Monday, 18 June 2012

Film Review | RoboCop (1987)

RoboCop has always felt somewhat in the shadow of its slightly older '80s cousin The Terminator. Both deal with a dystopian future, both obviously centre around the idea of a human-machine hybrid, and both have no problem dishing out extreme violence and high body counts. But whilst The Terminator is regularly held in high regard as an action sci-fi classic, RoboCop never quite managed the same, at most managing the respectable status of a solid cult classic. With a remake well into development, returning to the original film as it celebrated its 25th anniversary was something I relished, albeit with an edge of wariness as to how well RoboCop had aged.

In Detroit in the near future, where crime is rampant and the police have been privatised by Omni Consumer Products, Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally murdered by a gang led by the brutal Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) on his first patrol after being transferred to the city. However, after being pronounced dead, Murphy's body is used by OCP to create "RoboCop", a law enforcement cyborg intended to be the first of many.

Even a quarter of a century on, RoboCop stands up as a very sharp and well-made entry into both the action and sci-fi genres. Even though some of the special effects now seem dated - ED-209's stop-motion belonging to a bygone era of film-making - the impact is not muted; Verhoeven's slick use of ultraviolence at key points in the narrative hitting home with as much impact as it always has.

Neither is the cutting satire of the film's narrative any less effective. The key themes of humanity, corporate society and morality that permeate RoboCop resonate still, maybe even more so today than when it was released. OCP is a evil corporation for the ages, simultaneously lampooning and holding a mirror up to the way in which big business works. And yet RoboCop never feels preachy. The well-constructed news reports and advertisements that crop up throughout the film demonstrate just how creatively and proficiently the film gets its message across without making you choke on it.

The central performance from Weller is also key to the film's success. As Murphy the man, the actor brings a charming humanity in the character's short incarnation on screen; this humanity is skilfully translated to Murphy's cyborg form, making the character both believably robotic and authentically human.

The film isn't perfect; some aspects feel somewhat formulaic with several tropes of '80s action flicks apparent throughout. But whilst RoboCop is a satisfying if somewhat conventional action film throughout, what raises it from being a very good film to a great one is the way in which it uses the conventions of the genre to produce satire both dark and sharp that still hits home today in a thoroughly entertaining way.


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