Paul Verhoeven’s violent, subversive sci-fi film is now regarded as a classic, more than three decades later. The original RoboCop from 1987 really does deserve to be regarded as such. It intricately balances between violent black comedy, a sociopolitical satire (a satire on everything from commercial television, 80s Reaganomics to capitalism), and a broader story about humans versus technology.
RoboCop from 1987 is a satire with completely exaggerated brutality and a proper wink the best entertainment of the subtle kind. Themes that make up the basis of RoboCop include media influence, gentrification, corruption, authoritarianism, greed, privatization, capitalism, identity, dystopia, and human nature.
Taking place in a futuristic version of Detroit that’s facing financial ruin, the world in RoboCop is overseen by a robotic police force meant to improve upon humans and eliminate crime. “RoboCop” starred Peter Weller as Officer Murphy/RoboCop, Nancy Allen as Officer Lewis, Ronny Cox as Dick Jones, and Kurtwood Smith as Clarence J. Boddicker, and co-starred Miguel Ferrer as Bob and Dan O’Herlihy as The Old Man.
RoboCop himself is a recently deceased police officer reanimated in the form of a cyborg, much like Frankenstein’s monster. But the movie shows us that it’s actually not the countless robots that make this society a dystopia — it’s the capitalistic autocratic corporations. The repeated line “I’d buy that for a dollar!” comes from Cyril M. Kornbluth’s short story “The Marching Morons”, which presents a similarly cynical view of an over-commercialized future.
Alex J. Murphy was a dutiful, upstanding, and mild-mannered Detroit Police Officer who was brutally killed in the line of duty by infamous crime boss Clarence Boddicker. Having signed a waiver for OCP to do what they pleased with his body, the megacorporation used Murphy’s face and portions of his brain as part of Bob Morton’s RoboCop program, which produced OCP Crime Prevention Unit 001, better known as RoboCop. Robocop deals with the vile criminal element in Detroit sometimes with violent results.
The story of the movie comes full circle as Robocop is faced once again with Clarence Boddicker in the final showdown of good versus evil. Robocop struggles with his identity after having flashbacks of what happened to him and regains his humanity which is illustrated in the last line of the film. When asked his name, Robocop smirks and tells the person “Murphy”. The theme swells and the film ends.
It may be that some of the effects appear a little outdated after more than 25 years. Nevertheless, the classic RoboCop still works really well today.