ROBOCOP 2 - REVIEW
By: Mike Sutton
To say that Robocop 2 is a mess would be a vast understatement. It’s a calamity of a film which explodes in all directions and never begins to work on any level – not as an action film, not as a human drama and most certainly not as a social satire. Yet it’s an interesting calamity, a mistake which is genuinely fascinating, not least as a snapshot of the time in which it was made, when action films – from Die Hard 2 to Total Recall - were vying for how many corpses they could leave by the closing credits.
The film takes place shortly after the end of the original. Robocop and his partner Lewis are still on the force but social problems have not improved and the police are now on strike. The underworld of Detroit is in thrall to a drug called Nuke, which is distributed by a vicious gang led by religious nutter Cain (Noonan). OCP is still run by The Old Man but he has undergone a radical character change. Instead of being a wise, avuncular friend of humanity he is a grasping bastard, just as cynical as Dick Jones and even more ruthless. Eager to pension off Robocop, who is just too darned good to be a useful corporate weapon, OCP are developing Robocop 2, a considerably nastier, more efficient killing machine. With the assistance of the devious Juliette Faxx (Bauer), the company manage to corner Robocop and render him impotent. But Robocop 2 needs a human core to function and what better human for a killing machine than the psychotic Cain...
Robocop 2 is a film that is bursting with ideas, probably thanks to the original story by comic book legend Frank Miller, the man who turned Batman into the Dark Knight. It’s packed with potentially fascinating insights into a society dependent on drugs, on corporate corruption, on the need that a society may have for criminals in order to function effectively, on the purpose of policing.... Yet, frustratingly, none of these are ever followed up. The minute an interesting sub-plot is explored – as in the reprogramming of Robocop into a caring, sharing new man who lectures delinquent kids on the dangers of swearing – it’s dropped. In that instance, Robocop suddenly seems to overcome his new programming for no reason other than the requirements of the story. Early suggestions about Robocop/Murphy and his emotional inner life are intriguing but dropped after the first twenty minutes. Even Tom Noonan’s amusing madman Cain - “Jesus had days like this; hounded, attacked” – seems to disappear into the melee of sound and fury. Ultimately, all we’re left with are a series of increasingly violent action set-pieces, strung together by a minimum of plot.
These action sequences are often very well staged and there’s a great extended chase sequence in the middle of the film which any action movie would be proud of. But it becomes very obvious that Kershner, for whatever reason, has decided to emphasise the sadism in a manner which is initially shocking but eventually numbing. Every death seems to be lingered on in an uncomfortably voyeuristic fashion and the gory details soon make you feel a little nauseous. You could argue that this is responsible filmmaking – making violence seem horrible – but Kershner falls into the old trap of showing us endless violence in order to convince us that violence is a bad thing. Verhoeven’s film gave the brutality an exaggerated kick which made it simultaneously horrible and absurdly funny. The violence in Robocop 2 is just horrible and eventually wears you down, so the lengthy final battle between the two Robocops is simply too much. It seems ironic that the co-writer of the film was Walon Green, who wrote The Wild Bunch, a film which made violence hurt the viewer emotionally by emphasising the sense of loss and pain.
Kershner isn't a bad director generally speaking, although his reputation is largely based on a few good small movies in the 1960s and 1970s - particularly the fantastic Loving - and on his having directed the best of the Star Wars movies. But this is an anonymous movie, the work of a competent hack who isn't really interested in what he's doing. All that’s left are some good ideas and occasional moments of good comic timing, notably from O’Herlihy who has a grand old time playing a black-hearted villain. The character change of the Old Man is never explained but I suppose we could assume that his kindly persona in the first film was simply an act to ensure he held on to the company while getting rid of his rivals. Peter Weller does his best to keep Robocop interesting but he gets lost amidst the carnage and Nancy Allen barely registers at all. The effects throughout vary from good to mediocre with some particularly horrible blue screen work in places. Completely mediocre would also be a good description of Leonard Rosenman’s hysterical music score – complete with chorus – and the usually excellent Mark Irwin fails to bring much visual distinction to the film.