Tagline: He’s back to protect the innocent.
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Edward Neumeier (characters), Michael Miner (characters), Frank Miller (story & screenplay), Walon Green (screenplay)
Starring: Peter Weller, Tom Noonan, Nancy Allen, Belinda Bauer, Dan O’Herlihy, Galyn Görg, Gabriel Damon, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh
18 | 1hr 57min | Action/Sci-fi
Back in 1987, the BBFC had quite a movie on their hands.
Robocop was an ultra-violent affair of dripping flesh, hardcore drug abuse and attempted rape, which although extravagantly overblown was not as far from reality as its embellishments would have you believe. Most disconcerting was a scene in which the movie’s protagonist was systematically mutilated by a series of highly graphic shotgun blasts and the director’s overt ‘concentration on pain’. With the castration of the slasher genre still fresh in the memory, it seemed only inevitable that the movie would fail to avoid damnation.
It is credit to director Paul Verhoeven that Robocop was passed uncut, his deft, tongue-in-cheek style turning the excessive gore comic. But most of all it was his ability to clearly delineate the heroes and villains, offsetting the violence with a morality tale that overcomes the often relentless nihilism of a society without conscience.
By the time Robocop 2 hit theatres, Murphy’s mechanical vigilante had become a wholly different entity. The original movie was by no means aimed at kids, but one look at his shiny metal armour was all it took for inquisitive eyes to brighten. Right or wrong, the character who had been savagely mutilated just a few years prior was fast given the cultural marketing treatment. 1988 saw the release of both the Robocop animated series and arcade game, while a comic series was shipped just in time to coincide with the movie’s sequel. It didn’t matter that those little tykes wouldn’t get to see the movie. They already had the cap-firing Robocop toy range, and were probably too busy mutilating plastic men in a dark corner of their room. Murphy’s straight-talking law enforcer had transcended the realms of adult entertainment.
Robocop 2 stays loyal to the original in many ways, but misses in its failure to maintain that balance. The movie is violent and satirical but lacks the charm and emotional moral core of its predecessor. All facets of the movie are extreme in their own right, but they fail to simmer into a suitable concoction: the wryness lacks subtlety, the violence is needless, and the social commentary often borders on the condescending. Still, as a slice of action absurdity it is a great deal of fun, turning to a very real social problem in its attempts to match the shock factor of its antecedent. Where does one turn when looking to outdo a fictional society where gas station explosions and melting bodies are every day occurrences? How does one compete with the likes of Kurtwood Smith’s unconscionable scourge Clarence J. Boddicker? The answer: why kids, of course.
In a society of widespread terrorism, killer security systems and 9-year-old drug lords, a Dystopian Detroit is in debt to Omni Consumer Products after senselessly spending millions on a series of malfunctioning ED-209 defence models. The public sector bled dry, the police are on widespread strike as the entire community turns to mindless crime, fuelled by their addiction to Nuke – a cheap, designer drug mass-produced by New Cult leader Kane. Kane is played by perennial creep Tom Noonan, a wise choice considering some of his past performances, particularly as Manhunter‘s remorseless killing machine Francis Dollarhyde, and he does an admiral job as the psycho-come-droid with a penchant for his own product, though the screenplay offers him far less than Robocop did his predecessor.
Speaking of Robocop, a loose circuit or two has turned him into a veritable stalker as he goes in search of his wife, Ellen, which doesn’t sit well with OCP once she files a lawsuit claiming the unlawful enslavement of her still-human husband. Probably realising that bedtime with a cybernetic organism would be just a little awkward, Robo plays up to the corporation’s rebuttal of his humanity, sparing his teenage son a lifetime of psychological hardship. Weller has all the right moves (just look at the his successor’s difficulties in Robocop 3), and his heart is in the role that would make him, but a zany screenplay is enough to zap anyone’s credibility, and Murphy’s second bout of emotional redemption just doesn’t fit with the overall tone.
In the end, it’s better to just embrace the silliness and buckle-up for a delightfully violent affair that plays out like an edition of Judge Dredd. Before that can happen, our marginalised rebel has to once again hit rock bottom, and he does just that after ‘The Future of Law Enforcement’ is stripped to pieces by the sadistic New Cult and OCP refuse to pick up the multi-million dollar tab, transforming Murphy into a lumbering buffoon who teaches trite morality lessons to criminals like Big Bird high on Valerian tea. With Robo off in la-la land, OCP’s search for the city’s second Robocop continues, and after a spate of half-dead police fail to live up to their predecessor, ruthless psychologist Dr Juliette Faxx (Bauer) turns to recruiting criminal subjects, eventually opting for deranged psychopath Kane.
With nowhere else to turn, the Mayor of Detroit cuts a furtive deal with 9-year-old New Cult leader Hob (Damon), allowing him to flood the streets with Nuke in return for clearing the city’s debts, but OCP are intent on the city’s privatisation, sending Kane’s Nuke-addicted super machine on a path of wanton destruction. Unfortunately for them, Robocop has managed to reverse the same highly-sophisticated reprogramming that baffled scientists by electrocuting himself with a 10,000 volt generator.
With that kind of technical savvy, there can only be one winner.
After some mechanical flirting with main squeeze Angie (Görg) a Nuke-fuelled, mechanical Kane suddenly turns psychotic, gripping her head with his giant claw and snapping her spine like a toothpick. Ouch!
Most Absurd Moment
Stumbling upon a coach-led, little league crime spree, a newly reprogrammed Robocop is dissed by a group of miniature ballers, leading the once ruthless super-machine to deliver a wholesome morality speech of pussy-ass proportions.
Best Dystopian Commercial
They say 20 seconds in the California sun is too much these days. Not to worry! All you need is a pint of Sunblock 5000 and you’re good for at least a couple of hours. Be warned, however: frequent use WILL cause skin cancer.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After turning off a fire hydrant, a discombobulated Robo lectures a group of kids on the wrongs of water wastage.
Robocop: ‘Waste makes haste, for time is fleeting. A rolling stone is worth two in the bush.’
Kid: ‘Go fuck a refrigerator, pecker neck!’
My thoughts exactly!
As a legitimate sequel Robocop 2 isn’t up to much, but as an exercise in inane silliness it packs a Nuke-style punch. The plot is basically a tepid retread of the original, with no real scope for our protagonist to develop, and although it may lack the recipe of Verhoeven’s violent, comic book masterpiece, some of the standalone ingredients are a pungent delight.