid, straight, review-able.
Yeah watching this made me very curious about Verhoeven’s previous films. I’ve seen most of the ones after this, but I’ve never seen any of his early non-English stuff. There’s supposed to be some good ones and judging on the quality of his craft here, there’s bound to be something worth watching there.
Yeah… strangely, I attribute Hollywood’s strict standards and deep resources to fleshing out his good fundamentals. I’m guessing he’s best as a total sell-out.
He probably is at his best around this RoboCop/Total Recall era, but I’m still curious about what his building blocks were. For instance, look at someone like John Woo and imagine only having seen Broken Arrow and Face/Off and then discovering his HK output. I don’t think it’s the same situation, but I’m very curious.
Gotta give props to Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker as he is simply one of the most vile assholes in movie history. As a kid I was genuinely scared of him. The guy is completely detached from the human race, and his cold disregard of all authority strikes its rawest nerve when he toys around with a helpless, dying Murphy (“Well, give the man a hand!”).
Love the review! Great movie that delivers in so many ways. Definitely in my top 10.
Oh man, a resounding yes. Thanks for chiming in and rectifying the fact that I left him out of the review. Kurtwood Smith is one of the key factors why that movie is so badass. He’s one hell of a villain!
Yes! He’s a monster, and I love watching him. The other guys are pretty nasty too. RoboCop really has so much going for it, the stabs at corporate culture, the perky bi-polar newscasters peddling headline news as entertainment, the constant assault of advertising and consumerism. It’s incredibly relevant, and way ahead of its time…. plus, shit dude, you have mutants getting mowed over and splattered on windshields.
It’s no wonder that Frank Miller got seduced by the bleak world that RoboCop painted. It could very well be the same shitty future that Batman came out of retirement in during The Dark Knight Returns. Too bad FM couldn’t deliver with his lame Robo sequels.
Yeah, the social commentary is spot-on even today, and like you say, there’s also acid mutants getting run over. It satisfies both sides of the brain, being heady and trashy at the same time. Such a fucking awesome movie, goddamn.
It’s a shame Frank Miller couldn’t pull something better together, but from what I understand the studio raped his script for the 2nd film. He put out a comic version of his original script that I always meant to read but never have. Maybe after I watch Part 2 again, I’ll hunt it down. I don’t want to apologize for Frank because film ain’t his medium and his movie output is usually sub-par, but I don’t think it’s all his fault. I’ve never seen the 3rd one all the way through, but I do plan to check it out in the near future. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.
I was always impressed by Calrence’s progressive approach to wine tasting.
Verhoeven definitely had an edge coming from Europe and all. He has that inborn hate for America and natural talent for nihilism.
Hahaha, true! His objective opinion cut right through the American bullshit and still resonates today.
I don’t believe that’s a fitting analogy.
Actually… I’m here to say Starship Troopers totally also counts as part of his “best” era. That movie was an achievement! Did you like that movie?
Interesting you review RoboCop now, Verhoeven just released some period drama in his native Dutch, but I doubt anyone here really cares…
Yeah Starship Troopers is cool (and worthy of a re-watch at some point). I was just trying to make a point that if you only see some of the American work of a director that transplants themselves, you’re most likely missing some of his best work because the reason they got a crack at Hollywood was because of solid work back home.
Dude. Re-visit Starship Troopers. It’s so much more substantial than a kid can give it credit for.
Yeah I definitely want to. The Steadi-cam locker room scene in RoboCop reminded me a lot of the opening of Starship Troopers and that’s about all I remember about it.
Not to mention the outstanding script. I simply can’t think of a more quoteable movie..’Can you fly Bobby?’
Indeed! It is quite quotable and I wish these guys could have written the sequel. I love Frank Miller’s comic work but damn if he doesn’t need to stay away from movies!