Worthy sequel or RoboCop-out? You have 20 seconds to comply...
There's no other industry on earth like Hollywood for taking a brilliant idea and mutating it into pointless, voyeuristic pap. Behold RoboCop 2, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Cyborg. As sequels go it stands about par for the course, but considering how influential (and simultaneously controversial) the first in the RoboCop trilogy was, this is even more of an unforgivable disgrace than usual.
With Dick Jones dealt with in a suitably violent fashion at the end of the first movie, Robocop 2 needs a new villain for us to boo, and so in keeping with the excesses present elsewhere in the film we actually get two. Firstly, seeing as the omni-present OCP are still up to their old tricks, The Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy reprising his brilliantly dry role from the first movie) steps into the Corporate Bad Man breach; odd given that he was previously portrayed as naive and semi-likeable. Secondly, the iconic Tom Noonan takes on the role of drug baron supreme Cain, responsible for flooding the streets of Old Detroit with cheap designer drug Nuke.
Nuke's the least of Detroit's problems, mind you. Mayor Marvin Kuzak (a superbly manic and suitably paranoid Willard E. Pugh) owes OCP a fortune in back-payments on a deal where the city is the security. He has just days to pay up or OCP take control of the old district and can henceforth bulldoze it to make way for their glittering new housing developments. In order to bring the populous closer to the boil, the evil mega-corporation (boo, capitalism!) has cut the cop's pay massively and they are now striking, leaving Detroit open to thievery and looting on a grand scale. Yes, you guessed it, they need an excuse to implement a new RoboCop program, but the only problem is all of their test subjects commit cyborg hari-kari, unable to cope with life as a robot. For some contrived reason explained briefly in passing, upstart self-serving scientist Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) decides the psychotic Cain would make a perfect subject for life after death as a member of the constabulary. You're getting the picture, right?
Robocop was truly a one-off; a gloriously demented, satirical sci-fi extreme turned social commentary. RoboCop 2 is not. Any credence carried forward by the first picture's sharp observation and scathing wit is dashed thoroughly on the rocks of movie oblivion by this largely by-the-numbers sequel. Where the prequel used violence as a comment on exploitation, RoboCop 2's violence is exploitation. However, it's not all bad news. Fortunately, director Irvin Kershner propels it forward with conviction, saving what could have been an utter mess of a movie by virtue of sheer enthusiasm and commitment. Peter Weller is again excellent as Murphy AKA RoboCop. Some early scenes where he wrestles with his nature amid allegations he is stalking his technically widowed wife show great promise. Unbelievably this theme is cast aside almost immediately until being brought up again for the briefest of moments later on in the movie. Bizarre...
The other returning members of the cast also carry the momentum well. Only Nancy Allen as Murphy's partner Lewis gets something of a raw deal, being denied any real opportunity to expand her character beyond the previous boundaries of her role. The aforementioned Dan O'Herlihy has a field day, and Felton Perry even gets a little more time as the smug Donald Johnson.
The movie's production values are also on a par with it's predecessor. The set design and cinematography are well up to scratch, and the stop-motion animation of the robotic protagonists (of which there is more) easily rivals and even excels the first movie. Also returning are the wonderfully sardonic 'Media Breaks' which continue to display a level of self-deprecating humour rarely seen in a mainstream American movie.
There's certainly plenty of action, but the vast majority of it feels forced and unnecessary. It's no coincidence that RoboCop 2 has the second-highest bodycount of any film released in 1990 (Die Hard 2 beat it by over 100, but then they did have to crash a passenger jet to achieve it, natch...). Where the film suffers most is in the scripting. Unlike the first film, this sequel just doesn't have anything interesting to say. Potentially intriguing plot strands are brushed aside in favour of upping the blood quotient, which proves entertaining at first, but grows increasingly numb with each vicious increment.
Little thought has gone into developing the humanity of the first film. It's telling that the finale (and sorry if I ruin this for you) does not come about by our hero triumphing over his programming, achieving God status and then spiking the bad guy spectacularly in the jugular, but rather by cutting to the chase and quite literally smashing the villain's brains on the pavement. I enjoy seeing brain matter as much as the next man, but this just feels lazy and unnecessarily violent.
It's always easy to pick faults with a sequel to a commercially and creatively successful movie, and perhaps I'm being a little tough on old Robo as there are still a few highlights to be had. Despite the generally weak scripting, there are a few gems of dialogue knocking around in there, and more than a few sight gags if you pay enough attention. It's just disappointing that this shares the name of such a seminal film. On it's own merits, RoboCop 2 would have made a great straight-to-video sci-fi bonanza, but it must forever stay in the shadow of it's predecessor, and oh what a shadow it is.
RoboCop 2 had much to live up to, and that's probably half the problem, but the other half is down to pure bone-idleness. Like this very review the film feels unplanned and disjointed. My excuse is that I'm actually quite drunk at the time of writing this. What's Orion Picture's story? Still, as Robo himself says, we're only human.
RoboDisko casts aside all pretense of sobriety and humanely awards this movie a decidedly average three out of five possible RoboDisko Units.
Tom Noonan (Cain)
Nancy Allen (Anne Lewis)