blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner)

I remember in 1991, when I was visiting a friend and he showed me the Robocop movies (there were only two at the time, of course)–I’m tempted to go on a tangent about when one could still show someone movies… you kind of lose that opportunity with adulthood, then you just get to recommend. Anyway, after watching the two films, I commented the villains were better in the first one. He responded, “You read that in a review.” And now I’m writing it in one.

There are three major problems with Robocop 2. First, the villains. They aren’t as good, even though many of them are well-acted by their performers. It’s actually a cheap list item, because it so directly relates to the second major problem. Robocop 2 has little to do with Robocop. There are attempts to give Robocop a story in the film, but they stop pretending after a while, during the long sequences he’s off-screen all together. Robocop 2 is more about the bad guys than the hero, who’s possible journey is knee-capped in the first fifteen or twenty minutes. Robocop’s an inherently tragic figure–he’s the hero who never gets a reward–and the film would rather ignore him than deal with him.

The third problem has, big shock, a lot to do with the first two problems. Nothing really happens for the first hour. Nothing really good anyway. The first hour is spent engineering the second hour, allowing for the scenes to take place. Obviously, a plot complicates and a plot progresses, but Robocop 2’s script is pretty incompetent in terms of plotting. The lousy villains are also the script’s fault, specifically Frank Miller’s, who’s done enough work (and had his original script adapted to a comic book) to have the blame easily assigned. I’m not sure if it’s his fault Robocop 2 isn’t about Robocop… it might have something more to do with the first film being incapable of providing an easy sequel.

Now for the good. Irvin Kershner is a sturdy director. He doesn’t get to really shine until the big action ending–when it’s a mix of Kershner’s direction, Phil Tippett’s unbelievably wonderful stop motion, and Leonard Rosenman’s score. The film also takes forever to have any action scenes of merit–script’s fault–with most of the early ones being boring, unimaginative shootouts (contrived to progress the plot as conveniently as possible).

Peter Weller’s good as Robocop, though he’s got very little to do throughout the film. Nancy Allen kind of hangs out in a practical cameo (Patricia Charbonneau–in an uncredited performance–has more resonance). Tom Noonan’s good as the villain, Gabriel Damon’s good as the evil Frank Miller kid villain. The corporate villains, Belinda Bauer, Dan O’Herlihy, Jeff McCarthy and, in particular, Felton Perry, are all good.

The film has very little to do with the first one–it’s a sequel to the first film’s success, rather than the characters and their struggles in it–but it’s well-produced.

The grand action finale is amazing to see. Robocop 2 becomes a monster-on-the-loose movie all of a sudden and Kershner produces a great sequence. It’s also at night, one of the film’s few scenes at night… it really helps. In fact, it closes so well, one can almost (but not really) forget the first hour of the film.

One response to “Robocop 2 (1990, Irvin Kershner)”

  1. Jeez, “when one could still show someone movies…” No shit, I never even realized that was an exclusive province of childhood. I think I showed the two Gremlins movies to everyone I knew at age 8 (while being obsessed with false claims from other children about the existence of Gremlins 3,) and then the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacres later on.

    The writers of the original actually proposed a sequel before Frank Miller came along, subtitled “Corporate Wars.” It was to be an even more Max Headroom-ish satire where Robo is blown apart before the opening credits, then awakes reborn (again) in the future-future, not just the near-future. Delta City is enclosed from the impoverished masses, an all-powerful sentient computer runs national security, OCP is merely one corporate serfdom at war with many others, and the president is a stand-up comedian.

    Could’ve been fun stuff, but might’ve had just as little to do with Robo as the eventual, actual sequel.

    The real challenge of a good Robocop sequel would’ve been to make it a good POLICE drama – corruption, politics, honor, the whole Serpico thing.

    Just picked up the new dvd of the original…still the finest comic book film ever made, without needing to be based upon a pre-existing comic book.

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