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Second Look: Robocop 2

Written by Robert Porter

Sequels are a fact of life for movie goers everywhere. Some are obvious cash grabs, while others intend to further a story and all its related elements. Arguably, some of the best sequels of all time belong to a saga, or epic story, such as was the case in the Star Wars trilogy of films. Not many fans of the trilogy will contest the popular opinion that The Empire Strikes Back, a sequel, is superior to Star Wars: A New Hope, which I believe has a lot to do with the fact that it drives the story forward with great purpose, and that it contains much of the rising action of the trilogy. Director Irvin Kershner brought the Star Wars saga to a grim place, with the future of the rebellion being left uncertain at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, which works very well in the overall scope of the narrative.

Still, it has always been my personal opinion that many sequels are of lesser quality than their predecessors, and that some films do not necessarily need sequels if the original story did what it set out to do. One such example is Robocop 2, which was also directed by Kershner in his last cinematic outing as a director before his passing.

Robocop, director Paul Verheoven’s 1987 masterpiece on celluloid and my personal favorite sci-fi/action film, tells the story of a machine that experiences the feelings of a past life. Almost like a phantom pain, Robocop begins to have dreams of what it felt like to be Alex Murphy, the man. Near the end of the film, Robocop laments that, while he cannot remember his family, he can “feel” them, while speaking of Alex Murphy in the third person. These feelings cause Robo to triumphantly declare that he is Alex Murphy in the film’s closing seconds. How much of Robocop actually is Alex Murphy is left for the viewer to decide. Kershner’s 1990 sequel continues where the original left off in some respects, but the film often “fumbled the ball,” as Bob Morton would say.

For me, Robocop 2 works well with its side plots. In the beginning of the film, we see Robo trying desperately to reconnect with Murphy’s family, which causes OCP’s lawyers to step in and get a statement from Robocop that he is “simply a machine” and therefore the property of OCP. Robo solemnly goes along with the deliberation, but it is plain to see that he is on his own path to regaining a sense of humanity despite his cybernetic body. Unfortunately, this plot line seems to get lost in the mix as the film erupts into a mean spirited and ultra-violent copycat of the original. There were some scrapped ideas with regards to this particular plot that can be read about here, which consist of mainly photos and a quote from Peter Weller.

Oddly, Robocop 2 seems to fall apart when it tries to build upon the strengths of the original. We still get the humorous “Media Break” segments, but they do little to brighten the overwhelmingly dark and violent nature of the film. Like the original, Murphy/Robocop is tortured and dismembered, but despite him being a machine by the time of this film’s events, it just seems disturbing for some reason. If you watch closely, you will see that the entire scene is almost a direct copy of Murphy’s death from Robocop, complete with Robo’s hand being blown off and being literally brought to his knees by his attackers. This causes OCP to begin exploring their “Robocop 2” program, which leads to some fairly humorous scenes with a couple of unfortunate test subjects, while also reprogramming Robocop to be unable to take any meaningful action. Check out the scene with the little league team robbing the electronics store for a good example of that. And while we’re on the subject of kids, I’d like to talk about the character of Hob.

Hob serves as one of main villain Cain’s lieutenants in his ever expanding drug empire. Hob appears to be around eleven or twelve years old, but swears like a sailor and carries a small automatic weapon that folds into what appears to be a little suitcase. Cute? No, not really. Hob kills without prejudice and gets his hands dirty in all the goings on in Cain’s day to day operations. “Isn’t this a school day?” Yeah, it probably was. This “kid” just seems to be a cheap, way-over-the-top cash-in of the often sardonic nature of the original film; only here, it’s just not funny or effective. Hob also happens to be an example of one of the elements of Robocop 2 that try to capitalize on what the original did so well: the villains.

Cain’s drug addled group of poison purveying perpetrators cannot hold a candle to Clarence Boddicker’s eclectic gang of thugs from Robocop. Boddicker, the bespectacled “unofficial crime boss of Old Detroit,” was cunning and incredibly dangerous, with connections to OCP, and therefore, the Detroit police department. His gang was nigh unstoppable in that regard, and while Cain does pose a threat, it never feels like the stakes are as high. At least in Robocop, there was a revenge story to go along with the villains. Sometimes that connection is necessary to tell a compelling story.

There is even more with regards to characterization that seems wrong in Robocop 2. The “Old Man,” who is the CEO of OCP in both films, inexplicably becomes evil between the events of the original film and this sequel. In Robocop, he just seemed to be your average, run of the mill corporate head, while in Robocop 2, he is not above some very suspect activities. I just didn’t get the sense that the old man was inherently evil in the first film. Misguided and greedy perhaps, but not full on evil. Another example, and possibly the most glaring error in the way Robocop 2 continues the story of the original film, is that Robocop seems to have been “reset” when we first see him again. In the third act of Robocop, Robo removes his helmet and his voice becomes less robotic and monotone, symbolizing his transformation. These elements seem to have been removed or ignored in Robocop 2.

As an action movie, Robocop 2 is alright. As a continuation, not so much. There is sort of a “grand scope” type thing going on, which doesn’t translate well from a film like The Empire Strikes Back to the story of Robocop. Personally, I think Robocop did what it needed to do as a film and that the sequel(s) were unnecessary, but I’d wager that MGM had dollar signs in their eyes when they realized that Robocop had franchise potential (including a children’s show and toys…). Shame on you, gentlemen. Let’s try to have some integrity in our stories, or perhaps some new ones should be told.

Robocop 2 has its fans as well as its detractors, and we’d like to know your opinions on the matter. If you want to watch it again (or for the first time), you can pick it up for pretty cheap right here! Let us know how you feel about it in the comments section and on our Twitter page!

About the author

Robert Porter