It’s funny how quick the milk turned sour in the Robocop universe; if the original film was one that even such arbiters of good taste as Ken Russell could eulogise in 1987, even by 1990, there’s not much to cheer. Having put the pedal to the metal first time out, Paul Verhoven didn’t fancy a sequel, so Irvin Kershner was brought in to do the kind of professional, anonymous job that he and Richard Marquand did on the original Star Wars trilogy, and the result just isn’t a patch on the first film. That said, Robocop 2 isn’t without patches of interest for anyone interested in exploring the world of the Delta City blues. Opening with a graffiti swastika, Robocop 2 attempts to expand the dystopia universe with some sloganeering from the OCP overlords, now in patriot mode; ‘Let’s make Made in America mean something again!’ is the familiar-sounding chant that disguises their corporate corruption here.
So in the future, the ozone layer is gone, and you need sunblock factor 5000 just to sunbathe outside; the tone is bleak once again, but not as mordant or funny. After his epic triumph against the system in the first film, Murphy (Peter Weller) is somehow back on his Detroit beat with Lewis (Nancy Allen) relegated to a meek supporting role here, as is ED-209. Inflation may not be a problem, given that we’re told that OCP have sunk a humble $19 million into their Robocop programme, but the result is three different machines unveiled as Robocop 2, with the first two malfunctioning and the third having the warped brain of hardened crim Cain (Tom Noonan). That’s the model Robocop fights in an impressive stop-motion finale, but it’s one of the few elements that work here; everything else about this sequel diminishes the original’s scope.
Opening with an ad featuring 80’s star John Glover for an automobile self-defence system that incinerates the attacker, a gag that might have worked in a Naked Gun movie, the overall theme is not much more precise than the vague misuse of technology. While it once added tension to have Robocop’s targeting system go awry, his re-programming makes Robocop something of a bore. ‘I am a machine, nothing more’ Robocop intones, stalking his own widow by driving past her house day and night. ‘My husband is dead, I don’t know you,’ is her bleak answer, leaving Robocop with severe loneliness issues. Personal development is associated here with children, with a Dickensian child villain that Robocop ‘can’t shoot’ but forms a bond with, and Robocop can tenderly touch a stranger’s baby in a crib as he hunts down his prey. Ew!
In fact, Robocop 2 is packed with things you don’t want to see in a Robocop movie, and it’s hard to imagine on what basis they were filmed; Robocop goading kids in an arcade and getting pelted with sweeties, a man playing the violin with one leg behind his head, the Old Man from the first film in a hot-tub, Robocop examining the skeleton of Elvis Presley. We do find out that Robocop is an Irish Catholic, presumably lapsed, which sounds like a good trivia question answer but any questions about Robocop’s internal strife go unanswered; for some reason the characters are constantly goading Robocop about his inability to go dating or fall in love.
There’s a neat little ad for the OCP Communications division which proclaims them ‘the only choice’, a clever fit of futuristic double-speak that sounds like something from today’s Orwellian media, but such flashes of illumination are rare here. If Robocop seemed like the future of law enforcement when he first burst on the scene, within three years, he’s outmoded as the Sony Walkmen we see being looted from electronic shops.Things would get worse with Robocop 3, but Weller had followed Verhoeven out the door and abandoned the franchise by then, and you probably should too.