Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987, USA)

               Robocop marked the true launch of Paul Verhoeven’s career in the United States. While his English-language debut was in fact 1985’s Flesh+Blood, Robocop was the first successful film of the Dutch filmmaker in the US. Verhoeven, who up until this point was known primarily for his collaborations with Rutger Hauer, brought a distinct outsider’s sensibility to the testosterone-filled action films of the Reagan era. The result is a film that works on multiple levels – it can be enjoyed as a pure action film. For those with a more discerning eye, there is a clearly satirical element to the film – as there is with much of Verhoeven’s work. The film was very prescient regarding the hypermaterialization and extreme privatization of American society.

               The film, with echoes of both the Christ narrative and Frankenstein, takes place in a crime-ridden Detroit of the near future. Police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally murdered by a gang of thugs. He is turned by a nefarious corporation Omni Consumer Products into a cybor law enforcer named Robocop. However, the narrative begins to shift when Murphy begins to discover his true identity, primarily through his former partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen). The resulting narrative is a redemptive story about finding humanity.

               There is a great deal of humor in Robocop, but at the same time there is a genuine pathos in the film, both for Weller’s character and also the state of society. There is a great deal of ambiguity in the film about Murphy’s transformation, and how much of him remains human following his transformation into Robocop. There is even some question of how much autonomy he had before this transformation. The film is enhanced by Basil Poledouris’s tremendous score, and the incredible special effects by a team led by the legendary Rob Bottin.

9/10

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