Robocop 2 – Revisiting The Much-Maligned Sequel

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When you’ve managed to catch lightning in a bottle once, with one of the most revered, beloved, exciting, brutal and iconic movies as 1987’s Robocop, how on earth do you follow it up? Well, it appears from revisiting the much maligned sequel for this retrospective, you make it louder, flashier and, well, a LOT dumber. That’s not to say that Robocop 2 is necessarily a bad movie, it’s just that it had some very broad, metallic, shoulders to follow. So, yes folk, we’re traveling back to dystopian Detroit for the sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s classic original to see what the late, great The Empire Strikes Back director, Irvin Kerschner could pull out of the bag for the much anticipated sequel. When trying to replace a director as ‘edgy’ and formidable as Verhoeven it was certainly wise to pick somebody who had, arguably, delivered THE greatest Star Wars movie ever made with ‘Empire’ but was he perhaps TOO safe a pair of hands to deliver what fans were hoping for with Robocop 2? Well, get ready to save an infant from a crazed gunman, dive head first through the glass of an armored truck, actually kids – do NOT attempt that one, and put out that damn cigarette as we’re about to find out, here on REVISITED!

Initially, Robocop producer Jon Davison was, understandably, unsure about making a sequel to the original movie, feeling that most of them were inferior to their predecessors. He also disliked the fact that he wasn’t able to shift too far away from what audiences expected from the sequel, stating in an article with Cinefantastique that “What you really want to do is make a completely different movie. But if the audience had a good time at the first movie, they want to repeat that experience, so you don’t want to make it too different. It’s a fine line”. Davison was also stuck in a dilemma between going full steam ahead on Robocop 2 or producing Warren Beatty’s screen adaptation of the Dick Tracy comics. In the end he chose to serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law again as he felt that the dystopian world of Robocop was more his domain, and that Dick Tracy belonged more to Beatty.

Therefore, the key aspect of getting the film into production was locking down a suitable script, and in September 1987, Robocop screenwriters Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner began drafting the sequel with a strict, and tight, deadline of December 31st insisted upon by distributor Orion pictures. Their script, entitled Robocop 2: The Corporate Wars, was set 25 years after Robocop is blown apart by a thief while trying to foil a bank robbery and is revived in one of a new line of ‘plexes’ made out of former cities, by an entrepreneur called Ted Licker. The script would expand upon the original film’s depiction of consumerism greatly, with residents of the new high class ‘plexes’ eating at the exclusive Leisure Gold, where they’re catered to by subservient droids. There would even be brothels with sexbots to satiate their every desire while the media landscape is filled with ‘newsblips’ mood-enhancing drugs and an influential rapper from space called Moondog. No, really, that was the plan!…However, in March 1988 a five month strike by the Writers Guild of America began and the length of it meant that unfortunately Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner were fired for breach of contract.

For the sequel to still go ahead, Orion had to sign a waiver to develop other Robocop scripts and before he was fired, Neumeier suggested Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Moore passed but Frank Miller accepted the challenge and began a writing process that saw him produce four drafts of the script for Orion. He had initially been hired to write Robocop 3 before Neumeier and Miner’s firing and once the pair had left he took on the daunting task of following up Robocop. Miller’s script was not too dissimilar to The Corporate Wars with several aspects remaining the same – consumerism, entrepreneurs trying to buy governments, poor citizens caught in the crossfire. However, Orion rejected the script, claiming it was unfilmable and subsequently turned to the screenwriter of violent western The Wild Bunch, Walon Green, to step in and assist with the creative process. All was not lost for Miller’s original vision of Robocop, however, with the legendary comic book writer using his treatment as the story of his own Robocop comics that were published in the early 2000s.

Much like with the first movie, producer Jon Davison had issues with persuading suitable directors to take over from the inimitable Paul Verhoeven, with some unkeen on following up the Dutch auteurs style and others simply not wanting to direct a sequel. Who can blame them? Despite the original being widely marketed as a kids movie, I mean, who didn’t have a Robocop lunchbox when they were eleven, the resulting film was the perfect film in many ways and the idea of messing up the sequel to such an iconic classic must have been daunting. Davison first turned to his friend and 1986’s River’s Edge director, Tim Hunter, believing his dark sensibilities and realistic tone with actors as being perfect for the sequel. However, Hunter’s ultimate vision of the movie being an entirely dark, gritty movie, much like the original, was at odds with Miller’s intention for the movie to be dark but also humorous and as a result the script was tonally uneven. However, eleven weeks before filming began, Hunter left the project to be replaced by Irvin Kerschner, whose massive success in that galaxy far far away was seen to bring some much needed gravitas to the project. However, trouble was brewing for the production in the form of the dictatorial Orion pictures who forced the movie into a rushed production, going against the advice of Kerschner, Miller and some of the actors involved. According to departing writers Neumeier and Miner Orion based their decisions on what they believed was best for business first and narrative second. Returning star Peter Weller has since claimed that the movie did not have a sufficient third act and that the Orion’s stance was that the “monster is going to be enough”. Well played Orion…

Despite completely owning the role of Robocop in the 1987 original, Orion were initially skeptical about bringing Weller back for the sequel and the star himself also had reservations about stepping back into the robo suit for the sequel. He felt that Neumeier and Miner’s script was too cartoonish, lacked sufficient tension and that it didn’t really add anything new for the character to say. However, he eventually agreed to return for Miller and Green’s new screenplay in what would unfortunately be a somewhat lacklustre, if not entertaining appearance as the robotic law enforcer. Also returning from the original movie was the excellent Nancy Allen as Murphy’s partner Anne Lewis, who undertook martial arts training and spent two months at the Los Angeles Police Academy for the role. Allen wasn’t the only Robo veteran to return with the old man himself Dan O’Herlihy, Felton Perry as Donald Johnson and Robert DoQui as Sergeant Warren Reed the most notable cast members to return. Taking on bad guy duties as the nefarious crime lord and drug kingpin Cain was Manhunter’s Tom Noonan who, despite his best efforts, is no Clarence Boddicker.

While the production went through several script drafts the plot eventually settles on a return to the near future, dystopian Detroit where the ‘killed in action’ cop Alex Murphy is still struggling to come to terms with being re-programmed as Robocop. The police are in danger of being defunded by evil mega-conglomerate Omni Consumer Products (otherwise known as OCP of course) while at the same time Noonan’s cult leader Cain is attempting to take over the streets himself by pushing a highly addictive drug called ‘nuke’. Robocop doesn’t just have his own struggle with his mortality to contend with, but also his own replacement as a rogue OCP member creates a new, evil, Robocop 2.

Robocop 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie. Of course, it has nowhere near the quality, humor and panache of the original but despite this it’s kinda hard to dismiss the movie as a failure, and to dislike, outright. Sure, it suffers from the dreaded ‘studio interference’ that we touched upon earlier and also had to endure a potentially crippling script-writing process to boot. However, it does feature some genuinely fun sequences that are at least entertaining to watch, such as the scene where a couple of the Robocop 2 prototypes commit suicide in a satisfyingly grisly way. The political backdrop of OCP plotting to buy control of Detroit so that they can ultimately rip the entire place up and build the long gestating Delta City is also an intriguing, if undercooked, side plot. We also get to see Peter Weller do his best to bring fresh life into the role of Robocop again, despite some awfully dumbed down moments. The introduction of Belinda Bauer as the devious Juliett Faxx is a welcome addition to the cast, which is lucky as she gets plenty of screentime. Also, a welcome return from the first movie are the sporadic but wonderfully droll newscasts and TV commercials that, while not as clever as those in the original movie, still offer some genuine levity to the narrative. The best example being the malfunctioning Ed-209 in a fun nod to the Ed-209 vs stairs incident in the first movie.

However, despite all of the aforementioned highlights in the movie, it still falls frustratingly short of being the worthy follow up to Verhoeven’s cult classic that it could so easily have been. Again, this is ultimately due to the aforementioned troubles during the scriptwriting process with a ton of ideas being introduced but never fully explored. There could have been real emotional heft and drama to be mined from Murphy’s pining for his family, especially after this was so well handled in the first movie. What we get though is a brief encounter with his wife which does at least answer a few questions, but does so without any real meaning for the rest of the film. There are so many loose ends not sufficiently tied up in the movie – OCP bankrupting the city so they can buy it cheap, the city-wide police strike that goes nowhere. Robocop even gets torn apart and re-programmed with hundreds of new directives but almost instantly resolves it by electrocuting himself, forcing a successful Windows-style reboot and reset. While this is all going on we’re still left with a, mostly, game cast but special mention must go to the most annoying character the movie introduces, Cain’s ten year old henchman Hob, probably to try and appeal to that, you know, totally appropriate younger audience the marketing for some reason appeals to. For some inexplicable reason, Cain, who’s a much feared drug kingpin, allows a pre-pubescent kid to hang around his gang, swearing like he’s in a Scorsese movie and being all ‘edgy’. When Hob mercifully gets killed later in the movie are we supposed to feel any sympathy for someone who’s been nothing but a loathsome little shit the entire movie? Also, is it really appropriate to have a character such as Hob appear in the movie? The Robocop franchise doesn’t need a gun-toting kid as a gang member to make it gritty, it’s just bad writing. While Robocop 2 does have some merits, It feels like the studio had nothing but dollar signs in their eyes and delivered a movie with a lucrative franchise in mind and not what should and could have been a meaningful second chapter for Murphy and co. And don’t get us started on the most ridiculous moments of Robo-humor…

Robocop 2 opened as the second highest grossing movie on $14.1 million during its opening weekend at the US box office, grossing $45.7million overall. It also managed to pull in an additional $22 million from home entertainment video rentals (remember them?). From a critical perspective the movie’s special effects and action scenes were widely praised but one of the most common complaints was that the movie did not focus enough on the relationship between Robocop and his partner Lewis, with more attention on the violence and less time devoted to the more human story of a man trapped inside a machine. Writing in the Chicago Sun Times, late film critic Roger Ebert took exception to many aspects of the film, and especially the introduction of mini gangster Hob, saying that – “Cain’s sidekicks include a violent, foul-mouthed young boy named Hob, who looks to be about 12 years old but kills people without remorse, swears like Eddie Murphy, and eventually takes over the drug business… The movie’s screenplay is a confusion of half-baked and unfinished ideas… the use of that killer child is beneath contempt.” The New York Times were similarly scathing of the film, saying that – “Unlike RoboCop, a clever and original science-fiction film with a genuinely tragic vision of its central character, Robocop 2 doesn’t bother to do anything new. It freely borrows the situation, characters and moral questions posed by the first film.” However, not everyone at the time thought the movie was a disaster, with The Globe and Mail calling it a “sleek and clever sequel. For fans of violent but clever action films, RoboCop 2 may be the sultry season’s best bet: you get the gore of Total Recall and the satiric smarts of Gremlins 2: The New Batch in one high-tech package held together by modest B-movie strings.”

Just like the first movie, Robocop 2 also spawned a video game to coincide with the movie’s release in 1990 with it again being a platform shooter for the then popular Commodore Amiga and Atari ST consoles as well as the classic NES, Game Boy, and ZX Spectrum. Nothing could beat a bit of Chucky Egg 2 on the old 48k Spectrum though. Or is that just me?…We also got Frank Miller’s comic book series as well as the obligatory novelization, imaginatively called Robocop 2: A Novel

So, despite everything this video has thrown at Robocop 2, what is YOUR view of the movie? Did they do justice to the original in any way or was the introduction of characters such as that little shit Hob too much to bear? As usual, please let us know in the comments below. Also, our foray into the dystopian world of Robocop is far from over dear viewers because despite the overall misfire of Robocop 2, surely Orion Pictures learned from their mistakes and delivered a masterful third act to truly send Robocop out on a high? Right? Well, that’s a story for next time here on REVISITED, but don’t get your hopes up on that lightning being bottled again…

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/robocop-2-revisiting-the-much-maligned-sequel/

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