Time: 102 Minutes
Age Rating: Graphic violence
Peter Weller as Alex Murphy/RoboCop
Nancy Allen as Anne Lewis
Daniel O’Herlihy as The Old Man
Ronny Cox as Dick Jones
Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker
Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton
Director: Paul Verhoeven
In a dystopic and crime-infested Detroit, a terminally injured policeman (Peter Weller) returns to the force as a potent cyborg haunted by submerged memories.
RoboCop was a classic action sci-fi movie from the 1980s. 34 years later, it remains not only a staple for iconic 1980s action films, but also one of the most intelligent and satirical, and it surprisingly holds up all these years later.
RoboCop could’ve been dismissed as enjoyable action fare from the 80s, but categorising this film as just a B-level action movie doesn’t do it justice. In fact, oncoming years have only allowed the value of the film to become clearer than ever. It is one of the most intelligent B-movies, flawlessly blending sharp satire and grand sci-fi action. RoboCop is a smart and sharply written satire of America’s warped, violent culture of vanity and the state of said culture. It lashes out at the division between the rich and the poor alongside the growing industrialism running rampant across the screen. It also covers Reagan era economics, corporate privatization of public services, corrupt politics, consumerism, capitalism, and of course militarisation of police. What used to feel like a cautionary tale about the near future’s rise of corporate fascism now just feels like a documentary of today, and much of the movie remains relevant as ever. Paul Verhoeven’s satire isn’t subtle but in RoboCop it is only fitting that everything is so distinctly in your face, it suits the nature and style of the film so perfectly. At the same time, RoboCop also works as a B-movie sci-fi flick. It is very cheesy from the over-the-top action moments to the dialogue, but it was also witty, well made and well paced across its roughly hour and 40 minute runtime, with not one wasted scene. It seems like it should feel dated but as said earlier, it was ahead of its time. As goofy as the movie is, it’s also violent, vulgar and schlocky. The main character is technically killed within 20 minutes in such a brutal way, establishing the tone for the rest of the movie. There’s also all the little touches of worldbuilding throughout for this futuristic setting, such as the automated greeting unit for prospective house hunters, and the ads poking fun at consumer culture.
The cast all perform well in their parts. Peter Weller convincingly portrays RoboCop even under the bulky suit and helmet. He really immerses himself as the character, giving him a real, profound depth. The supporting cast are good in their parts too. However among them, it’s the cast of villains who shine the most, especially Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer.
Paul Verhoeven’s direction is great. Although it takes place sometime in the future, the film makes little attempt to look that much futuristic beyond its cyborg lead. The design, costumes and locations are steeped in the look and feel of the 1980s, giving the film both a recognisability and a lived-in aesthetic. The effects are sometimes rough but mostly well-rendered, and the practical effects are fantastic. There’s even some stop motion, while that does look dated, it does add something to the style and feel of the movie. The violence of RoboCop is especially unrestrained, and there are many uses of authentic looking effects for the gore.
RoboCop works as both an 80s action B movie, and a social satire, goofy and entertaining, yet very intelligent and relevant. It’s been said many times but it’s surprising how well it holds up over a few decades later. I’d go so far as to say that RoboCop is essential viewing, especially if you’re a fan of action movies.