1990s, 2/4, Action, Irvin Kershner, Review

RoboCop 2

RoboCop 2 (1990) - IMDb

#2 in my ranking of the RoboCop franchise.

This movie is a mess. It’s often entertaining in small stretches, but it’s definitely a mess. That has a whole lot to do with the torrid history of the screenplay, going through so many drafts across so many writers, eventually settling on a rewrite of a script by comic writer Frank Miller that director Irvin Kirshner was reportedly tearing pages out of as unusable on a daily basis on set. It begins to take some ideas in new directions, but ultimately settles in for a mindless ending that can’t really address any concepts that came before. It’s a mixed bag and a mess, but there are also real flashes of quality here and there.

The only real problem I had with the first RoboCop film was that the two storylines of the criminal and the corporation didn’t come together as elegantly as they could have, making the integration feel odder than it needed to be. Well, RoboCop 2, in its finished form, looks at that problem and says, “Let’s make this a whole lot worse.” This is really two films squished into one, eventually forced together against one story’s will. The first, the one that dominates the film’s first half, is the titular cop (Peter Weller) chasing down the drug lord Cain (Tom Noonan). This is generic drug busting stuff, and it’s where the film works least. Cain is not that interesting of a character. He’s got a messianic complex about himself and his drug called Nuke, but that’s kind of it. As a follow up from Clarence Boddicker, it’s disappointing at least. Along with Cain’s men is a child, Hob (Gabriel Damon), who seems to be there to help create a connection with RoboCop and his memory of his own son, but little to nothing is really made of it. It’s interesting to see a 12 year old boy actually carry scenes with some level of menace, so I have to give the kid and Kirshner props for pulling that off.

The other major story is OCP trying to replicate the success of RoboCop, and this is the movie at its best. Everything about OCP in the first hour or so is gold. The Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy) brings on the young psychologist Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) to help with the cybernetics team to figure out what’s going on with their new models, all of whom end up going crazy and commit suicide on tape. The Old Man tiredly placing his head in his hand as he watches the failures, repeating the sum of money wasted on the process, is the same kind of corporate satire that made the first film so fun.

RoboCop eventually chases down Cain to a remote industrial site (repeating similar imagery from the first film for good or ill) where Cain and his men get the better or RoboCop and take him apart. This sequence is oddly cut together, moving surprisingly slowly with little effort to get the audience involved in the slow dismantling and torture of our hero. Again, pretty much everything with Cain is not really very good.

Dismantled and thrown to the ground in front of some striking police officers (a subplot that doesn’t really go much of anyplace), RoboCop gets rebuilt with OCP deciding to update his programming, lead by Dr. Faxx. This stuff, where OCP gives him hundreds of new directives like, “Do not use harsh language” is borderline hilarious. The scene where RoboCop goes out into the field and tries to read Miranda Rights to a corpse is strong stuff. And then…RoboCop instantly fixes himself by grabbing some power cables and that interesting idea is over now. Never mind it. It’ll never matter again.

And then, RoboCop kind of disappears for a while. The underlying plot of the film is about OCP buying up Detroit’s debt, forcing it into foreclosure, and then buying up the city’s properties when it misses a payment (complete with not very subtle flags making OCP out to be equivalent to Nazis). The fascist element never really connects on a satirical or dramatic level (Detroit hasn’t exactly been a good city in the real world which undermines the idea that a corporation is evil for thinking that they could do a better job of running it than the decades of failure that civilian government produced and the movies never made any attempt to portray any other way). It doesn’t help that the elected mayor (Willard E. Pugh) is baby-faced and obviously in way over his head, implying that he was probably an awful mayor, and he’s willing to get into bed with anyone offering to paper over his financial problems, including Hob by the end.

Cain eventually gets captured, and Dr. Faxx decides, for reasons, that the best candidate for a new RoboCop is a psychopath addicted to drugs. It’s not the movie’s best decision. This new RoboCop attacks the meeting between Hob and the mayor, and RoboCop finds his way to the site after the Cain has left, getting a weird moment with the dying Hob that’s supposed to mean something. What that something actually is, I have no idea.

Then the final act is noise as RoboCop and Cain fight up and down a tower. It doesn’t matter. There are no real stakes, and nothing has any emotional weight. Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) comes from the first movie with virtually nothing to do through the bulk of the film, and we get some kind of ironic stopping point that feels like it belongs at the end of a Billy Wilder comedy.

Yeah, it’s a mess. I don’t hate it by any means, but I’m alternatively laughing and just outright bored as the movie progresses. There are flashes of the first movie’s satirical genius, but they get overwhelmed by an uninteresting drug story, ideas that go nowhere, and an action ending that’s nothing more than just loud things.

Rating: 2/4

4 thoughts on “RoboCop 2”

  1. Another classic example of a sequel not being equal to the original.
    There are a host of problems in this movie, most of which you touched on.
    The biggest failure for me was that they didn’t managed the balance of satire and earnestness. This is not a good action movie and it is not a good satire, though it’s closer to the latter. There are scenes I enjoy and am amused by (mostly OCP scenes, as you called out). But the satire is too heavy and thick, this wasn’t painted on, it was lathered on with a trowel.

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    1. Yeah, when the Nazi flags come out, there’s nothing close to subtlety left. It just becomes, “We have no idea what we’re doing and here are loud noises to try and drown that fact out.”

      I am interested in tracking down Frank Miller’s Robocop comic to see a form of his ideas with a bit less studio meddling.

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  2. I think this was part of frank miller’s nihilist phase, when he worked on the screenplay, he would later do ‘give me liberty’ his very dark dystopia set in urban chicago among other places, I was really put off by it, in a way the original grand guignol elements didnt get to me, like murphy’s dismembering by boddickers gang

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