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Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

10 min read
He's back to protect the innocent.
He’s back to protect the innocent.

ROBOCOP 2 (1990)
Rated R / Color / 117 minutes
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Also Known As: Robotzsaru 2
Purchase it: (DVD) | (Blu-ray)

On July 17th, 1987, ROBOCOP was released in just over 1,600 theaters across America to some critical acclaim, and total box office success. (The thirteen million dollar production raked in over fifty-three million in ticket sales!) It came as no surprise that the powers that be at Orion Pictures wanted a sequel, so Ed Neumeier was commissioned to pen a script about the continued adventures of RoboCop.

And then the Writer’s Guild of America Strike happened in 1988. Ed Neumeier joined the picket line, so the task of coming up with a screenplay was given to, the then unknown, Frank Miller. Instantly deemed unfilmable, the script went through various rewrites, and finally went before a camera in the Winter of 1989.

It would be almost three years after the release of the original before the American public would get to witness ROBOCOP 2, and despite opening on more screens, and boasting a much higher budget, it made less than its predecessor. I’m assuming that it was probably the three-year wait (or perhaps THIS) that hurt ROBOCOP 2’s box office, because this movie is actually pretty awesome! Even today it seems like it’s the most overlooked (or the least talked about) of the RoboCop franchise, and that’s a crying shame!

Much has changed since Murphy began walking his Robo-beat on the mean streets of Detroit. A new, highly addictive drug called NUKE has replaced cocaine as the biggest problem in the troubled metropolis. On top of that, it is being manufactured by a crazed former mercenary named Cain. (Portrayed by awesome method actor Tom Noonan!) And if that wasn’t enough, the city of Detroit is about to be bought out by OCP due to some sneaky fine print in their contract with the city.

As the film opens, the Detroit police are on strike (an act instigated by OCP), and only a handful of cops are still trying to do their civic duty. Murphy and Lewis (Peter Weller and Nancy Allen reprising their roles) are hot on the trail of Nuke-lord Cain, and manage to shut down a major drug manufacturing facility in the process. After questioning a crooked cop named Duffy (Stephen Lee), RoboCop discovers the whereabouts of Cain’s hideout. Robo tries to take on the insane drug lord on his own, but needless to say, it doesn’t go well.

A little bit of hot glue and Bondo and he'll be good as new!
A little bit of hot glue and Bondo and he’ll be good as new!

Detroit’s cyborg hero is captured, tortured, dismembered (with a jackhammer!), and then is unceremoniously dumped in front of his precinct. With Robo offline and the cops on strike, matters get worse in Detroit. OCP’s answer to this “public relations nightmare” is to push the production of (a literal) RoboCop 2 cyborg to the top of its to-do list.

Naturally they hand this project off to a devious psychologist named Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer) who immediately begins screening criminals and psychopaths. They also reactivate RoboCop, but now he’s loaded up with hundreds of new directives that warp his mind. The ridiculous slew of directives inhibit RoboCop from actually doing his job, and leads to several hilarious moments.

Robo reads Miranda Rights to a corpse (“I’m having… trouble.”), tries to talk to a gang of little league looters about bad behavior and good nutrition (“Though you think you are having fun now, you are only hurting the ones you love.”), drives the speed limit (“We should set an example.”), unloads his gun at a man that’s smoking in public (“Thank you for not smoking.”), and ruins the Summer fun of some children who are cooling off by a leaking fire hydrant. (“Waste makes haste, for time is fleeting. A rolling stone is worth two in a bush.”)

"You have the right to remain DEAD silent!"
“You have the right to remain DEAD silent!”

To reboot his system and rid himself of the directives, Murphy makes the drastic decision to stroll over to a powerline transformer and jam his hands into it. The resulting electrical surge purges every single directive from his memory (including the four prime directives). After a quick breather, Murphy rallies the entire police force and leads them in a huge assault on Cain’s base of operations.

During the ensuing battle, Cain’s forces are scattered, and the insane drug lord ends up hospitalized after a failed game of chicken with RoboCop. Unfortunately for Cain, Dr. Faxx thinks he is the perfect candidate to become RoboCop 2, so she turns off his life-support. Afterwards, his brain is removed and placed into the enormous metallic body of OCP’s new Crime Prevention Unit.

But all is not going according to plan for Omni Consumer Products, because someone is offering to bail out the city and thwart OCP’s seemingly surefire bid to own Detroit. It turns out that Cain’s girlfriend Angie, and his preteen “disciple” Hob (Gabriel Damon, who voiced Littlefoot in THE LAND BEFORE TIME and Nemo in LITTLE NEMO: ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND?! Whaaa?) plan to use drug money to pay off Detroit’s debts.

In return, the Nuke will be reformulated to be slightly less addictive, as long as the city eases up on its “war on drugs.” Just as Detroit’s Mayor Kuzak (Willard Pugh) is about to sign on the dotted line, the newly activated RoboCop 2 bursts into the meeting and starts slaughtering everyone.

OCP: Because inserting the brain of a drug-addicted merc into a gun-covered juggernaut is a GOOD idea.
OCP: Because inserting the brain of a drug-addicted merc into an unstoppable robotic juggernaut is a GOOD idea.

Eventually RoboCop is on the case and discovers that his arch-nemesis has been reborn as a seemingly unstoppable war machine. Robo engages Cain during an OCP press junket, and the two cyborgs begin an awesome slugfest that takes them from the roof of OCP HQ, to the city streets below.

Even with the aid of Detroit Police and OCP security forces, RoboCop has a hard time of it, and only manages to secure victory because he helps Robo-Cain get doped up on Nuke. In the end, RoboCop reigns supreme as Detroit’s top cyborg, and OCP prepares for a hostile takeover of Detroit in order to build their much-touted “Delta City.”

ROBOCOP 2 is a fun sequel that continues to run with some of the themes from the first movie. The corporate satire is still here, as are the occasional fake commercials and newscasts, and the violence in the film is still over the top. (Maybe even moreso than in ROBOCOP.) However, ROBOCOP 2 has a heavily convoluted plot that could have used some simplifying. In the original film, Murphy dies, is turned into RoboCop, regains his personality, avenges his murder, and takes down a corrupt corporate executive.

In this film, Murphy battles against a drug lord, who defeats him and leaves him for dead. Then Murphy is rebuilt, programmed full of idiotic directives, which he then has to get rid of. Then he takes down Cain, who is rebuilt into an even more powerful cyborg. In the meantime, Detroit’s mayor is trying to raise funds to pay off OCP loans, because if he doesn’t, the corporation will own the city. So he meets with some of Cain’s former associates to broker a deal to buy back the city from OCP.

Then RoboCop 2 breaks up the meeting and kills nearly everyone, which eventually leads to a throwdown between the two cyborgs and, cripes… there’s just way too much going on here!

A brain is a terrible thing to waste.
“The plot is hurting my brain!”

Also, this film acts as a weird bridge between the adult-oriented original and the kid-friendly 1993 sequel. While it is quite violent and clearly not meant for children, the movie oddly has a few things that would cater to younger viewers. There’s a little league team that robs an electronics store and beats the geriatric owner with their aluminum bats, and there’s also Hob, future drug kingpin and high school student.

Played by Gabriel Damon (who was about thirteen at the time) Hob is a smart, foul-mouthed brat with a taste for violence, but he’s still a kid, which makes his bid as new leader of the Nuke cult kind of ridiculous. But that’s how this film operates. It goes places you never think it will, and is thematically all over the place. One minute it is a high-octane action flick, the next its an emotionally jarring drama about a man imprisoned in a robotic body. And just when you think it’s about to get really serious, the movie tosses a dose of comedy in your face.

And that’s the one thing that stands out about ROBOCOP 2: It’s downright hilarious at times! From the (what I consider) gut-bustingly funny suicides by failed Robocop 2 prototypes, to the rebuilt RoboCop’s politically correct antics caused by his mind-numbingly stupid directives, there are a lot of laughs to be had!

Suicidal cyborg = Comedy gold!
Suicidal cyborg = Comedy gold!

Despite the overly complicated storyline, the motley tone of the film, and the complete lack of Bixby Snyder (the “I’d buy that for a dollar” guy), there’s a lot of positive things to be said about this sequel. The chore of directing ROBOCOP 2, which was initially offered to Paul Verhoeven, was later given to Irvin Kershner. Though he didn’t have a lot of directing gigs under his belt at the time, he did have a James Bond film on his resumé (NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN).

But it was probably the fact that Irvin directed THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that landed him the job, and thank goodness for that. Kershner was a very capable director (who sadly passed away in November of 2010), and at the time, I don’t think anyone was as qualified as he was to bring this cyborg sequel to the big screen!

Another cool thing about this film is that most of the leads and supporting cast members from ROBOCOP are back. Though he keeps the helmet on for the bulk of the film, Peter Weller manages to successfully evoke pathos when it’s taken off. There’s a heartbreaking moment where Murphy is forced by an OCP lawyer to admit to a camera that he is a machine.

This is followed up by a visit from his widowed wife Ellen, whom he coldly chases away. (“They made this to honor him. Your husband is dead. I don’t know you!”) It’s a really interesting and emotional part of the film, but sadly it is never followed up on. Then again, no one really wants to see an RoboCop film where he sits around depressed all day, right?

Robo's sad face.
Robo’s sad face.

Also returning from ROBOCOP is Nancy Allen as Ann Lewis, sans her butch hairstyle. It’s good to have her character back, but Lewis doesn’t really have too much to do here, aside from worrying about her partner’s mental state. Another familiar face is “The Old Man” (a.k.a. the head of OCP), who is once again played by Dan O’Herlihy. What’s odd here though, is that he has suddenly become a villain.

In the previous film, OCP’s President was a kindly old man who seemed out of touch with the world. He was probably born with a silver (shamrock?) spoon in his mouth and simply unfamiliar with the plight of the average man. Now he’s a horny, cold-hearted, conniving old bastard, and it’s a totally unexpected turn for the character. While I wasn’t a big fan of this change, I have to admit that O’Herlihy is great here, and has some of the best lines in this film. The instant that RoboCop 2 goes on its rampage, The Old Man tells Johnson (played yet again by Felton Perry) that “This might look bad for OCP. Scramble our best spin team!”

While there are a lot of familiar faces on the screen in ROBOCOP 2, one actor in particular was new to the RoboCop universe, namely Tom Noonan. Tom had a tough act to follow, because Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddiker is such a memorable villain. But I think he does a great job as Cain, the violent junkie with a “Christ complex.”

He compares himself to Jesus, and believes that he is being wrongfully persecuted for attempting to give people “paradise.” If Robocop is an allegory for the death and resurrection of Christ via modern technology, then I suppose Cain would be the antichrist.

Tom Noonan and Frank Miller getting high on the set of RoboCop 2.
Tom Noonan and Frank Miller getting high on the set of RoboCop 2.

RoboCop’s triumphant return to the big screen not only attracted many of the original’s cast members, but also the same effects team that helped make the first movie such a success. Rob Bottin joined the production to create RoboCop’s armor (which was fabricated from fiberglass instead of neoprene rubber), Phil Tippett and his crew did all the stop-motion effects for Robo-Cain (as well as the suicidal Robocop 2 prototypes that brought me so much joy in my youth), and Rocco Gioffre returned to provide more of his beautiful matte paintings.

Though a good number of the cast and crew carried over from the 1987 film, one major change for ROBOCOP 2 was the soundtrack, which was not orchestrated by Basil Poledouris. Instead, composer Leonard Rosenman took over and came up with a rather satisfactory soundtrack. Though it is lacking the memorable “Robocop Theme,” I do enjoy Rosenman’s “RoboCop Fanfare” with its anvil percussion and triumphant brass! (Listen to the soundtrack HERE on Youtube.)

ROBOCOP 2 is a strange beast indeed, and it actually succeeds far more often that it fails. While it does run a bit too long and has far too many plot-threads, it delivers plenty of action and comedy, is highly quotable, and is never boring. It’s also well-directed, boasts a great cast, and never takes itself too seriously. While many may disagree with me, I can’t help but like this crazy sequel and I gladly bestow upon it: