I probably started the wrong way around when it comes to Paul Verhoeven and his work, for most people he begins with Robocop (1987) a film that really is a key piece of modern cinema, that blends sci-fi and blockbuster, allowing two audiences can get a hell of a lot out of the otherwise ultra-violent film that can be seen to go to far. Violence I have learnt is really only effective when cranked up with some discussion behind it. You really do see what happens when a round of bullets comes your way. It’s over the top and caricatures that shows probably more than we see in reality, heightened to grab out attention, to see what violence really could do to an individual wreak havoc on society. Something that is sadly becoming more of a reality on the streets of America. Gun violence is sadly seen to be more prevalent.
You could say that Robocop is quite prophetic in its vision of a bleak violent future that holds the city of Detroit in fear. The police force are ready to strike at the lack of real defense against the criminals that run wild. With Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) a known cop-killer on the loose, the cities most wanted man adding another cop to his every week. Whilst up above in corporate 1980’s America a new weapon in the name of public safety is being unveiled to a select few, a clunky two legged gun totting robot is still needing some adjustments before being rolled out. Violence to fight violence, there is no middle ground, enough fire-power and no room for maneuvering when it comes to law enforcement. Another method is soon proposed that can bring together man and machine.
On the streets we meet newly transfer Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller) wide eyed, eager and not afraid to fight crime. Once he’s met his new partner Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) who had recently lost her last partner to Boddicker. They meet once more when the hungry new transfer is in pursuit, ready to make arrest. Aware that he’s out-numbered, he’s facing the very man whose killed many of his profession before. There’s a sense of revenge in the air, mixed with wanting to be a hero. Which backfires incredibly badly for him, shot to pieces and left for a dead, another cop killed on duty.
We leave the standard third person point of view to become Murphy as he is brought into hospital where they fail to revive him, its curtains for the once eager cop. Before wake up in the future behind the lens of a camera, our perception’s altered as we become the centre of attention. Discussion of technology, entering another world of great change and the unknown what is to come. Of course we all know, this is the transformation, the meeting of man and machine and the law into one being, a being that has three directive purpose to serve the public, to protect the innocent and uphold the law. A walking machine that at first has people in awe at the spectacle that is bringing down the crime-rate in Detroit single-handedly. His presence alone puts fear in the criminal and hope into the victim.
Whilst up above in the corporation that created him a war is brewing between Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and his technology rival Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer), things get dirty and quick as the plot thickens. Living in a world of luxury of indulgence mixed with copious amounts of power that looms ahead for either of them. It’s all hammy and dangerously fun when you look at his today, as they fight for the top job, it has to end badly for one of them with another twist that show just how corrupt this corporation can be.
Robocop is not only a walking talking prototype but also a pawn in a game that allows progress to move forward. Without considering the consequences of the coming together of so machine with man. Incredible to look at even today the costume has become iconic, the clunky design that packs quite a lot of fire-power too. We can easily forget that a man is inside all of that circuitry and armour that allows the law to be enforced without emotion of human memory. Which really is what Murphy is missing as the machine becomes more self-aware, his biology fights the technology to regain his independence his humanity which as we see uses as the real weapon as the film comes to it’s conclusion.
It becomes overblown, literally as the Robocop understands more about himself, his purposes and situation and future position in life and society. Boddicker is another pawn of the corporation that uses him to bring down, its becomes human against human when the machines ultimately fail, humanity is far stronger than any machine that we can produce. So how do we fight crime then? that’s the real question of this film how do you enforce the law and lengths do you go to. This is why Robocop stands the test of time more so today than ever before.