Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Peter Weller, Kurtwood Smith, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox, Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, Jesse D. Goins
Plot: A fresh-faced cop, Alex Murphy (Weller), joins the Detroit Police force, only to be slaughtered by a gang of vicious criminals. His remains are used to create the Robocop, but how much of Murphy’s brain is still alive?
When writing a review of the original Robocop movie, it becomes far easier to just compare what this movie did right and what the 2014 Robocop movie did horribly wrong.
Let’s start with the new Robocop’s biggest problem: fun. There was none of it. However, there is a strong sense that, despite the interesting social debates about capitalism and commercialisation, the original film is one created, first and foremost, out of a sense of fun. Who doesn’t want to see an armoured, robotic cop shooting scumbags into a bloody pulp? Fun was an important element to most movies in the 80s, especially ones made by Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, anyone!). While the newer Robocop assumed that the weight of its story was enough to engage the audience, the original allows itself to go that extra mile. Take the character of Alex Murphy. Because he only spends around a fifth of the movie outside of the robot suit, that is a tough job for the lead actor to make an impression on the audience. While a lot of the newer version’s problems stem from Joel Kinnaman not being a strong enough actor to do the role justice, I do think that the problem could have been avoided if the 2014 version, simply put, had fun. Peter Weller is instantly likeable, right from the start, and it helps that the script meets the actor halfway. From the off-set, he cracks jokes and that makes a world of difference. Sure, he isn’t anyone’s idea of the deepest character in the world, but we all like him which makes the inevitable transformation into a robotic shell of his former self all the more hard-hitting.
The other commonly criticised part of the new Robocop was a lack of a Boddicker-esque villain. A while back on my Question of the Month feature, Kieron from What About the Twinkie voted Boddicker as the best movie villain out there. I can see where he is coming from. It all circles back to that sense of fun. Boddicker is the kind of bad guy that most actors dream of getting their teeth into. He is despicable yet too entertaining to dislike. He takes the best lines and drifts confidently through each scene with an irresistible swagger. He is the kind of bad guy that doesn’t even need an excessive amount of screen time. Whenever he is not on screen, we are always left wondering where he is and what he is up to. When he finally does return to the scene, we are instantly hooked, guaranteed that something is going to happen. His set of henchmen are also memorable enough to recognise each of their appearances, something 80s action movies seem to do very well and something I always appreciate from these types of films. It makes them feel more prominent, when compared against every other action movie out there. The modern version would have had to really work to match the rogue gallery on display here, but, sadly, it doesn’t even come close. Don’t get me wrong, Michael Keaton was incredible and his performance alone will probably make me sit through the reboot once more a few years from now, but the movie puts too much faith in the corrupt CEOs. The original has these slimy businessmen figures yet they never get in the way of the rest of the story. Sadly, the newer version puts them in the limelight and it never makes too much sense why they are as villainous as they ultimately are. The original’s CEOs are misguided and too caught up in their power games to see the bigger picture, while Keaton seems to be nasty for the sake of being nasty. And as for the gangs, that are the villains that really make the older Robocop stand out, they are reduced to a second act baddie, never making an impression on the audience. A crying shame, as without a real Boddicker, the reboot hasn’t got a hope in hell.
The rest of Robocop’s success comes down to quality film-making and cult moments. We were all shocked but hooked from the first, excessively violent, death. The Robocop is the stuff of cultdom. The helmet, the armour, the spinning gun trick that not only looks awesome, but also doubles as an important narrative trick: the last connection between Murphy and his humanity. Even the smaller beats work. The sound effects of Robocop walking. The confidence of Weller’s delivery. The slow yet unstoppable way Robocop moves around. The final reveal when an injured Robocop unmasks, showing the audience exactly what is left of the original man. Adding up all of these great moments, I almost feel sorry for the reboot in the sense that it never really stood a chance at comparing itself to this great piece of cinema.
Final Verdict: They don’t make them like this anymore. Fun, action-packed and well-written – it deserves every cult fan.