The world is kind of scary right now. The police and the military are becoming indistinguishable from one another, as they share ever more weapons, gear and tactics. Major American cities, like Detroit, are being allowed to devolve into the kind of post-apocalyptic shitholes we're used to seeing in war zones halfway across the world. The justice system is being privatized piece by piece, leading to rampant abuse. The television is littered with plotless, meaningless pablum relying on grating personalities and tits-and-ass to entertain and distract us. And that sense of deja vu you're feeling? That's because you have seen all this before -- in the classic 1987 film RoboCop.
Of all the '80s movies that could have served as prophecy, RoboCop is a fucking terrible choice (even Mannequin would have been a better, brighter future). That doesn't mean it isn't a fantastic film, mind you. To the contrary, it's a cinematic delight on every possible level, but no one watched this film and said, "You know, that's the future I want to live in!"
And yet, here we are.
The pitch-black comedy of RoboCop has become our pitch-black reality. Sure, it didn't get everything right, but most of it is pretty much spot-on. I can't look at reality television, with its cavalcade of smirking, talentless jackasses spouting catchphrases, and not be reminded of the loopy "I'll buy that for a dollar!" segments of the film. Every time I read a report of drones being phased into police work, I'm taken back to the film's grimy shitshow of a future. Detroit is ... well, Detroit. All we're missing is the best part -- our very own cyborg cop/Jesus to save us all.
The best dystopian science fiction serves as a warning of what could happen if we're not careful. (Or, for the cynical, as a blueprint to make it real.) In that regard, RoboCop stands up there with 1984 and the best of Philip K. Dick as nightmares that somehow came true. Director Paul Verhoeven and writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner were somehow able to see what every would-be leader of the last thirty years completely missed. It makes for one hell of a fine film, and one hell of a depressing present. Turns out, no one takes action movies seriously enough to heed the warnings contained within. So it goes.
But even if you don't care for sci-fi films as prophecy, there's a lot to love in RoboCop. It works beautifully as an action film, full of insane shootouts and explosions and car chases. The villains are evil to the core, the good guys face insurmountable odds and somehow overcome them. It's packed with solid one-liners, but doesn't rely on them in place of a coherent story. It's funny and exciting by turns and, in the case of the guy who gets half-melted by toxic waste and then utterly destroyed by a van, it features one of the best deaths in any movie ever.
A quarter-century after its release, RoboCop stands as one of the best films of its era. Taken as either serious social commentary or escapist entertainment, the film is a triumph that holds up better than not just its contemporaries, but almost any science fiction film of any era. Come for the kick-ass action, stay for the eerie prophecy. Either way, you can't go wrong.
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