Barbaric, Violent & Glorious | RoboCop Turns 30

In the grand old tradition, there are many films that kids will inevitably end up seeing when they are far too young to be doing so. RoboCop may well be the ultimate example of that. A bloody, dark, nightmarishly violent R-rated film but with a name and protagonist-design tailor-made to attract the attention of children. While the litany of toys, cartoons, sillier sequels and video-games may have taken some of the focus, it is statistically likely that said kids will have sat down to watch the original at some point. And loved it.

The truly impressive thing about RoboCop is that it only gets better with age; the older you get and more you rewatch it, the more you find to love about it. Unlike Batman ’89 or some of the rape-ier early Bond films which, while being pitched as targeting a more mature audience are ultimately revealed as adolescent fantasies at best, RoboCop is smart enough to know how dumb it is. It uses its utter absurdity as a delivery method for its brilliantly realised satire and the horror of its violence is made all the more stark and unsettling for how flippantly everyone in the film reacts to it.

It’s slightly terrifying how its particular vein of absurdist satire has come around to being both more relevant and less of a stretch from reality as the years have passed. If you’ve never seen the film, I can’t think of a better political climate to watch it under. Not that it will make you feel better about the current situation but one tends to laugh hardest when one is really crying on the inside. The disgustingly hyper-corporate vision of America with its non-existent value for human lives, it’s war-mongering culture and privatised police force has only grown in relevance. The president is never shown but if he was, well, you can imagine who’d fit right in. But enough of this depressing real world talk, let’s discuss our Christ-imagery-surrounded robot cop.

The film’s real secret is that it knows our titular Robo is really a fascist state’s wet-dream but gets you on-board with his actions anyway. He’s Adam West’s Batman if he was a corporate-controlled murder-bot yet by the time he’s unleashed on the streets at around the thirty-minute mark, you look forward to seeing him execute his way through this grotesque, diseased and dying city. In the background of the movie is the notion of OCP (the major evil conglomerate du jour) wanting to build a new, shiny city but the film makes no bones about demonstrating it would be just as corrupt and crime-riddled. This is a world where there can be no victory and you’re not expected to root for one, instead you’re just there to enjoy the action for the bitter, nihilistic joke it is.


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And yet, there is a compelling, tragic arc to Murphy as he goes from optimistic young father to corporate slave and back to something approaching human. That Peter Weller was ever a leading man has always baffled me. Not that he isn’t good; he’s just such an odd-looking and sounding fellow but with an unquestionably unique and slightly peculiar onscreen presence. This made him a sensible choice for ‘Naked Lunch’ but utterly ideal here. He has precious little screen-time before his shotgun crucifixion but exactly as long as was needed. As RoboCop, he’s perfect. His particular vocal cadence, unsettlingly piercing eyes and commendable movement work in the suit; all contribute to an utterly convincing turn as a walking uncanny-valley who gradually crawls his way back to the man-cop he once was. And this never comes at the expense of the pacing. Not a second of the film is wasted, least of all on him trying to find or reconcile with his family. They’re simply gone and he has to move on with that. This is not a happy world.

On top of the earlier alluded-to unintentional timeliness, it’s a film whose various production aspects have aged exceedingly well. The restraint to not use a lot of CGI at a time when it was becoming the norm to do so means all of the wonderful miniature and stop-motion work looks great even on modern HD devices. And that’s before we even get started on the blood-squib work. If you want a statement of intent from the film, look no further than ED-209’s infamous destruction of that poor corporate lackey in an early scene.

The sheer excess of the scene; the unnecessary amount of bullets pumped into the corpse and the fact that every shot had an accompanying explosion of blood, is just fabulous. The comedic coda to the scene as someone calls for a paramedic never fails get a solid belly-laugh from yours truly. It’s barbaric, it’s wholly uncalled for and it’s glorious. And naturally, there is of course that score with its great thumping main theme, precision-made to make you want to hum it loudly, get in your car and go shoot a rapist in the dick.

It remains a film largely unequalled by mainstream cinema. Few have the conviction to commit to their silly idea and see it through to its logical, operatically violent endpoint all while eschewing the fat of needless subplots or complex characterisation. Everything is exactly as it needs to be and contributes to a whole that’s near impossible to turn off if you stumble across it on TV late at night, which is more than can be said for many a modern film.

Even adjusting for inflation, I’d still buy that for a dollar.

Friends, before we go, it would be a glaring oversight on my part not to introduce you all to a something given that it is my duty on this Earth to inflict this video on as many unsuspecting people as possible. I’ll not bore you with context or say that having seen the original film will help. Because it won’t, nothing can, your god has abandoned you. This video absolutely comes with many warnings but in truth, there isn’t really a term for the kind of warning it warrants. Regardless, this is incredible and has to be seen. Where oh where, did they find that many stunt penises…

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