Robocop 2, the 1990 sequel to Robocop, finds Detroit on the verge of getting nuked.
No, not nuked like that! Instead, there’s a new designer drug called Nuke and it’s tearing the city apart. Of course, Detroit has problems that go beyond just the new drug. The city is almost bankrupt. OCP, under the leadership of The Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy), is still running things behind the scenes. There’s still all sorts of petty crime to deal with. To be honest, it seems like the city has gotten even more out-of-control now that Clarence Boddiker is no longer around to oversee things.
Fortunately, Robocop (Peter Weller) is still patrolling the streets! But, for how long? There are lawyers who claim that Robocop is a huge potential liability and when you consider some of the stuff that went on during the first film, it’s hard not to see their point. His ex-wife is also suing the police department, claiming that Robocop has been harassing her. Despite being a robocop, our hero is still Murphy and he’s still haunted by memories of the family he once had. Or, at least, he is for the first few minutes of the film. That storyline kind of gets abandoned, along with a lot of other storylines.
While OCP is trying to develop a second robocop, one that can be mass produced and used to replace the human police force (the majority of whom have gone out on strike), a cult leader named Cain (Tom Noonan) is attempting to take over the city’s Nuke trade. Working with Cain is the usual gang of flamboyant malcontents. His second-in-command is a sociopathic child named Hob (Gabriel Damon). Hob may be a kid but he’ll kill anyone and he’ll enjoy himself while he’s doing it.
Robocop 2 is a bit of a mess. It apparently was rushed into production after the surprise success of the first film and filming started before there was even a completed script. As a result, there are a lot of storylines and themes that are brought up and then seem to mysteriously disappear. The film duplicates Paul Verhoeven’s satirical approach to the first film’s ultra-violence but, unfortunately, it does so in the most superficial way possible. Once again, we get the cheerful and vapid news reports about impending doom and once again, the violence is completely and totally over-the-top. But none of it carries any of the bite that was present in the first film. The first film worked because director Verhoeven actually was trying to make a larger point with all of the violence and the hints of growing fascism. He was attempting to challenge the audience and to get them wonder why they found all of the terrible thing happening in Robocop to be so entertaining. The sequel was directed by Hollywood veteran Irvin Kershner who was a good, workmanlike director but who also didn’t possess Verhoeven’s subversive sensibility. Far too often, Robocop 2 just feels like it’s going through the motions.
That’s not say that Robocop 2 isn’t occasionally an effective film. Dan O’Herlihy is wonderfully amoral as the Old Man and Tom Noonan is a worthwhile villain. Though Peter Weller has said that he wasn’t happy with how the overall film turned out, he still make for a sympathetic hero and he still manages to capture Robocop’s anguish without letting us forget that the character is still essentially a machine. I’m not really a big fan of films that use evil children for cheap shocks but Gabriel Damon is frequently chilling as Hob. Detroit is such a terrible place in the Robocop films that it’s not really a surprise when an evil child pops up and start shooting people. When compared to the first film, Robocop 2 may be a disappointment but it’s hardly a disaster.
Robocop 3 on the other hand….