Tuesday, May 06, 2008


With Ironman currently tearing up the box-office as the summer kick off movie, I'd like to offer a little counter-programming to the watered down and derivative paint-by-numbers affair. Outside of an always entertaining Robert Downey Jr. performance (which is practically a guarantee in just about anything he does regardless) there are a ridiculous number of elements in the Ironman film that feel like a PG version Hard-R (still to this day) Robocop. The man-in-suit cyborg, the corporatization of war, and Judas in a pinstripe suit for starters, the latest summer blockbuster borrows half a dozen or more visual aspects of the action sequences as well.

If you've never seen Paul Verhoeven's satirical anti-Regan superhero blockbuster, then you are missing one of the big-budget gems of the 1980s. The spoofing of the dumbed down media predates Fox News by a decade, the privatization of necessary city services predates Enron by even more than that. And the Omni Computer Products corporation is Halliburton as the snake eating its own tail insofar as it launches a corporate war on Detroit city. But enough of the satirical tidbits of the film, it is a pretty solid superhero tale of a dad, Office Murphy played in and out of the suit with flair by Peter Weller, that just wants to impress his son with his police officer job before nearly meeting his end at a band of psychotic criminals and being reassembled in a research project to become as the tagline of the film suggests: Part man. Part machine. All cop. I love how screenwriter Edward Neumeier (who also wrote the equally delightful Starship Troopers) makes commentary on the nature of fascism by making an over-the-top love-letter to fascism.

To say that Robocop set the gold standard for violence in a mainstream blockbuster film is perhaps understating things. One needs only to witness the passion play execution of Murphy, a sequence that remains undiminished in brutality after even 20 years, to understand exactly what Verhoeven got away with when putting together this film. One critic labeled the film p0rn0-violent (note many of the modern horror films have a similar label, T0rture P0rn), yet the film also plays out as pure satire, in a way that often only science fiction can get away with. It is a revenge film of sorts made smack dab in the me-decade for which that type of film belonged in the 1970s before resurfacing in the mid-to-late 1990s and resurging fully in the 21st century. As Robocop hunts down the arbiters of his own execution, he attempts to find his own ghost (soul) in the machine. Amidst the brutality there is a brain and a heart beating that is all too often lacking in the modern blockbuster.


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