Although sequels are usually perceived as worthless endeavours purely motivated by money, a follow-up to 1987’s RoboCop made sense, as the flick introduced a richly-detailed world and a badass central hero, representing perfect fodder for future movies. However, sequelising RoboCop was a tall order, as director Paul Verhoeven created an ultra-violent masterpiece that stands the test of time, and maintaining such quality would be borderline impossible. With Verhoeven not available for RoboCop 2, veteran director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) was recruited, while iconic graphic novel writer Frank Miller handled the screenplay. Despite the creative team change, the resulting flick feels like a surprisingly organic continuation of Verhoeven’s original film, as well as a damn fine motion picture in its own right. Though not as good as its predecessor, RoboCop 2 is great fun, benefitting from exciting action sequences, impressive production values and sharp writing. It deserves a lot more credit than it receives.
The police officers of Detroit are once again on strike, as the city is in the throes of crippling debt and the OCP corporation seeks to privatise Detroit’s assets. However, RoboCop/Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is still on the streets, working to fight crime and corruption despite being hopelessly outgunned. A vicious new narcotic has hit the streets, nicknamed “Nuke,” the production of which is overseen by a madman named Cain (Tom Noonan). Murphy’s mind is still plagued by memories of his former life, which is perceived as a weakness by OCP, who begin working on “RoboCop 2,” a new generation of police protection without any emotional trauma. With Cain being chosen to be OCP’s guinea pig for RoboCop 2, it’s down to Murphy and his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) to protect the streets of Detroit as it plummets into an urban nightmare.
It was Verhoeven’s sense of humour and proclivity for humour which allowed RoboCop to soar, as it contained a hilariously plausible vision of the future. RoboCop 2 thankfully retains this material, interrupting the story proper at times for uproarious satirical commercials and ridiculously upbeat news reports. And when OCP conduct major repairs on Murphy/RoboCop, they program him with a whole new slate of directives decided upon by several board members. The resulting image of a politically-correct, committee-designed RoboCop is viciously funny, and all the more relevant in this day and age. It’s this type of material which keeps RoboCop 2 feeling fresh, taking the story to its next logical place with ample creativity. The film especially succeeds when it delves into the personal life of Murphy, who is haunted with memories of his old life but is continually told by his handlers that he’s a machine, not a person. It’s a tragic state of affairs, deepening Murphy’s character and giving the story some emotional heft. However, it feels as if more could have been done with this aspect of the narrative. Weller himself has stated that a number of character-driven moments were deleted, much to his bewilderment.
Unlike the universally detested RoboCop 3, which sanitised the character by placing him in PG-13 territory, RoboCop 2 is a gleefully R-rated actioner, revelling in the same level of ultra-violence that defined the original film. In fact, the blood and gore here is borderline NC-17 stuff. Whatever the faults with RoboCop 2‘s screenplay, this sequel is a deliriously entertaining blockbuster, full of great action set-pieces assembled with a deft hand. Director Kershner did helm the best Star Wars movie, after all, and thankfully his talent is all over the screen here. The movie especially springs to life in its action-heavy final act, climaxing with an unforgettable smackdown between RoboCop and the much bigger RoboCop 2. Produced before digital effects were the go-to tool, the movie relies on spectacular rear projection, stop-motion animation and puppetry, giving way to some genuinely mind-blowing moments that remain pretty darn cool. It sustains the same texture which defined the first film, with big guns and plenty of blood squibs, delivering what we’ve come to expect from a RoboCop adventure. RoboCop 2 is not quite as smooth as Verhoeven’s film, as the pace does lag occasionally, but it’s not overly bothersome.
Stepping back into the elaborate robotic costume, Weller remains perfect as Murphy/RoboCop, nailing the role’s physical requirements while also giving the character a degree of depth. In a number of scenes, there’s genuine subtlety to Weller’s performance, giving us the sense that there is humanity lingering deep within the big guy’s tough, metallic exterior. Nancy Allen also returned here to reprise her role as RoboCop’s female partner, and it’s nice to see her again, even if she doesn’t have an overly large role in the story.
Despite the criticism it has received and the dissatisfaction that Weller has expressed over the final product, RoboCop 2 is a worthy follow-up which effectively builds upon the first movie and never tarnishes its legacy. Interestingly, Miller’s original script for the film was labelled as “unfilmable” by the producers, who subsequently ordered extensive rewrites. In the years to follow, though, Miller’s vision was translated into comic book form, and Miller held no ill will against the film; in fact he makes a cameo appearance. RoboCop 2 never parallels the excellence of 1987’s RoboCop, but it does replicate its spirit, rendering this the only RoboCop production apart from the original that’s worth watching. The less said about RoboCop 3 and the television series, the better.