Why RoboCop Is The Greatest Movie Ever Made (And If You Disagree, There Will Be… Trouble)

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8 mins read


1987 was a roller coaster year. Ronald Reagan, by then coming to the end of his remarkable presidency, told Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Michael Jackson released Bad, because we still didn’t realise he was Dangerous and Off The Wall. They started building a tunnel between England and France. The stock market crashed.
It was a golden year for movies. Predator, Lethal Weapon, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Full Metal Jacket, Raising Arizona, The Running Man, The Princess Bride, and many other classic films came out that year. The mathematics fans among you might want to count how many of these titles are remakes, sequels, or remakes of sequels, or soft reboots, or prequels, or the 437th movie in an extended cinematic universe about men in lycra punching each other for the edification of soyguzzling manbaby cumbeards.

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But the greatest of these was a strange and wonderful movie called RoboCop. RoboCop, for those of you who are Millennials or gay, practically is the 1980’s in celluloid form. It’s a glorious, foul-mouthed, ultraviolent, cinematic thrill ride that both satirises and celebrates that legendary decade of outrageous American excess.
It’s also a deceptively smart film. On the surface, it’s a simple (but satisfying) revenge tale, not unlike 1974’s Death Wish and other pictures in that vein. It’s mainly the pitch-black humor that makes it smart: the wry, sly digs at the grinning inanity of the media, hilariously sleazy yuppie executives jostling at the trough of corrupt public-private partnerships, and the ludicrously extreme violence that permeates the story.
“Only” 34 people are killed on-screen in RoboCop, but rarely has a mainstream movie depicted such graphic gore with such reckless adolescent glee. Among other things, we see a policeman’s hand being blown off with a shotgun, a rapist being shot in the dick, a gangster half-melted by toxic waste and then turned into chunky salsa by a speeding car, a crook thrown through a plate glass window while being read his Miranda rights (with very un-action-movie-like quantities of blood ensuing), and poor Mr Kinney suffering possibly the worst day at the office, ever.

There’s more violence and toxic masculinity in RoboCop than the equivalent of twelve Mel Gibsons. This being a futuristic version of the 80’s, when men were real men, even the filofax-fondling corporate executives are sharp-suited, coke-hoovering, stone cold killers – practically a different species from the soft, doughy, passive-aggressive autists of today’s internet soyligarchy.
RoboCop is so manly that even the VHS edition smells of 18 year old single malt and is covered in stubble. And if you left it too close to your wife’s jazzercise workout tapes, they’d end up pregnant with a copy of Starship Troopers.
Somehow, in spite of all this, the film has a heart, too.
Your common-or-garden 80’s actioner was all about a musclebound lunk of a protagonist gunning down hordes of bad guys while dropping deadpan one-liners as if he were Rodney Dangerfield on a killing spree. Sometimes he might have the benefit of a family man backstory (Commando, Die Hard), but usually only enough to serve as motivation to gun down more bad guys.
RoboCop, nee Alex Murphy, is different. He’s an average blue-collar cop, a husband and father-of-one who is gruesomely murdered in the line of duty and resurrected as a cyborg owned by the OCP corporation. Most of his body has been replaced with titanium and chrome, his face is like rubber flesh stretched across a steel frame, and all his memories as a human being have been erased – replaced with programming meant to ensure he behaves like an obedient product rather than a man.
This is a horrifying fate, a sort of mad scientist’s technological purgatory bordering hell, and the movie doesn’t shirk from the post-human consequences of its own high concept. An early scene shows the doctors operating on Murphy triumphantly announcing that they’ve managed to save his arm – only to be told to throw it away, because OCP has no use for a cyborg with a limb made of flesh and bone. Robo can only eat a sort of gloopy paste as a result of his primitive digestive system, further alienating him from even the simplest human pleasures.
And then the flashbacks begin. In grainy, lo-def video our hero starts to remember what has been stolen from him. His wife’s touch. His child’s smile. He is haunted by his past. In one scene we see him stomping around his old home, which is now empty and forlorn. Where once he had a family that loved him, only digital ghosts remain. He can never go back.
All that’s left for the half-man once known as Alex Murphy is to fight for what’s left of his humanity – and revenge.
For a film that also includes one of the bad guys breaking his foot while trying to kick RoboCop in his shiny metal junk, that’s a startling amount of pathos.
Speaking of bad guys, no action movie can succeed without decent adversaries. Predator had Predator. The Terminator had… The Terminator. Ghostbusters (2016) had Harambe. RoboCop gives us an ensemble cast of eminently hateable villains, and they’re all great: the icy cold boardroom/bathroom brawler Dick Jones; the blood-spitting, scene-chewingly evil gang leader Clarence Boddicker; and some of the most unforgettable stop-motion animation in film history with the snarling killbot ED-209.
Each one of them is unique and memorably menacing, completely unlike the largely interchangeable cast of CGI-ed or lycra-ed baddies who serve as antagonists in whichever PG-13 Marvel movie came out this week.
It’s no wonder RoboCop is so fondly remembered. It’s a time capsule of completely unsentimental 1980’s nostalgia, but it’s also a timeless tale of man versus machine – and not just on a superficial level. While the clunking monstrocity ED-209 provides the most visually striking external threat to the resurrected Murphy, it’s ultimately his own robotic programming that he must overcome in order to be a man again.
Plus, RoboCop reminds us that sometimes, the only thing that can stop evil is a good man with a gun.

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10 Comments

  1. You forgot to mention the in-world news reporting, game show and commercials which really took things to a new level.

  2. I am an Oat latte drinking Spanish (It’s a country in Europe… nevermind I’m Mexican) leftie, and I love Robocop, like any half educated leftie film graduate would. Robocop, probably one of the best movies ever, it’s a Marxist fantasy. The products of corrupt Corporate America come back to their creators to blow them to pieces.
    Paul Verhoeven (a Dutch man) was taking the piss about gun loving toxic masculinity, the militarisation of the police, and just american stupidity in general, when making this film, he was an arthouse European filmmaker, and saw this as a golden opportunity, to use Hollywood money to make his crazy satires.
    Read and watch any interview with him. It is a testament to Verhoeven’s genius that the targets of his satire (men like you) feel vindicated when watching it. The movie is clearly too smart for you, but the fact that you still enjoy it and pay good money to see it, it’s Verhoven ultimate F U (or data link, get it?) to Dumb America. You’d buy that for a dollar, wouldn’t you, Steve? 😀

  3. Señor Gabriel – thanks for reading.
    When an artist releases the product of his muses into the wild, it becomes open to interpretation by the audience and what they take from art is as valid as whatever the creator may have intended.
    So I won’t say you are wrong, but if RoboCop is a Marxist fantasy, it’s striking that there aren’t any gay European hipster socialists smirking in breadlines (or Truvada lines) in the movie.
    Much like Verhoeven’s other opus, STARSHIP TROOPERS, if the intent is to ridicule masculinity, it fails miserably. Because there is nothing not awesome about RoboCop shooting a rapist in the dick, or Johnny Rico fragging giant alien bugs. Masculinity is immune to piss taking, because – by definition – to mock masculinity makes one a bitch.
    Guns are good, my friendo, and the only antidote to the evils of this world involves healthy masculine courage in confronting the bad guys and occasionally delivering Beretta-induced defenestration.
    See also: Caudillo Franco, who still tops the Spanish leaderboard in removing dirtbags. (Honorable second place goes to the magnificent Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar). You may think of their frank Iberian manliness as “toxic”, but then nobody’s ever going to build a statue of *you*, are they?
    Yours in Christ,
    Steve

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