Just how could a film directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) and written by Frank Miller (Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns, 300) turn out to be one of the most offensive sequels ever made?
There are so many reasons.
Robocop came along in 1987 and caught everybody off guard. It was ultra violent, ultra funny and at times actually moving. It was so good that a sequel was instantly called for. Producer Jon Davison contacted top comic book writer Frank Miller to pen the sequel. Miller had a dark view of the world and possessed just the right amount of cynicism to be perfect for the job.
The script Miller first turned in was deemed by the movie studio to be unfilmable (it has since been released in comic book form as “Frank Miller’s Robocop“). His script was then altered and re-written into what eventually became Robocop 2.
It is evident from the first twenty minutes that Robocop 2 is morally bankrupt, and horrible as a film. While it can be argued that the first film has its share of bad taste and shock and awe, it is all delivered with tongue in cheek, and with just the right amount of charm not to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Robocop 2is witless, charmless and everything seems to be done merely for the sake of it. There are numerous scenes that just did not need to be shot but were filmed anyway because of stubborn gratuity. Robocop had a terrfying scene in which Alex Murphy is shot to death with cold disregard, but this was important for the film. It was relevant to show what evil Boddiker and his gang were capable of and what Christ-like suffering Murphy had to go through to become the metallic Messiah.
It would be very hard to find a more mean spirited film than this sequel and it can only really exist as entertainment in a post-apocalyptic future of cyber-punks (remember them?) and the break down of society in general. There is no good in the film and no actual structure to contain all of the bad feeling. It is the filmic equivalent of the vats of acid from Superman III, boiling over and laying waste to the surroundings as it bubbles and melts into the floor.
The plot to Robocop 2, such as it is, revolves around most of the police in old Detroit going on strike and OCP deciding that they need to follow up the success of Robocop with a new model that they will imaginatively call Robocop 2, which is a bit like if you are called Steve, your mum and dad going on to call your brother Steve 2. However there is a fly in the ointment. There is a new drug on the streets called Nuke (worst.drug.name.ever.) and the man supplying it, Cain, is in control of the streets and Nuke is the sought after drug of choice for the well to do junkie about town. With the majority of the police on strike, only Robocop 1 and Lewis stand in the way of Cain and his gang of punks spreading evil. After being captured by Robocop, Cain is killed by a scheming DR at OCP (Dr. Juliette Faxx) and his brain is placed inside Robocop 2. The scene is then set for the ultimate and most spectacular robot-on-robot climax in cinema. Sort of.
OCP in this film are shown to only have about four people working for them (instead of the busy board room from the first film) and the “old man” seems to have become an evil villain, rather than just an old man who has been in charge too long. There is a rather dull sub-plot of the “Old Man” getting involved with Dr. Juliette Faxx , who has ideas of what Robocop 1 and 2 should be (as have we sister) and about who should be in the Robocop 2 suit. Suffice to say Fairfax is the enemy of the piece and in keeping with the mean spirited nature of the film, she receives no comeuppance whatsoever.
The problems do not just end with the plot. They continue with the Robocop suit itself. Peter Weller was very unhappy about the prospect of having to wear the Robo suit once again. The weight and cumbersome nature of it must have been hard to live with. For the sequel, the suit was redesigned (in bright blue?) and rebuilt in fiberglass – making it lighter and easier to perform in. This sadly makes the Robo performance suffer. Robocop is now able to leap about and roll over the floor like a happy dog. This is something that in the first film would have seemed (rightly) impossible. The fact that the suit was so cumbersome and hard to handle obviously added to Weller’s performance. While there is no doubting Weller really sells the movement, the suit detracts from it in Robocop 2 and makes him look like he is wearing cardboard armour.
The soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman is also appalling. Long gone is the bombastic, heroic march from the first film. We are now left with a rather sad horn fanfare with a chorus of voices, shreiking “Robocop” in time with the horrible melody. I am sorry Leonard Rosenman, but just adding a metallic noise every now and then does not make for an interesting score, particularily when the rest of the soundtrack is that insipid and uninspired. It drools and dribbles from your TV speakers like a group of sad, depressed worms looking for a place to die. Not exactly stirring stuff.
The design of Robocop 2 is also a major problem. There is just no way it could ever have worked as a policeman, (it has no notebook or truncheon for a start) never mind a functioning robot that could do anything of any use. It looks more like the warped Meccano project of a child with learning difficulties. Can you imagine Robocop 2 stopping a bank robbery? For one, it wouldn’t be able to get into the bank and secondly, it has no voice, so it would almost always have to stop crime via the medium of mime or sign language.Robocop 2 fails as an evil robot and as a policeman. In fact the only occassion in which Robocop 2 would succeed would be as the centre piece of an elaborate episode of Scrapheap Challenge.
It’s not hard to think why Irvin Kershner was offered this film. He made one of the best (if not the best) sequels in cinema history (The Empire Strikes Back) and obviously knew what he was doing. The obvious difference on this occassion was that the script for Robocop 2 is just so reprehensible in every way.
However, Robocop 2 was Citizen Kane when compared with Robocop 3, a film so bad they tried to hide it away, but that’s another story.