RoboCop 2 (1990)
Disappointing sequels to classic movies are certainly nothing new. Often, the knock against sequels is that they simply redo their predecessors without offering anything dramatically different. In the case of RoboCop 2, however, its crime isn’t that it simply goes through the motions. The original RoboCop was certainly gritty and violent, but it also had wit and was exciting to watch. RoboCop 2, on the other hand, simply amped up the violence quotient while (deliberately or not) tossing away the qualities that made the original so enjoyable.
The film begins presumably not long after the end of the first film, with the Detroit Police Department still on strike and the city on the verge of bankruptcy. But RoboCop (Peter Weller) and his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) are still patrolling Detroit’s streets. They come upon a plant manufacturing a new drug called Nuke. The leader of this drug ring is Cain (Tom Noonan) and his annoying kid sidekick Hob (Gabriel Damon).
Both of them escape, with Hob proving how irritating he is by bragging that RoboCop can’t even kill a kid.
Not long after, we see RoboCop has made it a habit of driving by the home he shared with his wife and son in his pre-Robo form as Alex Murphy. This understandably leads Mrs. Murphy to sue the company that turned her hubby into RoboCop, Omni Consumer Products, for harassment. Eventually, she confronts RoboCop, who flat out tells her that he’s simply something that was built to honor Murphy.
OCP continues to show its cold-heartedness as its head (Dan O’Herlihy), still known as the Old Man, plans to improve on RoboCop by creating “RoboCop 2”. This is championed by his right hand Donald Johnson (Felton Perry), who if you’ll remember got quite the nice promotion at the end of the first film when the Old Man helped RoboCop get rid of Jones.
But their efforts for RoboCop 2 keep running into snags, such as how any police officers picked for the project end up killing themselves afterward. However, Dr. Juliette Faxx notes that Murphy’s strong sense of morality was key to the success of the original RoboCop—which is starting to sound like a fitting metaphor for this movie. She’s granted permission to take charge of the project, which not surprisingly is already costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
With the help of corrupt policeman Duffy, Cain manages to lure RoboCop to his hideout. But Hob proves what a brat he is when he’s able to take off RoboCop’s arm with a machine gun that apparently has super-armor piercing bullets. Another doohickey that Hob and Cain pull out of their asses neutralizes RoboCop by sending out a beam that grabs his chest. This allows their minions to take RoboCop apart and then dump the pieces in front of the precinct.
Of course, in the tradition of stupid movie villains, they don’t take RoboCop’s head apart, which is why we know that it won’t be long before he’s back online. Naturally, Cain kills Duffy afterward.
Faxx slightly alters RoboCop’s programming so OCP will end up giving her more leeway on the RoboCop 2 project. Eventually, RoboCop clears his mind of all that bullshit by shocking himself with a tranformer outside, which reboots his system and restores him to his normal self. With the help of Lewis and his sergeant Reed, RoboCop and the striking officers find Cain’s new hideout. This time, they manage to capture Cain, wounding him, although they sadly don’t kill Hob, who escapes again.
As Hob takes over Cain’s empire (oh, Christ!), Faxx reveals how she plans to make RoboCop 2 succeed: by selecting Cain for the job. I must confess, I did get a kick out of how she lovingly caresses Cain’s head while he realizes he’s screwed. She disconnects his life support system and surgeons soon operate, removing his brain.
That brain is soon put into RoboCop 2, who’s quickly sent out for a test run. Hob contacts Detroit’s mayor for a meeting, demanding that Hob’s empire be allowed to have all the Nuke they want.
RoboCop 2 bursts in and slaughters everyone at this meeting, except for the mayor. RoboCop arrives and finds a mortally wounded Hob. Damn, RoboCop 2 ripped Hob’s goons to pieces, but had to give that brat a quiet death by allowing him to tell RoboCop who killed them all before he croaks?
The Old Man and Johnson set up a presentation for RoboCop 2 and their plans for Delta City. Showing off a case of Nuke, the Old Man and his audience are startled when RoboCop 2 goes apeshit at the sight of the drug, which was his elixir before Faxx took his brain out. He starts killing everyone in the auditorium. RoboCop shows up and they begin a shootout, prompting the Old Man to shout, “Behave yourselves!” before the combatants take it out into the streets.
Lewis distracts RoboCop 2 with the Nuke, giving RoboCop a chance to leap onto him, smash his head open, and yank Cain’s brain out. RoboCop quickly smashes the thing to pieces, killing him. To think, Cain would’ve saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d had the imagination to do the same thing to RoboCop.
As the city tries to recover, the Mayor tells the press that he plans to make OCP answer for all the chaos they caused. But the Old Man and Johnson clandestinely scheme to have Faxx take the fall for their fuckups.
Lewis is pissed that the Old Man is getting away scot free, but RoboCop tells her to remain calm.
RoboCop: We’re only human!
Okay, I guess that’s meant to give us reassurance. Too bad it doesn’t make this movie any better. Weller would even state that the movie’s final act felt incomplete.
One reason the original RoboCop was great was because its story was able to carry some dramatic weight to go along with RoboCop dispatching bad guys with his cool abilities. The fact that the villains of that film were the ones who took his family away from him gave it an emotional center. Said baddies were heartless, but Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith also made them engaging.
There’s no such emotional center in RoboCop 2. Yes, RoboCop briefly reunites with his wife, but nothing happens to give audiences a reason to invest in the film like they did with the original. Weller and Allen do what they can, and the fact that we got to know their characters in the previous film allows us to root for them more than we may have otherwise, but Tom Noonan and Gabriel Damon don’t hold a candle to Cox and Smith, and are just so damn annoying too.
Also, why do the Old Man and Johnson come across as heartless SOBs here? In the previous film, Johnson seemed like the kind you’d want to pal around with, which is why there’s a certain charm in the fact that RoboCop killing Jones gets him promoted. Likewise, the Old Man never struck me as the heartless corporate type, especially since that’s exactly the type O’Herlihy played in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
All this makes it somewhat sad that this film’s director is Irvin Kershner, who was lauded for directing character-driven dramas, but is probably most famous for The Empire Strikes Back. So strange that he went from that triumph to duds like this and Never Say Never Again.
Like its title character, RoboCop 2 failed to achieve the success of its predecessor, although that didn’t stop us from getting another sequel, several TV series, and (yep!) a pointless remake. The original is still hailed as a classic science-fiction movie. Ironically, the most notable thing about the sequel is some claiming it predicted that the city of Detroit would file for bankruptcy, which it did in 2013.