1987's Robocop does NOT need to be reviewed. It's perfect, absolutely perfect. Hell, one could make a case it's the best movie ever.
Cue the credits.
But like everything good and pure in this world Hollywood just couldn't let its memory rest in peace, so they had to remake it like they have with everything else. And since the 2014 remake just hit home video last week I've been dying to review it since I was 110% opposed to its existence and want to see what they did to my beloved cybernetic police officer. However, I haven't seen the original movie in easily two decades so I thought a refresher was in order. Strap squibs to every square inch of your body and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Robocop (1987)!
Our film opens with one of THE defining symbols of the 1980s: the Orion Pictures logo. R.I.P. Orion, you are DEARLY missed. Media Break, the most awesome news channel in history who report the deaths of two US Presidents with the same gravity as telling you what kind of dress your favourite celebrity wore to the Oscars, tells us about the growing rift between the Detroit police department and Omni Consumer Products, the private company that funds and runs them.
Media Break is quite possibly the highlight of the movie, which is really saying something in a movie where almost every single scene is a highlight. It's very subtle what they do but every story they report on is brutal commentary of society at the time, from world politics to things like the Star Wars program. Add commercials cut from the same cloth, and you really see why this movie has endured and will keep on enduring once we're all gone.
We learn of a shooting between officers and the crime lord of Detroit, Clarence Boddicker, played by “Foot In Your Ass” Kurtwood Smith, who somehow wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year. We cut to the Police HQ, as lawyers yell at Police Chief Reed on behalf of their client with one of the most reasoned and sound legal arguments this side of Gideon V. Wainwright:
“ATTEMPTED murder?! It's not like he killed someone!”
The chief, who OF COURSE is an Angry Black Chief, kicks their sleazeball asses out of his station. Officer Alex Murphy arrives for his first day on the job, having transferred from a different precinct that was MUCH nicer than this one. As we take a tour through a unisex locker room, we quickly learn Murphy has basically entered the gates of Hell. He heads to Reed's office to get his first assignment, as he witnesses a suspect trying to break his way out of custody. This is a BAD idea as he gets his ass handed to him by Officer Anne Lewis, who is one of the most bad ass characters in movie history and probably could go toe to toe with Ellen Ripley.
Reed partners Murphy up with Lewis, wanting her to show him the neighbourhood. Elsewhere we go to OCP Headquarters, where their CEO (known only as “The Old Man”) details his plan to tear down Old Detroit and build the utopian Delta City. He gives the floor to Senior President Dick Jones, who unveils the perfect police officer: ED-209, a walking tank with guns for arms. He demos how efficient the robot by picking executive named Kinney, who is going to demonstrate a typical arrest and disarming procedure. He hands him a gun and tells him to point it at ED, who comes to life and tells him he has 20 seconds to put down his weapon. Kinney immediately does so, buuuuuuuut ED keeps counting down. The robot also growls like a lion for added effect, because OF COURSE he would!
Everyone starts panicking as the scientists try to cut power, but to no avail as ED gives us one of the most famous scenes in movie history: HE SHOOTS KINNEY INTO HAMBUGER BY USING MORE BULLETS THAN A CALL OF DUTY GAME. This movie cost $13 million to make. $10 million of that was for blood packs. The Old Man looks mildly frustrated at this, probably more upset by the bloodstains on his nice carpet than anything else. He starts bitching Dick out about the money this is going to cost when Bob Morton, another executive, butts in. He tells the Old Man about his Robocop program, getting the Old Man's blessing to go through with it. Dick shoots Bob one of the best “I am going to fucking MURDER YOU” looks I've ever seen.
Lewis gets coffee for her and Murphy, while he practices his sweet gun-fu. They get a call to respond to bank robbers fleeing the scene of a heist, where we see Clarence and his men escaping in a van. This leads to a firefight at an old factory, that also results in another of the most famous scenes in all of film: MURPHY GETTING SHOT INTO OBLIVION THREE TIMES OVER.
We next see paramedics rushing what's left on him to a hospital. As they work on him, Murphy (who is somehow barely still alive despite having more lead in him than the paint of a nursery from the 1950s) has flashes of his wife and son as well as Clarence and his men shooting him. He flatlines and the screen fades to black. But then it comes back on, all digital now as we see Bob and scientists standing over him. We keep getting cuts of the scientists working on Murphy and building him into Robocop. Much later OCP sets up shop in the police station, Reed objecting to this but is instantly silence by the arrival of Robocop. Bob asks him what his Prime Directives are, which I can still recite by heart despite how long it's been since I've seen this:
1. Serve the public trust2. Protect the innocent
3. Uphold the law
Bob is delighted by this answer, as we cut to a POV shot of Robocop's Heads Up Display which flashes the fourth directive is classified. It should be: “Don't EVER Not Be Shooting Someone Or Throwing Them Through A Window!”. Our next shot is ANOTHER of the movie's famous scenes where- huh, you notice how so much of this movie is memorable? How come no one has thought to do that anymore? The fine officers of Detroit are in the shooting range practicing when there shots are all drowned out by Robocop's Auto-9 gun. They all stop one by one to watch him annihilate the targets, stunned by his accuracy and firepower. HOWEVER, when he's gun he holsters the gun in the same spinning fashion Murphy was practicing earlier, something that does not escape Lewis's attention.
Reed gives Robocop the keys to a car so he can take his first patrol. We cut to a mom and pop store where pop is watching... you're never going to believe it... ONE MORE of the movie's most memorable events: the in-universe TV show “It's Not My Problem!”, starring the immortal Bixby Snyder and his even more memorable catchphrase: “I'D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR!”. Beautiful. A scumbag creep walks in and tries to rob the place. It doesn't go well for him as Robocop shows up and acquaints him with some glass. Similar scenes follow as we are shown crime has no chance against the ass kicking doom machine that is Robocop.
How is it the first 40 minutes of this movie is already better than the last 600 action movies that have come out? We catch up with Bob, who is now Vice President of OCP. He's in the executive bathroom badmouthing Dick, when OF COURSE it turns out Dick was in the bathroom the entire time. They butt heads, and this is probably the ONLY scene in the film that doesn't work as both these guys are assholes so it's not like I'm picking sides here. I mean, I guess Bob is the lesser of the assholes here, but still...
Dick does warn Bob that he better hopes Robocop doesn't screw up, which sets up our next scene where Robocop is at police HQ is sleep mode when he starts having flashbacks of Clarence. He gets up and leaves, stomping down a hallway where he runs into Lewis. She knows he is Murphy, but he doesn't recognize her. He goes back out on patrol, running into one of Clarence's men who is casually robbing a gas station. When Robocop says “Dead or alive, you're coming with me”, this causes the man to recognize him as Murphy said the same thing back to him at the factory. This jogs something in Robocop who doesn't fire, allowing the man to get away on his motorcycle.
Well, not quite. Robocop snaps out of it and shoots the bike's tires, causing the man to crash viciously. Robocop tries to interrogate him, but he passes out from his injuries before he can say anything. Robocop heads back to the police station, entering the records room where he only furthers his position of the most bad ass cop ever by revealing he has a retractacle blade in his arm. It's actually a “data spike” for interfacing with computers, but come on... you KNOW that's going through someone's head at some point. He looks up the robber, downloading a list of all his accomplices which includes Clarence. He looks up Clarence's file next, going through his rap sheet and finding the murder of Murphy on there. This finally clicks along with what Lewis was saying, as he remembers who he is.
He visits his house, which is now empty as his wife and son has moved out. He has more flashbacks of his family, which really drive home the loss he has suffered. He now goes on Revenge Tour '87 of Clarence's gang, which usually I bitch about being the lame plot device for a hero's justification for his actions, but here it completely works as the movie has SET EVERYTHING UP PERFECTLY for such a thing. Every screen writer should be forced to watch this movie over an over again until this point really is hammered home.
First on his list is Nash, who is at a dance club no doubt celebrating the fact he got away with killing Laura Palmer. Robocop grabs him by the hair and drags him away to discuss Clarence. We join Bob having a coke party with two highly respectable ladies, but the fun is interrupted by Clarence, who shoots him numerous times in the legs. The crime lord plays a video of Dick mocking Bob, planting a grenade and leaving as the explosion takes out the OCP executive. The next day Clarence goes to a the drug lab of a rival crime lord to talk business, but gets the tables turned on him as Robocop crashes his party. We are treated to a gloriously violent shootout that ends with Robocop throwing Clarence through every glass window in Detroit as he arrests him. Clarence tries to tell Robocop he's working for Dick, but gets more glass in his ass for his trouble.
Back at the police station the strike talk is escalating as Robocop brings Clarence in for booking. Clarence makes his one phone call to Dick, who promises to spring him by the end of the day. We find out Robocop was listening, as he goes to OCP to arrest Dick for aiding and abetting Clarence. Unfortunately, Directive 4 rears its ugly head as we learn any attempt to arrest a senior OCP executive results in system shutdown. Dick brings out ED, who throws Robocop through the few remaining windows left in Detroit. Robocop manages to escape by exploiting ED's arch nemesis: the stairs.
Jones has called in the SWAT team, who open fire with I'm pretty sure more bullets than exist in the entire world, but Robocop manages to escape with Lewis's help. Clarence meets with Dick, who wants him to finish off Robocop and gives him access to a gun straight out of Halo to do so: the Cobra Assault Cannon, which if Robocop ever got a hold of the universe would CRACK IN HALF from the badassery.
Nancy brings Robocop a bag full of goodies to an abandoned factory where he's hiding him. I doubt it's the same factory from earlier because this is Detroit and there's probably an abandoned factory for every 1.3 man, woman, and child in the city. Robocop removes his helmet, which was severely damaged in ED's attack. He asks Lewis about his family, telling her he can feel them but can't remember them. I mock monotone actors nonstop, but Peter Weller is being monotone here (on purpose) and manages to infuse more emotion into Robocop than most anything I've reviewed thus far.
Clarence and his boys are on the way to the factory, able to track Robocop via a gadget Dick gave him. Despite having weapons that could take down Godzilla, the gang gets slaughtered because let's face it: they're going up against ROBOCOP. We also get the legendary “man turned into toxic waste mutant” scene here. The reason they don't make movies like this anymore is because Robocop used up all the awesome in the world. Clarence does get Robocop pretty good before getting stabbed in the throat by the data spike, so at least he went out as he lived: with tons of spurting blood. Robocop takes off to OCP to finish this, finding the building guarded by a group of ED-209s. Now you're screwed Murphy, there are no stairs in sight! What can you possibly- OH SNAP he has the Cobra Assault Cannon. The robots are vanquished with post haste.
Dick is giving a meeting about his plan to restart the ED program as Robocop bursts in, saying he's wanted for murder but his programming prevents him from doing anything about it. The Old Man asks what his evidence is, Robocop using the data spike to replay Dick's villain rant to Robocop from the first time he tried to arrest him. Dick grabs a gun and holds it to the Old Man, demanding a helicopter to escape.
In the film's final gift to the art that is cinema, the Old Man tells Dick he's fired and Robocop SHOOTS THE SHIT OUT OF HIM THROUGH THE LAST WINDOW LEFT IN DETROIT! The only way they could have topped this is if he was on fire and the Sharknado swept by and grabbed him at the last second. The Old Man says that was nice shooting, asking what Robocop's name is. Robocop answers “Murphy” as we cut to black.
Cue the credits.
This movie is a time machine, as it takes you back to an era that will never exist again: the 1980s. When this movie was first submitted to the MPAA it was given a rating of X, due to the brutally over the top violence. Director Paul Verhoeven (our old friend!) had to do ELEVEN recuts until finally he was approved for an R rating, unleashing the film onto unsuspecting cinemas July 17, 1987.
It was a huge smash, and I do mean HUGE. Here's where the time travel part comes in, as it was the 1980s and this was HUGE for children. I remember watching this in a movie theater surrounded by kids as far as the eye could see. Could you even comprehend such a thing in today's society where a kid can't even get within 100 feet of an R rated movie without Fox News doing a story about it?
Even more bizarre is how this was ACTIVELY marketed towards kids. You had toys, cartoons, video games... the kind of stuff you only see today for actual kid friendly franchises. If you weren't alive during that era, I really can't put into words how surreal it was. I guess they saw how successful the Rambo franchise was with the kid friendly approach, so FULL STEAM AHEAD!
It's odd though, my generation seemed to turn out alright despite being raised with this much violence around us. Sure, I later became a brain-thirsty zombie but that was WAY later on and involved the supernatural, so I don't think anyone could possibly pin that on 80's violence. All in all one of the greatest movies EVER and even if you've already seen it, SEE IT AGAIN. You need more fun in your life. That's the Original, so now for the moment of truth: how did they approach the Remake?