Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)


This is one that had passed me by but, with the remake out this year (which I’ve also, so far, missed), it made it on to my “fun easy trash to watch’ list but pleasantly surprised me; yes, it was trashy but it wasn’t just good fun being a little more complex than I at first thought.

I grew up reading 2000AD comic, so was well acquainted with Judge Dredd, and this film clearly takes that template of a robotic uber-cop, pitiless and indestructible, and gives it both an origin story and a pathos. It also lays down plenty of templates of its own, for other sci-fi to draw on later, District 13 being an obvious one to me, taking its basic plot of corrupt developers in league with crooks in a future dystopia. The Robocop’s view of the world is also something that you see in numerous other films and tv shows (though this also borrowed from Terminator, and there is also a repeating section where news and adverts are shown, to give us a vision of this future world, in all its shallowness.

In a future Detroit, the police force is largely being run by OCP, a private company that also has plans for a major development project, yet also seems happy for the criminals to have the upper hand over the police, though there are plans to introduce robot police. One of these, an extremely sinister and martial form of policing, is demonstrated spectacularly unsuccessfully at an OCP board meeting. This failure severely embarrasses the OCP vice president, Dick Jones (Ronny cox) and gives a younger executive, Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) the opportunity to advance his own project and, maybe, to unseat Jones.

Meanwhile, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is a good cop entering a really bad precinct, where he is partnered with Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, looking particularly 1980s), pretty much a super-cop herself. On their first patrol, they encounter a group of thieves making their getaway and chase them to a warehouse where Murphy is brutally murdered, Lewis unable to help. The criminals get away and, shortly afterwards, the first Robocop appears, his face looking rather familiar.

Over the course of the film, we see the corruption of OCP go far deeper than was immediately apparent (even if we could guess) and the immorality of the very concept of the Robocop, as well as sadness of this particular one, as memories start to return (despite his programming). Weller’s unusual face makes him easy to recognise, rarely having to remove his helmet for us to do so. Some of the effects are pretty ropey, and the end of the movie does descend into standard, maybe sub-par, shoot-em-up fare, actually laughable at times. Still, with its subversive touches and moments of subtlety, this was far better than I’d expected.