The violence, by today’s standard, is damn near cartoony. Listening to the filmmakers commentary, we hear that the violence was intentionally excessive and over the top. It added an element of humor, taking on a comic book feel. The cuts insisted by the MPAA actually made the violence more grim, and the reactions of the other characters even more so.
Beyond the surface, though, there is a plethora of social and political commentary. It’s never touched on directly, but it’s blazing blatant. The privatization of the military and police force, the designed redundancy in commercial manufacturing, the capitalistic tendency to create a product that will surely fail to make even more money on creating a solution to that failure. Take note, there’s a gun in the boardroom, and you feel no sense of surrealism about it’s presence. It makes sense. That’s where the power is, that’s where the big shots make the big deals, where they get away with the big white collar crimes.
Listening to Verhoeven speak of the character Dick Jones as sort of an anti-villain is interesting, in that he had no intention of commenting on white collar crime. He just wanted to cast someone who didn’t look like a typical criminal to play the part of the ultimate villain in the film. Directive 4 drives this criticism home – big corporation is in bed with the police (in this case, they created this cop) and they’re sure as hell not taking the heat, which is ominously parallel to today’s white collar crime. The crooks with connections get off easy, while the scum on the streets get hauled off, dead or alive.
This criticism being unintentional (perhaps big business wasn’t blatantly corrupt in the late 80’s, or perhaps the Netherlands-born director Verhoeven hadn’t experienced it, this being his first film in the United States), it presents an eerie foreshadow to the current state of affairs here in America, among other examples from the film. At one point, the hit man Clarence Boddicker presents a disc, a CD, and inserts it into an entertainment system in which it plays video. This was 1987, mind you, and DVD technology was still 10 years away. In the commentary track, the producers disclose they would have used a VHS, but felt it too old fashioned in the context of the film, and even had the idea of a floppy disc, but settled on the CD. Even this commentary track was recorded prior to the advent of DVD. So perhaps in both cases, this foreshadowing to the future is coincidental.
But all that aside, this film is just plain enjoyable, and damn fun to watch. It succeeds as a popcorn film, pure pulp entertainment. It succeeds as a sci-fi action film, with plenty of requisite social satire. In combing the two together, it creates a rare film hybrid, one demanding of repeat viewings – for pure enjoyment, and for intellectual stimulus.
And that’s something I’d definitely buy for a dollar.