Detroit On Film #2: Robocop

When I was young, everything I knew about Detroit, I learned from RoboCop. I moved close to Detroit several years ago and was surprised to find that the real-life city had almost nothing in common with the movie (well, maybe a little). That doesn’t stop RoboCop from being one of the most famous depictions of the troubled city—enough that they are actually going to build a statue of the cyborg protector as a tourist attraction! Detroit references aside, this film is one of the most iconic movies from the 1980's and one of the best science fiction movies ever made.

The director, Paul Verhoeven, is known for making hyper-violent movies with liberal doses of sexual content and biting satire. He is also responsible for Total Recall and one of my personal favorites, Starship Troopers. His films are never politically correct and as a result, are a whole lot of fun. RoboCop is no exception. It’s full of gore, off color jokes, one-liners, salty language, objectified women (with one exception) and non-stop action. The story follows a Detroit police officer named Alex Murphy who has an unfortunate incident with a local gang and is reborn as RoboCop, who as the tagline states is “part man, part machine, all cop". It’s actually a very tragic story and Peter Weller, who portrays RoboCop/Murphy, does a wonderful job giving it a real human element. I am always impressed by how good he is at conveying RoboCop’s robotic movements and the exoskeleton suit design is top-notch.

Another interesting aspect of the film is the social commentary running through all of it. Most of it is played off as dark humor, but there are real issues addressed in clever and subtle ways. There are references to the dangers of privatizing government services, corruption of high-level officials, and the gentrification of Detroit.  It’s somewhat eerie to see how it parallels the real problems that Detroit faces almost thirty years later. The look of the film is excellent and they captured the gritty, dystopian atmosphere of future Detroit perfectly.  The soundtrack is outstanding with a bad-ass, pulse-pounding score rounding out the action.

I know that people who grew up in and around Detroit are very protective of their city’s image and might take offense to the way it’s portrayed in movies. RoboCop doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, but at the same time I feel like it’s very symbolic of Detroit’s struggles. Alex Murphy, much like Detroit, is almost destroyed by evil men and greed, but he is rebuilt and becomes stronger than ever. Not without some scars, of course, but with a better understanding of what it means to be alive and what it means to be human.  Detroit is on the verge of being rebuilt too and I think they will emerge from the other side fortified and strengthened as well.

-Review by Michelle Kisner