Awesome ’80s in April: RoboCop (1987)

robocop poster

I sometimes say that I grew up in the 1980s but came of age in the 1990s. What I mean is that I was 13 when the ’80s became the ’90s, so my teenage years were really spent in the early ’90s. The music, movies, books – the art – that really shaped me into the man that I would come are mostly from the early 1990s. That isn’t to say the movies from the ’80s aren’t important to me – they are, absolutely. It is just a different kind of important.

I remember laying on the floor in my bedroom with my stereo speakers pointed at my ears with The Smashing Pumpkins “Gish” surrounding me. That music had a hold on me, it touched something deep inside of myself. Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) might not be the most intellectual, or emotionally deep films, but they are great movies and they had a profound effect on the way I appreciate cinema.

Movies from the 1980s, or at least movies I watched during the 1980s affected me in much different ways. As a kid, as a young teenager, I mainly looked for thrill rides or things that made me laugh, things that excited me. The movies that did those things in abundance have stayed with me all of these years. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Gremlins (1984) still flood my memory banks with nostalgic joy. But they don’t necessarily inform my understanding of Art.

I’m getting way into the weeds for what should be a review of RoboCop. But I think this type of discussion is important for me to talk about as I’m delving back into the cinema of the 1980s.

RoboCop came out in 1987. I did not see it in the theaters. My parents would have never taken me to it. But I did watch it on VHS sometime later. I don’t remember when. My guess would be sometime around when the sequel came out in 1990, but I really don’t know. One of the things I love about the ’80s is how I did get to watch so many movies at home that my parents would never have allowed me to watch in the theater. Sometimes I’d watch these types of movies at a friend’s house, sometimes my father would rent them when mom was away for the weekend. Or sometimes I just wore them down with my asking (it helped if I could convince them that the movie was rated R over violence and maybe some cussing instead of sex and nudity.)

Whenever I watched RoboCop I loved it. I thought a supercop cyborg was the coolest thing ever. I loved his multiple-round firing pistol. I loved that he had such great aim he could shoot through a lady’s dress and hit the guy who was attacking her in the crotch. I loved the big robot villain that could shoot freaking missiles. I definitely loved the guns that could blow up cars and the explosive finale.

Watching it now, I’m less impressed with the bountiful action scenes and Robocop as a character. I am interested in the satire that director Paul Verhoeven fills the film with (stuff that flew straight over my head as a kid). The movie is clearly making fun of the militarization of our police forces and military. It mocks consumer culture (the inserted commercials are terrific – especially the goofy car commercial and the placement of said car into the hands of most of the film’s characters.) It ponders a future in which we privatize the forces that are supposed to protect us and how for-profit businesses might handle such things.

Truthfully, I don’t think it does these things particularly well. Verhoeven has never been particularly subtle with his messaging. So what I’m left with is an action flick with some big messages that doesn’t handle either aspect well. It is a fun watch, but not one I can say I’m interested in seeing again anytime soon.

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