By: Glenn Orr
The problem with RoboCop 2 is that it probably should’ve been a smidge longer, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes longer, to have allowed the filmmakers the time to round out the characters of Murphy and Lewis the way they should have been.
It was Orion’s constant demanding of rewrites that, by virtually all accounts, ended up damaging RoboCop 2 the most.
However, I certainly can’t disagree that Orion should’ve somehow found a way to make RoboCop 2 a better film. The cold reality of Hollywood is that what happened to RoboCop 2 tends to happen to most sequels; the execs at the studio assume too much authority over creative control of the film and micromanage the project straight into either (a) Development Hell or (b) a finished product that is substantially less interesting and enjoyable than its predecessor.
Yes, director Irvin Kershner had been involved with some hits over the years, namely The Empire Strikes Back. However, Empire was viewed by the industry as George Lucas’s movie, not Kershner’s (even though Kershner’s taut direction of Empire was a marked improvement over Lucas’s more flabby work on Star Wars). Moreover, Empire, in retrospect, was seen by Hollywood as a sure bet, a film that would’ve made a ton of money no matter who directed it.
Then there was RoboCop 2 screenwriter Frank Miller, a guy who’d enjoyed a great deal of success as a writer and illustrator of top-selling comic books, most notably The Dark Knight Returns, a violent, noirish, revisionist take on DC’s Batman, which ended up as one of the best-selling comics of the late ‘80s (and remains one of my personal faves). However, in Hollywood, Miller had two strikes against him from the get-go: (1) he was an outsider; (2) he was a writer, and writers are generally regarded as second-class citizens in the movie biz. While RoboCop 2 producer Jon Davison had virtually total faith in Miller, Orion was of the opinion that, “Yeah, comic books are nice and all. They’re kinda like movies, I guess. But until this Miller guy can come into our industry and deliver a film that earns back 50-60% of its negative cost in its opening weekend of release, who the f*ck cares what this guy has done elsewhere?”
As a result, the execs at Orion decided that it was up to them -- and them alone -- to get RoboCop 2 right. Unfortunately, however, they had no idea of how, specifically, to go about this task. Of course, Kershner and Miller certainly had an inkling or two in this regard, but since neither of them had the pedigree of a James Cameron or a Steven Spielberg, their ideas were repeatedly met with suspicion and trepidation by Orion.
In light of all this, is it any wonder that RoboCop 2 turned out as it did?