I don’t really think Robocop is the second best film ever made, I was being a bit silly, but I do think it is a brilliant and moving film.
I mean, one thing it does have in common with Ghostbusters is that it works on a number of levels: as science fiction, action, exploitation, satire, comedy, and human drama. The effects look dated, but they are still more impressive and creative than they were in that hollow CGI reboot, or most other modern movies. The production design is sublime: it was then, it is now. Even the location of Detroit has taken on an added dimension since the insolvency of the city in 2013. The script is wicked: very quotable (as the tags above begin to suggest), witty and lean. The theme of private corporations taking over the public sector, applying commercial logic and using it as a testing ground for innovation and commercial expansion; the fusion between the military and police; the erosion of collective action and trade unions in the face of privatisation; the intersection between urban redevelopment, political corruption and organised crime; the blurring of the line between news and entertainment...all of these things are woven into the story, and satirised without overwhelming the tone of the film (like it does in Starship Troopers, which is a different type of film for that reason). They are also still very relevant and real, maybe more so.
The casting is perfect: Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker are fabulous villains, striking the perfect balance between pantomime and genuine evil. But the heart of the thing is Peter Weller as Murphy. There is no real charisma to his lead, he is pure and banal and blandly American, his interior life merely shown in hints and allusions. But it is enough to suggest an emotional core, based on his domestic life and family, that comes back in flashes that he is unable to recognise but still haunt him, causing some form of emotional response despite the fact that he is entirely mechanised. The poignancy and pain of this broken link with the past gives the film its soul. Apart from all the other things - the ostentatious violence, the special effects, the satirical TV spots (Nukem!) - the film is about these basic conditions of the human experience: love, friendship, memory, death and mourning. The way that it presents them does not lead to a happy resolution or a bleak dead end that would kill the emotional balance and tone: it is woven in, and done with surprising grace. Despite being an over-the-top, gratuitous, flashy, trashy exploitation flick, there is something delicate about the way Robocop handles itself. That’s why it is such a good film that lots of people really love.