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TAC Reviews...RoboCop

Date Posted: 29/4/24


One of the movies that came out of the 1980s that for some reason passed me by. Some of my favourite films ever have come out of the 1980s so I have no idea why RoboCop never really crossed my radar. The film was released in 1987 and was directed by Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven was the man behind the camera for films like Total Recall and Basic Instinct. Robocop stars Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith.


RoboCop Movie Poster


My introduction to the world of RoboCop was initially catching bits and pieces of different films over the years. I have a vague memory of seeing a bit in one in which a guy is doused in toxic waste, his flesh starts to melt off and he is hit by a car, exploding across the front. The thought that immediately occurred to me was that I wouldn’t want to be the one who washed melted toxic flesh off that car’s bonnet, which honestly grossed me out a bit.


However, then colleagues of my skin sack played the game RoboCop: Rogue City and also Angry Joe gave it a positive rating. I played it myself and really enjoyed it. The game was not a life changing epic or anything but it was good fun, and I have basically 100% it (with the exception of one trophy that I cannot get to pop). My review of the game is in the games section of this website. Playing a game which canonically is set between RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3 interested me enough in the world to finally lead me to get the original movie and watch it in its entirety.


The film is set in the “near-future” in which the city of Detroit is on the brink of social and financial collapse. Criminals rule the streets, and resources are dwindling. The city’s police department has been privatised and is run by Omni Consumer Products (OCP). Executives fight one another to develop their own ways of batting the crime wave. Senior President Dick Jones (Cox) introduces a bipedal law-enforcement droid designed to supplant the police named ED-209. During a demonstration to OCP’s chairman (“the Old Man”) ED-209 malfunctions and brutally kills one of the executives. This failure results in an ambitions junior executive named Bob Morton to suggest his own project RoboCop.


Meanwhile, Officer Alex Murphy (Weller) is transferred to the Metro West Precinct, and partnered with Annie Lewis (Allen) as they set off on patrol in the city. Very quickly they stumble across a van containing notorious criminal Clarence Boddicker (Smith) and his gang, they pursue the vehicle, eventually seemingly cornering them at a disused steel factory. Murphy and Lewis split up, Lewis is incapacitated, whilst Murphy is ambushed by the gang. He is mercilessly tortured with Clarence blasting off his hand with a shotgun, before the rest of the gang unload their weapons into him, and finally Clarence delivers the final shot to the head.


Murphy’s corpse is used for Morton’s prototype and transformed into a heavily-armoured cyborg that possesses no memory of Murphy’s former life. RoboCop is programmed with three prime directives: Serve the public trust. Protect the innocent. Uphold the law. There is a classified forth Directive but that that is RoboCop doesn’t know.


Initially Morton’s prototype cybernetic police officer seems to have criminals on the run, however, Lewis recognises who RoboCop used to be, and Alex Murphy’s memories are not as dead as anyone thought they were…


I have come across numerous instances of machines becoming more human or desiring to become more human. Data, an android, from Star Trek The Next Generation or the EMH, a hologram, from Star Trek Voyager to name a couple. You could even argue that Isaac from The Orville ultimately became more human despite being a robot. There is a scene from Spider-Man The Animated Series when genius turned cyborg Alistair Smyth used his own memories to reprogram himself and go against his initial programming. Hell, even the Terminator in Terminator 2 ultimately learned what is meant to cry and became a father figure to John Connor. Therefore the notion of an non-human organism gaining humanity is not one that is new to me, however, RoboCop may very well have been one of the progenitors for this idea.


RoboCop has been designed to be an unfeeling law enforcement officer, and as the memories of Murphy begin to resurface, RoboCop starts to become more aggressive as he ruthlessly starts hunting down the gang who murdered Murphy. The line between man and machine becomes increasingly blurred as RoboCop almost beats Clarence to death when he finds him and only stops because Clarence desperately reminds him that he is supposed to be a cop which finally makes RoboCop stop attacking him.


Clarence’s gang, whilst not formidable in terms of appearance, they are all brutal and think nothing of committed robberies, murders, looting and they do it in a world in which basically no one can stop them.


Whilst it may have been a spoiler in the 1980s it is less surprising these days that Ronny Cox plays a bad guy, as he supplies weapons to Clarence and his gang. OCP is looking to destroy most of Old Detroit and create Delta City which it hopes will be a shining beacon to future development. Clarence and his gang are driving people out of the city because Delta City cannot be built whilst they are there. I have seen Ronny Cox play villains many, many times from Total Recall to Stargate SG-1 and it is something that he does very well. But apparently this was against casting at the time because he’d always played nice guys prior to this role.


The cast all do a good job and there is even a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from the director himself, apparently the only time he has appeared in one of his own films. Peter Weller was by all accounts quite difficult to work with because he remained in character on set insisting on being called either Murphy or RoboCop, however, it does demonstrate his dedication to the role. He was also cast due to his distinctive jaw line because most of the time that is all you see of him. Like Carl Urban in Dredd it is incredible to think how talented some actors are when the only expression they have is the lower part of their jaw. Kurtwood Smith is also a highlight, and is clearly having a ball playing Clarence.


The make-up effects used to create RoboCop are really impressive and are practice effects, ED-209 is created using stop motion which by today’s standards are a little dated, but I would much rather have a stop motion effect than a crappy CGI effect. 


However, things are not all good.


One of the things that I didn’t get was why ED-209 was equipped with live ammunition during a demonstration. There would have been no reason for it to be fully armed. Plus there was no emergency shut off switch to prevent accidents if it did malfunction unexpectedly. It seems a pretty massive oversight for any executive trying to get a prototype rolled into mass production.


Now once we learn that Clarence is in Jones’ pocket, why does Clarence stroll into OCP and hit on the receptionist outside Jones’ office. He is a criminal and his face has been splashed all over the television screens throughout the city. Surely all it would take is for one person to identify him as having clandestine meetings with OCP’s Senior President for people to start asking questions. On a side point I read in the trivia that the receptionist that Clarence is hitting on in this scene was played by Smith’s wife which was a nice touch.


When all is said and done RoboCop was yet another example of a great film coming out during a decade which seemed to be churning out one great film after another. I wonder how many other films that came out of the 1980s have slipped past me. RoboCop is getting a solid Thumbs Up and is definitely a quintessentially 80s film that fans of movies coming out of that awesome time in Hollywood will want to check out 



8/10 – A game made me want to track down the film that it was based upon, and the film did not disappoint. The gritty world of near-future Detroit with criminals running amok is the perfect place to unleash RoboCop, and considering how the world is at the moment, perhaps it might be time to turn RoboCop from fiction to fact. 


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© Chris Sharman