Narrative Problem #2:
By: Glenn Orr
In my view the main problems with RoboCop 2 (which were made crystal clear to me when I watched RoboCop and RoboCop 2 back-to-back for the first time in a long time a couple weeks back) have always been entirely narrative-based, as I feel RoboCop 2 to be as technically polished an action film as any other released by a major studio in 1990. If I may, I shall now enumerate these concerns.
Narrative Problem #1:
RoboCop 2 introduces yet never satisfactorily resolves Murphy’s despair over his estrangement from his wife and son. We see him actually meet with his wife once, but he quickly sends her away, parroting the company line that he’s “just a machine” given him moments earlier by the *sshole lawyer guy from OCP. Many folks still seem a tad perplexed as to why Murphy would do this, but it’s always seemed rather sensible to me. Murphy, at this moment, is at his lowest, believing that he has nothing left to offer his family and that what is best for them is to believe that he’s dead and to move on with their lives.
A very noble -- although clearly downbeat -- thing for Murphy to do.
However, the problem, from a storytelling standpoint, with this is that you simply can’t tackle an item as big and emotionally wrenching as Murphy’s Angst Over His Estrangement From His Family and then effectively do nothing with it. I can tell you that when I first saw RoboCop 2, I fully expected to see Murphy’s wife and son reenter the narrative fray at some point in the film. Perhaps near the middle of the movie, or at the end, at least.
Perhaps they’d find themselves in harm’s way somehow, caught in the crossfire between the cops and Cain’s Nuke Cartel maybe. Murphy would have to rush in to save them, thus forcing a final, no-questions-left-unanswered resolution between he and his family. When that didn’t happen, I remember feeling cheated and confused. “Why even bring this issue up again if they were gonna basically leave it where it had been left at the end of the first movie,” I recall asking myself in a darkened movie theater back in 1990. And to this day, I still don’t have an answer to that question.
Lewis’s role in RoboCop 2 was altered quite a bit from the first draft of the movie’s screenplay to the finished theatrically released version of the film. Initially, her character had a good bit of dialogue, much of it during exchanges with Murphy. There was also backstory information provided on her, such as her learning how to drive a big rig from her older brother, who was a trucker. This knowledge of hers came in handy during the script’s third act, where she commandeered a semi and used it to smash RoboCop 2 into the side of OCP’s Civic Centrum.
It’s little things like this that help to fill in the gaps in a movie, making otherwise nondescript characters come to life. However, Orion, as studios have typically done, prized a short running time over good character development, ordering screenwriter Frank Miller to “trim the fat.”
As a result, Lewis’s character got hacked to pieces and was essentially made little more than a bit player in the film, with Murphy spending most of his onscreen time as a lone wolf, away from her company. Out was her backstory info, which then necessitated a slight rejiggering of the movie’s climax: Lewis takes charge of an Armored Personnel Carrier, as opposed to a big rig, to smash RoboCop 2 into the Civic Centrum. (Of course, one could then reasonably ask, “Well, how’d she know how to operate an APC? Was that part of her training at the police academy?”) Saddest of all, though, after being so thoroughly downsized, Lewis isn’t even afforded the opportunity to share with Murphy the most poignant scene in the film. Nope. Instead, a consoling Murphy and an on-his-deathbed Hob, the film’s 13-year-old Nuke peddler, are afforded that honor.
Narrative Problem #3:
There’s about a 10-minute period of time, starting with the shot where we see Murphy lying in dismantled ruins out in front of his police precinct and ending with the scene where Dr. Faxx uploads her litany of wacky directives into his brain, where Murphy is virtually absent from the narrative. And the few times that we do see him during this period he’s certainly not an active agent in the story, determining his own destiny as well as the destinies of others. Murphy is stuck in limbo, discombobulated and catatonic, with Faxx and OCP’s jackass attorney gleefully reducing him to a mere pawn in their schemes while Sgt. Reed and Murphy’s unnamed female technical assistant try in vain to get him back online.
This situation would’ve proved less onerous had it not been followed by a five-minute period in which Murphy, after Faxx’s idiotic directives have been uploaded, is made a clownish object of ridicule, happily saying and doing all the wrong things at the wrong times. I must confess that some moments during this period do make me laugh -- which was obviously the filmmakers’ intent. For example, the part where Murphy is Mirandizing the dead thief or the moment where he whips out his Auto-9 on that unsuspecting smoker are pretty damn humorous. However, the whole problem with this portion of the film is that we’re supposed to laugh at Murphy, to giggle at his expense because he’s behaving like a dumbass, like a titanium-plated court jester.
Narrative Problem #4:
Why do the striking cops decide about halfway through the film to stop picketing, tossing aside their anti-OCP placards and marching off with RoboCop, the very symbol of the company they detest, risking their lives to do battle with Cain, the city’s most fearsome drug lord, and his army of well-armed thugs? I’ve tried numerous times to make sense out of this, to find some reason, no matter how flimsy, to justify their doing this. But, try as I might, I can’t.
Yes, Cain is clearly a vile and vicious human being, the type of person who deserves to be dispatched. And the cops, including the ones on strike, are clearly the good guys. Even the striking police officers must be aware of the depths of Cain’s depravity and the need to take him out. However, they were also faced with the specter of an employer in the form of OCP that valued them so poorly as to slash their pay and cancel their pensions. OCP was operating in bad faith and the cops had every right to strike.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I didn’t exactly see what was immediately at stake for the striking cops with regard to going up against Cain. While clearly evil, Cain was going after those who were in his way: cops who’d remained on the job during the strike, individuals who’d likely be viewed by those on strike as “union-busting scabs,” and RoboCop, OCP’s flagship “product,” the supposed “Future of Law Enforcement” whom the striking cops had to view skeptically, seeing him as just another threat to their livelihood, someone to “replace them.”
In light of this, it simply makes no sense to me that when RoboCop asks them to come with him to kick Cain’s sorry ass that they’d say, “HELL YEAH!”
If Cain had firebombed Murphy’s precinct or something, killing a bunch of striking cops as well as still-on-the-job police officers in the process, I’d be willing to accept the strikers heeding Murphy’s call for them to join him in going after the Nuke Cartel. But as it stands, I must chalk this one up as just another vexing example of RoboCop 2’s less-than-perfect narrative.
NEXT: Creative control