Who doesn’t love Robocop? Paul Verhoeven’s ’80s era megaviolent satire was a huge hit, so of course it got a sequel. Verhoeven didn’t come back for a second go, but the legendary Irvin Kershner (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back) signed on to direct, from a screenplay co-written by famous graphic novel writer/artist Frank Miller, fresh off his successful reinventions of Daredevil and Batman in the comics. Special effects masters Phil Tippett and Rob Bottin lent their amazing talents behind the scenes. Although different from its predecessor in several key ways, Robocop 2 provides some solid robo-action.
It’s the future. Police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, Odyssey 5) was a once a cop, shot in the line of duty. The suits at the oppressive Omni Consumer Products rebuilt him as Robocop, the future of law enforcement. Robocop managed not only to clean the streets but root out corruption among OCP’s highest levels. Crime and corruption aren’t so easily defeated, though, because as this movie begins, the police are on strike due to OCP’s machinations, and a new illegal drug named nuke is everywhere, so futuristic Detroit is again an urban nightmare. Fortunately, Robocop is still on the job, blowing away burglars and drug dealers in the most violent ways possible. After a confrontation with druglord Cain (Tom Noonan, The Monster Squad), Robocop is severely damaged. The OCP executives decide to reprogram him to be a kinder, gentler Robocop, which doesn’t go well. OCP then plots to replace him by creating a new crimefighting cyborg, appropriately named Robocop 2. Knowing that both OCP and Cain are up to no good, can Robocop get his head back in the game and save the day?
A lot of movie fans criticize this sequel, calling it inferior to what Verhoeven accomplished in the first movie, but Robocop 2 gets more right than it gets wrong. The element of satire is still front and center, with more faux commercials and news reports, as well as with OCP executives attempting to reprogram Robocop to be more morally upright. This leads to some of the movie’s biggest laughs, with Robocop encouraging crooks to talk about their feelings, and a wonderful scene in which he thanks a citizen for not smoking.
It isn’t all laughs, though. The first hour of the movie raises questions as to the nature of Robocop’s humanity. Robocop keeps creepily following his wife, or at least the woman who was his wife back when he was human. The cops and the OCP suits claim that Robocop’s humanity is nothing but a glitch, leading to an heartbreaking scene in which an unmasked Robocop tells his former wife his human-looking face is merely, “to honor him.” Peter Weller performs Robocop with just enough subtlety during all this, so that we in the audience are left to believe that there’s still some humanity lingering deep within the big guy, no matter how robotic he might be.
The bad news is all the satire and character development are dropped, as the movie’s second hour delivers huge blockbuster action. The good news is the movie’s second hour delivers huge blockbuster action. Once the Robocop 2 cyborg is up and running, the carnage doesn’t let up. First, it unleashes bloody squib hell on a secret meeting between city leaders and Cain’s goons. Then comes the finale, in which the two Robocops duke it out up through a high rise, down into the sewer, and then out onto the streets. No matter how much damage Robocop dishes out, his namesake keeps coming back for more. Robocop 2 might not be as iconic as ED-209 from the first movie, but it brings the pain and property destruction we all hoped to from ED before ED succumbed to the natural enemy of all robots, stairs. Robocop 2, brought to life with beautiful stop motion animation, never gets to have an epic fight against stairs, but his extended brawl versus Robocop during the big finale makes up for it.
Robocop 2 takes an approach to dealing with children. Although the first movie was R rated for plenty of good reasons, kids nonetheless were drawn to it thanks to home video and TV airings, and this led to Robocop cartoons, toys, comic books, and various cameos throughout pop culture. In response to this, children characters are added to Robocop 2, along with OCP reprogramming Robocop to be a role model. Oddly, though, children characters in this movie are some of the most evil. One funny scene has a little league team robbing a store, only to get less funny to see the little ones brutally beating the shop owner. The worst offender is Hobb (Gabriel Damon, The Land Before Time), an adolescent kid who hangs out with Cain and his gang. During a stretch of plot in which Cain is out of the picture, Hobb takes over Cain’s operation, and now here’s this little kid swearing, drug dealing, and murdering all over the place. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “You want to see Robocop with kids? Here’s your Robocop with kids.”
Weller, as noted above, does a great job making the character more than just a machine. The costume has been slightly redone this time, giving him a little more freedom of movement, which is a boon considering there’s more fast-paced action this time around. Nancy Allen (Carrie) reprises her role as Robocop’s tough-girl partner. She doesn’t have much to do in the story, but it’s nice to see her again. The various politicians and executives are appropriately greedy and duplicitous. Plus, for everyone who nearly crapped themselves when they realized that it really was Leeza Gibbons as a newscaster in the first movie, prepare to send your shorts to the cleaners once more, because she too is back for another cameo.
The 1.85:1/1080p high def picture and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio on this Blu-ray are good but not outstanding, a slight increase in quality over previous DVD releases, but not by much. Still, colors are vivid, black levels are deep and rich, and there is plenty of detail to enjoy. Audio fares nicely as well, making the most of the big, booming explosions and the memorable orchestral theme. Two trailers are it for extras.
It bears repeating—the movie sets up some interesting ideas in its first half, namely by having Robocop questioning his own humanity, only to completely drop these questions before the credits roll. The abrupt ending will have a lot of viewers asking, “That’s it, what happened next?”
The first Robocop was ultraviolent satire. The sequel Robocop 2 is an action blockbuster with ultraviolent satirical elements. That might too big of a difference for some, but for me, the movie is a wild ride, robo-fun from start to end.
Also, I love that my spellchecker doesn’t put a red underline under the word “Robocop.”