I’ve been writing about various incarnations of RoboCop a lot recently. I’m afraid this isn’t going to ease up just yet. This is because I decided, on a whim, to watch RoboCop 2 a few days ago and, as the rules do state, I must now write a review of it. At least it wasn’t RoboCop 3 I watched. I’m not actually sure I could even get through that film. RoboCop 3 gets all the flak it deserves. It is a terrible, horrible film. RoboCop 2 gets a lot of flak too. This is mostly unjustified. Click the link below for me telling you why I’m right and you’re all wrong.
In RoboCop 2 OCP is currently a little concerned about how RoboCop/Murphy (Peter Weller) is getting all his humanity back and stuff and kinda stalking his wife. It’s bad for PR I guess. OCP sets about making a new RoboCop but recent attempts have all failed. They hire the help of a psychologist named Dr Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) to hand pick a new candidate to become RoboCop 2. She believes that a candidate that would crave and accept the power given to them would be best, and so she begins looking for serial killers. Yup. You can tell how much of a bad idea that will be already. Meanwhile OCP is extorting the Mayor of Detroit (Willard Kuzak) by not paying the police force. They hope this will lead to them being able to take control of Detroit when the Mayor can’t afford to pay up the funds he is contracted to which will enable OCP to begin construction of Delta City. Hopefully no major PR disasters happen for OCP in the coming weeks!
So the plot is a little bit stupid what with the whole telegraphing of the disaster that will be RoboCop 2, the character… not the film. But is the plot any more silly than the first film’s? It’s just as hokey and B-movie-tastic. When a film has a questionably silly plot whether it succeeds or not will generally come down to how well put together it’s component parts are. Luckily RoboCop 2, the film… not the character, is very well produced and directed. The script has a number of quality moments, such as a scene where RoboCop has been ordered to tell his wife that he isn’t Murphy, and the film is littered with just enough excess and satire to feel in keeping with the first entry in the series. Director Irvin Kershner does a pretty admirable job of impersonating Paul Verhoeven and it is clear that he understood what made the first film work.
The original story and screenplay for RoboCop 2 was written by comic book legend Frank Miller. Whilst his script didn’t make it to the screen intact his style is all over the film. The violent irony of the film’s opening scenes of one crime leading to another lie a Rube Goldberg machine of villainy is pure Miller. A little league team rob a store. A child becomes a drug lord. An incredibly high body count. All these elements feel ripped form a Frank Miller comic. He came to the set each day to watch the film being made, despite not actually being part of the crew any more. He even gets a small cameo as drug lord Cain’s (Tom Noonen) chemist. Miller’s original script for RoboCop 2 was eventually turned into a comic. I’ve not read it but haven’t heard great things. His script was described as unfilmable, which sounds about right for a Frank Miller story back then.
One thing that will strike you if you view this film right after the original (as I did this week) is how much the production value had increased. The RoboCop suit is now made entirely from fibreglass and looks a little more robust as a result, although I’m not sure about the lights added to his skull piece when the helmet is removed. There’s a sequence where RoboCop is taken apart by Cain’s gang and the animatronic RoboCop seen in the following scenes is one hell of a cool effect. There was a couple of similar effects in the first film which were equally as good but they were only on screen for a few seconds. Larger locations are used to great effect. The final action sequences involve a massive amount of puppet and stop motion effects to complete the fight between both RoboCops. Like many stop motion animations, they have aged a fair bit now, but they still look like actual physical being interacting in a real environment, something CGI has only been getting starting to the hang of in recent years. Production wise the film is pretty stellar and you can clearly see where the extra $23million budget this had over its predecessor was spent.
Despite all these positives the film is littered with many flaws. Whilst the film has a high body count the violence isn’t as extreme as the original film. There’s certainly nothing that comes close to the boardroom scene or Murphy’s execution. Peter Weller appears to be overacting with his motions at certain points, although it is almost in context when he’s re-programmed by OCP with hundreds of directives turning him into even more of a robot. Those scenes are among my favourites, especially when he’s reading the Miranda Rights to a corpse. The plot also has some bizarre pacing issues where RoboCop completes his arc not much more than an hour into the film by shocking the directives out of his system and, thus, regaining his humanity. He then disappears from the film for around 20 minutes. I have no problem with the scenes themselves but because he vanishes whilst the villains are doing villainous things it gives the impression that RoboCop has decided to take a few weeks off. It reminds me a little of how Batman barely appears in Batman Returns. The difference here is that RoboCop isn’t someone who hides in the shadows, only appearing when needed. He is literally a crime fighting machine who never takes a break. Well, apart from when he fancies a baby food sandwich.
Other issues include the president of OCP, The Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy), turning from a benevolent boss with one eye on the former glories of Detroit to an all out corrupt, near moustache twirling, villain. He exploits people, takes the side of Dr Faxx because she sexes him up and worries about the PR impact of a murder-bot rampage before anything else. Whilst he was the head of a corrupt organisation in the first film he was essentially good so the shift is bizarre. For me at least. I’m sure many just equate all of OCP with evil and therefore he must be too. I liked the idea in the original that the morally skewed business tactics of OCP executives was a commentary on the cold blooded Wall Street execs of the 80s and that the only thing stopping them from running wild was one man that represented a more balanced view. Maybe this was a better view of the gradual change in public perception from individuals being ruthless to entire corporations though.
Overall RoboCop 2 is flawed in many ways, but as Red Letter Media recently said, for an sequel made when this was it is surprisingly good. It holds up well and reminds you that it is possible for a film with a real voice carry that over to its sequel. Usually the only sequels that come out well are to films that didn’t have that much character or charm to begin with, so there was less to get wrong. Take the Pirates of the Caribbean films, for example. In RoboCop 2 the satire is still sharp, the violence is still violent (just) and the bravado that the film carries itself with is still entertaining. It may not be a masterpiece, as the first film is, but it’s at least good. It’s better than the RoboCop remake, that’s for sure.