Trilogy Review: RoboCop

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.

I never really watched RoboCop when I was younger, I was more on the Terminator side of things back then, but I had the big action figure, it was awesome. I even had the first film’s poster on my wall.
Now there is a remake coming out… sadly.
A remake that heralds more remakes of things I grew up with (I see you, Terminator) but at least I get to rewatch these films, and for some of you, you can be shown what really matters. None of this 12A garbage they are teaching you to like.I have seen RoboCop and RoboCop 2 before now, but I haven’t seen RoboCop 3 yet…

RoboCop (1987)

Probably regarded as Paul Verhoeven’s first big directorial debut, Robocop is one of the iconic 1980s film characters, up there with Batman and the Terminator. Even today, the 1987 film still stands up to any scrutiny.

Alex Murphy (played by Peter Weller, a man with killer cheekbones) husband and father, is a cop relocated to Detroit’s struggling police department in a time of high crime and corporate greed. Clarence Boddicker, a crime boss who works with impunity, and a company CEO look to place military grade robots in cities to replace the degraded police force and take control.
However when on assignment, Murphy is maliciously gunned down and killed by Boddicker’s men, only for a rival corporation to revive him as an autonomous servant of justice. But is there anything left of Murphy’s humanity left?

It is easy to forget, twenty-seven years down the line, how bloody and violent Robocop really is, and it doesn’t hold back. Murphy’s horrific murder occurs in the film’s first act and mentally scarred a generation for good reason! But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, I love the film’s dedication to using ridiculous amounts of blood squibs and physical stunts. This is what the late 80s were best at, the action in this film is simple but wonderfully executed.
The Robocop himself is cumbersome, he walks and moves with deliberately jerky motions, but when the action starts, he is an unstoppable force.

I could get side-tracked and go on about the action, ED-209 and all, but what’s nice about the film is its more subtle story telling with its characters. Very little is told about Murphy before his death, just enough to get us to understand quite how much has been lost. It is a story of the corporate desire to replace human beings with computers, only here it is literal. Murphy is dead, his body is completely mechanised, his family left, there’s nothing for him to hold on to yet his humanity lingers and tries to recover within the bonds of corporate designs.

Possibly Paul Verhoeven’s best work, it is a simple concept now but it still strikes a cord even in today’s world. It has the director’s signature satire and humour throughout, and not-so-subtle messages of greed and corporate take overs (got to love those TV adverts, one for a board game called “Nukem”, were you dictate nuclear war on other nations)

If you haven’t seen Robocop, what are you doing with your life? Sure some of the composite special effects with the monstrous ED-209 have dated, but it is a solid action movie (and let’s not forget in this day and age, an original movie) and it demands your attention.

Additional Marshmallows: Did you know, that there has been an ongoing campaign to erect a Robocop statue in the city of Detroit? There is a kickstarter for it, check it out.

RoboCop 2 (1990)

From the director of Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to the 1987 classic is clearly designed to be a little more mainstream, quite it isn’t a bad film, it certainly lacks the original’s satire and a lot of the human element.

RoboCop 2 sees the OCP corporation looking to refine the RoboCop Law Enforcement Unit with a new design, but cannot recreate the perfect blend of man and machine such as Alex Murphy. At the same time, they are unsympathetic to Alex’s returning humanity, and demand he forget about his family.
In Detroit, a drug baron is selling a new drug to the masses and causes unrest in the city’s politics.

RoboCop 2 is one of those sequels, a sequel fresh out of new ideas and makes do with what it has. You could say that this entire film branches only off the memorable ED-209 test sequence in the original film; so much time here is spent on the promise of a new and improved machine… despite the fact RoboCop himself isn’t flawed asides from his human feelings (from the corporation’s point of view, anyway). Yet the solution to this is taking the mind of a criminal and putting it into a robot? Uhhhhhm…

It definitely has its flaws. This film should have focused on Alex Murphy’s returning humanity and his need for family. It starts out with these intentions at heart, but suddenly boom, his wife’s out of the story and never mentioned again. He doesn’t even rail against the corporation’s demands, he just accepts it and moves on? A huge emotional core of his character was ignored, and therefore his character is at a narrative stand still.

Effects wise, it is very impressive. The title may be RoboCop 2 by default, but in fact the new replacement robot in the film is called by name “RoboCop 2” (it is a little perplexing to hear repeated so often) and the action sequences in the final act are very well made with good stop-motion animation.
As if calling the film’s name and number was weird enough… the attempts to replicate Paul Verhoeven’s satire and humour dies a lousy death. There’s something about Verhoeven films that cannot be easily replicated, and this is a good example. The satire here is just… odd and unorthodox, often raising an eyebrow rather than a laugh. Why was there a shrine to Elvis in the villain’s lair that included a skeleton of Elvis??

It isn’t bad, but it is missing all of the opportunities laid out by the first film. While there are memorable moments (RoboCop being dismantled, the criminal kid Hob using his right as a minor to avoid arrest, etc) they don’t amount to enough for a full feature, and the end fight sequence becomes a little tiresome.

Additional Marshmallows: Did you know that this was director Irvin Kershner’s last film? His final directorial work was an episode of television’s SeaQuest 2032.

Oh, and the stupid music over the end credits; RoboCop does not need his name sung all romantically.
“Roooooobocoooop, Rooooooobocoooop!”

RoboCop 3 (1993)

Firstly, look at that poster. That face in the background… could he pucker those lips anymore?? CavemanCop more like.

I think the hardest pill to swallow with the deplorable RoboCop 3 is that Frank Miller was the screenwriter…

This film’s backstory is so poorly executed I have trouble reciting it now… OCP turns on its own people and merges with a Japanese corporation, implementing a “rehab” military force to evict Detroit citizens so they can take over the city. RoboCop, really doesn’t do very much.

So for starters, Peter Weller doesn’t reprise the lead role, and while this doesn’t affect it greatly; the mask is pretty well enclosing, but you do notice it. RoboCop has more lines, and it is really surprising how badly acted Robert John Burke’s mouth is… he juts his chin out as if to fit the costume! It looks idiotic.

The character of Alex Murphy continues to be mistreated, RoboCop 3 feels like a cash in worse than the second film; they have so little idea what to do with his character, they bench him for most of the film! Enter Nikko, a ten year old girl who can hack into and reprogram ED-209 units (for example), and a host of other characters who form a resistance force against OCP. Nancy Allen returns as Murphy’s partner Anne, but is criminally underused.

The villains are hopeless.
They just are.
We have the most stock British bad guys I have seen in a long time, allied with shadowy Japanese businessmen who send ninjas (yes, actual ninjas) to defeat RoboCop. Okay, so RoboCop taking on ninjas, as cumbersome as he is… could be exciting right? Well, the film builds it up all right. Massive, massive disappointment.

The tone of the film is completely off. I said RoboCop 2 was lacking Paul Verhoeven’s satire? Well this film proved me wrong! The humour here just… dies. It literally dies. Its deader than Elvis. My god. You’d have to be drunk or high to appreciate it. A man who is in the police station shouts at the sergeant: “RoboCop?? You got an AlienCop too? How about a GhostCop??” What… what does that even mean?
How’s the violence, you ask, it has a 15 certificate after all? I actually don’t know why it has a 15, this is easily a 12A by today’s standards. Sure there’s a few bloody gunshots and splats of red on people, but otherwise this is virtually kid friendly. “Crime” in Detroit is initially shown with a lady pushing a trolley of empty cans, only for her trolley to be hit by a car and for someone to mug her. Oh. My. God. Someone call RoboCop, quick! He’ll save her, diving a pink Cadillac, that cartoonishly falls apart.
That also happens…

This is the Terminator: Rise of the Machines of the RoboCop series, and I feel bad for Alex Murphy. I feel bad that his story was never told, that screenwriters just got lazy and wrote a shoddy shooter script with no heart at all.
This was the first time I watched this film, I’d seen the other two, and honestly I wish I hadn’t; it is embarrassing for the character.

Additional marshmallows: At the start of the film, Nikko has the very same RoboCop toy I grew up with… Normally if it were Verhoeven I’d say that was witty satire, but in this film it was just straight-up marketing.

This was the last film (of only three…) that director Fred Dekker as directed to date. Guess it wasn’t his big break, huh…

Ultimately, I feel pretty bad for the RoboCop series now. It has been a terrible downward slide into a laughable nonsense; never surviving the 90s, it had a television show “Prime Directives”, then faded into memory.
Now… the cruelest fate has befallen Alex Murphy. A remake. A certificate 12A remake.

My only blessing is that I got to watch the original again, and it really is worth another watch. RoboCop 2, eh, is okay.

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