Friday, 22 June 2012

Film Review | RoboCop 2 (1990)

RoboCop 2 in many ways exhibits the hallmarks of the "difficult" sequel. Known for being Frank Miller of Sin City fame's first big opportunity to break into Hollywood as a writer, the script was doctored to the point of Miller's original story being almost unrecognisable. The film also attempted to recreate the razor-sharp satire of RoboCop through the hallmarks of Paul Verhoeven, despite the director having no involvement in the film with the sequel helmed by Irvin Kirschner. The question upon RoboCop 2's release was whether or not the film could win through on screen despite the turmoil behind the scenes.

We return to Detroit in the not-too-distant future. OCP is now even stronger, tightening its grip on the city and forcing the police department to strike, meaning that crime is running even more rampant than ever. Meanwhile, RoboCop (Peter Weller) heads up the fight against a new drug, "nuke", pushed by a criminal with a Christ complex, Cain (Tom Noonan).

RoboCop 2's positives are largely carried over from the first film. Weller as Murphy/RoboCop is just as strong, bringing as much of the humanity and cybernetic charm seen in the original to the role here as he can. Nancy Allen, returning as Murphy's partner Lewis, is also strong, as are many of the returning cast such as Robert DoQui. Kirschner's attempts at Verhoeven's satirical and blackly comic news reports and advertisements used throughout the film also work at least some of the time, although often without the subtlety or panache that their originator brought to them.

Less successful is the film's ultra-violence. In RoboCop, the use of extreme gore and violent scenes was a key storytelling device, punctuating the film's message through both shock and satire. Here, much more often than not, it just comes across as violence for violence's sake. There's no message, just blood and death. Ironically, this key feature which raised the first film above many other action flicks actually helps to cement RoboCop 2 as never anything more than a meatheaded kill-fest.

So far, so forgivable. What drags the film down further is its haphazardly episodic structure. It's very hard to see any clear thread running through what's going on throughout the film. What are initially introduced as key plot elements are either quickly disposed of or just forgotten completely. In one scene near the beginning of the film, Murphy's wife is given a heartfelt scene confronting the cyborg created from her husband's dead body. After this, she's barely given a mention. There's nothing here to latch onto, which ultimately makes everything presented seem all the more vacuous.

Where the film falls down almost entirely is in the characters it introduces. Cain never feels like any genuine threat, and Belinda Bauer as the new head of OCP's RoboCop program is just irritating. Worst of all is Gabriel Damon as Hob, Cain's juvenile right hand man. Grating in a typically "annoying kid in an '80s movie" kind of way in the first half, Damon takes things to a whole new level when his role is expanded in nauseating fashion as the film hobbles towards its conclusion.

RoboCop 2 is therefore at best a wasted opportunity that seemingly couldn't overcome its troubled production. Whilst there are aspects here that genre fans will likely enjoy to a point, ultimately this is a shallow husk of an action film and a shadow of the enjoyable and smart original. Weller refused to return for RoboCop 3 after his negative experience throughout this first sequel; undoubtedly, many audience members did, and will continue to do, the same.


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