Robocop 2 (1990)

robocoptwo1

*. It’s funny what parts of a movie stay with you. I started watching this film with the vague sense, not really a memory, that I’d seen it before, likely when it came out. But had I? I couldn’t be sure. Nothing stood out.
*. After all, most of it was of a piece with the first RoboCop. Nearly all of the cast left alive from the earlier film had reunited, including Peter Weller as Murphy. Paul Verhoeven had moved on to other loud, splashy things but the look of this film was very similar. There was the same musical theme. Even the plot was quite similar, with the corporate suits at OCP back trying to take over the world, or at least Detroit, and a drug-dealing crime lord gunning for the city’s top law man.
*. But I still didn’t distinctly remember any of it. Even the shocking appearance of the disassembled RoboCop thrown among the striking police officers. You’d think I would have remembered that.
*. Then came a scene that I did remember, clearly. It was one of the mock commercials, the one for Sunblock 5000. I’m assuming the 5000 refers to an SPF rating as you’re supposed to slather a pint of what looks like blue paint on your body to protect yourself from being nuked by the sun’s rays now that the ozone layer has gone.
*. It had been a long time, but that was the only part of RoboCop 2 that I remembered. Ouch.
*. Why had I forgotten the rest, especially since I remembered quite a bit of the original? I think because RoboCop 2 is too much more of the same. It’s not a bad film but it doesn’t stand out as being better, or different, in any way from the first.
*. It was a project that had problems from the start. No one seems to have been very happy. Not the initial director, Tim Hunter, who left and had to be replaced at the last minute by Irvin Kershner. Not Frank Miller, whose script was changed so radically he turned his version into a graphic novel (Frank Miller’s RoboCop).
*. Not surprisingly, the script we have is quite muddled, filled with bits and pieces that don’t serve any purpose. Or, as Roger Ebert puts it, “a confusion of half-baked and unfinished ideas.” Murphy’s wife, for example, improbably appears (how does she just walk in to the police station to see him, especially given that she’s suing the city?) and then disappears. What is Dr. Faxx’s game? If Murphy was such good material for RoboCop due to his altruism, strong sense of duty, and other virtues, why does she think that a criminal on death row would work just as well? Or, given the shape Detroit is in, why does OCP want to take it over so badly? Big corporations don’t want in the government business.
*. Janet Maslin saw the difference between the first film and this one as “the difference between an idea and an afterthought.” I think it’s actually worse than that, as the ideas take a step back from the original. I mean, if you have to browbeat someone into saying that they’re a machine (and not human), then they’re clearly not a machine.
*. Why does RoboCop have “pain centres” anyway? Couldn’t they have left those out?
*. The villains are a mess. Cain is some kind of blissed-out druggy Jesus. I couldn’t make up my mind if he was really a bad guy or just had issues. The character of Hob upset a lot of people (Ebert found his presence “beneath contempt”). I didn’t have a moral objection to him (he fit in with a strange leitmotif of shitty kids in the movie), but I still found him annoying. There are villains you love to hate and then there are ones you just hate. I just hated Hob. And his death scene was awkward to say the least. Is he redeemed? Should we care?
*. There are a few nice touches. I don’t know how I forgot the brain in the vat or the Max Headroom anti-RoboCop. But overall I didn’t think this movie brought anything new to the table and had a scrambled and confusing script that left me with no clear idea of what it was about.

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