Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven has made some absolute first-rate films in his long career – The Sensualist, Total Recall, Black Book and Starship Troopers are but four that spring to mind – along with the odd stinker or two, such as Hollow Man and Showgirls. Luckily, the first RoboCop sits firmly in the former category. A shame, though about the two sequels – which, while not terrible, never quite reach the heights of the original.
RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987) In the near future, in crime-ridden Old Detroit, the private corporation Omni Consumer Products has taken over the running of the police force. When young officer Alex Murphy (Weller) is slain by a criminal gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Smith), an OCP research team puts him back together and creates a crime-fighting cyborg: RoboCop. One of my favourite films ever, this is a smart, funny, very violent and darkly cynical look at what it means to be human; that no matter how good technology gets, it will never replace people. Yes, it's a damn fine thriller, but there is a lot of social satire and deep philosophy at work here too, if you care to look for it. Weller puts in a bravuro performance, managing to make his character hugely sympthetic while hidden behind a mask for much of the film. Smith, too, is outstanding as the evil Boddicker. This is far and away the best of the trilogy.
RoboCop 2 (Kerschner, 1990) A decent drector (Kerschner was responsible for The Empire Strikes back, the best of the Star Wars films) is saddled with a poor script here. OCP is still up to its dirty, evil-corporation tricks – the cops are all on strike, and Omni is keen to replace them with squads of RoboCops. So yes, Detroit is still screwed, but the main plot here concerns a new designer drug called Nuke. Missing is the human drama of the first film – the entire subplot involving Robo's human side, Murphy, is dropped – and the film eventually slides into a special-effects driven battle between a couple of machines.
RoboCop 3 (Dekker, 1993) A much derided second sequel, but having watched it again, it's not as bad as many make out. OK, the flying scenes are completely naff, but the heart that Verhoven brought to life in the first film is still there, albeit much watered down. Played more for laughs than the first two, RC3 is the weakest film in the trilogy, though not unwatchable. Weller was replaced in the title role by Burke, who acquits himself well. On the down side, RoboCop himself doesn't turn up until 20 minutes into the film. There's a smattering of familiar TV faces in the supporting cast – Rip Torn, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root and Bradley Whitford – and a decent script that's full of nods back to the first film. But the watered-down violence and cynicism do detract overall.
EXTRAS Just the trailer for each film. Disappointingly, none of the extras from previous DVD releases have been transferred.