Last week I promised to reveal my favorite robot fight. And here it is:
Of course it had to be this famous scene from RoboCop (1987). Nothing else comes close to it in my mind. What is it about this scene where RoboCop faces off with ED-209 that makes it so memorable? I remember catching a glimpse of this scene when I was a kid, and I knew I had to see the rest of the movie one day. It’s so compelling that I am spellbound by it every time I see it, even out of context like this in a clip isolated from its place in the rest of the film.
In a film that is filled to the brim with memorable moments, this scene still stands out as my favorite. There are other moments that are funnier, more violent, and more dramatic, but this scene manages to balance all three of those elements in a way that epitomizes this classic film’s enduring appeal.
There are three big things that make this scene go from good to legendary by etching itself in my memory.
1. RoboCop Is Outmatched for the First Time
From RoboCop’s creation to this point in the film, he has been indestructible. Bullets bounce off him and he barely even notices them. This makes it all the more shocking to see him weaponless and powerless to stop the looming threat of ED-209. It really looks like RoboCop is about to be destroyed. This is exactly what the film needed. We feel sorry for Alex Murphy after he got shot to pieces by Clarence Boddicker and his gang, and so it has felt justified for him to be completely safe in his suit of armor while shooting criminals left and right with his Auto 9. But this scene makes it clear that he’s not out of the woods yet. He can still be hurt and possibly even killed again. I love that RoboCop is only able to fight back by using ED-209’s own gun arm against it. For the rest of the fight, he is just getting thrown around and running for his life from missiles and gunfire. It’s not a fair fight, but neither is any fight in this entire movie.
2. We See His Eye
It gives me chills when I see Alex Murphy’s eye just barely visible under the RoboCop visor. After he’s been damaged by ED-209’s initial assault, RoboCop’s visor is shot up on one side, and we can see a human eye staring in fear and concentration as ED-209 bears down on him. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that there is a human face beneath that helmet, but for some reason it does. Actor Peter Weller does such a good job of selling the idea that he is a robot that this moment of revealing his humanity really resonates. That brief shot of Murphy’s eye (and the later one as he blinks while on the stairwell) is what makes this scene truly special.
3. ED-209 Goes Down the Stairs
The scene ends perfectly. RoboCop is basically acting as the audience point of view as he pauses on the stairs and looks up to see what ED-209 is going to do. At this point, it looks like a long staircase chase like the one in The Fugitive is in the works. Imagine the terror that could invoke as RoboCop struggles down dozens of floors with a hulking robot right on his heels. But a few seconds go by and we start to wonder if something else is going on. ED-209 looks nervous about navigating the stairs with its giant feet. It finally takes a single step and it looks pleased with that accomplishment until it suddenly slips and tumbles down. It squeals like a pig as it futilely attempts to get back on its feet and continue the pursuit. RoboCop doesn’t crack a smile or breathe a sigh of relief at this sight. He just watches it happen impassively and then turns tail and runs as fast as he can. It’s a nice reversal of expectations and the perfect way to end this scene because it’s not a victory for RoboCop, but it’s simply a reminder of ED-209’s poor design. RoboCop gets away by the skin of his teeth, only to be greeted by an even greater threat downstairs. But that’s a whole other story.
ED-209 vs. RoboCop 2
If you want to see what the RoboCop vs. ED-209 fight easily could have been if handled in a more conventional way, look no further than the RoboCop vs. RoboCop 2 scene from RoboCop 2. This isn’t a bad scene at all. In fact, it does everything very well. It just lacks any heart or memorable moments.
The two fights from these films have a few things in common:
- The larger robot falls down a stairwell/elevator shaft while pursuing RoboCop.
- RoboCop gets thrown around.
- RoboCop uses his opponent’s arm to blow something up and get himself out of a jam.
- The Detroit Police Force shows up at the end of the main robot fight.
The RoboCop 2 fight is much longer than the ED-209 one (which only lasts about two minutes) and it has a lot more beats to it. It comes at the sequel’s climax and it involves a whole crowd of people and many police officers getting shot in the course of the battle while the ED-209 fight is just between the two robots with no outsiders harmed. Despite its extra length, more epic scope, and ups and downs, the RoboCop 2 fight doesn’t generate any emotions in the viewer. The RoboCop 2 fight is not as good as the ED-209 fight. The reason is that it doesn’t add anything new to the characters. The RoboCop 2 fight is simply the final confrontation between the hero and villain. There are no surprises in it. The ED-209 fight, however, is full of surprises and clever reversals. It’s never dull, and it packs a big emotional punch halfway through.
There’s something to be said for the original RoboCop’s understated sense of itself. I know, it’s a movie with an exploding toxic-waste man and two scenes of men getting blown away by seemingly hundreds of bullets. But those are just for shock value. The most memorable moments in the film are ones like this that hit you in the head, the heart, and the funny bone all at the same time.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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