Irvin Kershner | 116 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R
The consensus opinion seems to be that the RoboCop films exist on a steep downward trajectory of quality, starting with the pretty-good first film and ending with the nadir-of-humanity third. In this equation the second lands, naturally, somewhere in the middle — not that good, but not so bad. Personally, I enjoyed it more than the first.
As future-Detroit’s police strike over something to do with evil megacorporation OCP, ever-popular officer RoboCop fights a war on drugs, while OCP plot his replacement… Such is the barebones of a plot on which hang some solid stabs at satire and some nice boundary-pushing plot points, which at times left the film feeling still relevant today — something I felt the first RoboCop no longer was. Take the gun-toting pre-teen wannabe-drugs-baron, for instance, one of the film’s best characters who (spoiler alert!) they’re not afraid to deal a bloody death to. I’m not revelling in the death of children here, and I don’t think the film does either; instead, it demonstrates a kind of ballsiness and not backing down from the story and world they’ve created.
The satire is one of the most praised elements of the original film, but with new writers and a new director on board it would’ve been easy to ignore that in favour of a film in which a robot cop shoots lots of criminals. That is, obviously, not the case, and while at times some of the sequel’s jabs at society may be more on-the-nose even than the first film’s efforts, they’re not unwelcome or inaccurate. The screenplay was in part written by objectionably-right-wing comic book author Frank Miller, and though it was reportedly massively re-written after his work was done (to the extent that, decades later, there was a comic book miniseries that adapted his original version) I think his touch can still be felt at times.
I also criticised the franchise opener for poor special effects, and I think RoboCop 2 improves in that regard too. There’s still moderately obvious modelwork on display, but it doesn’t seem as cartoonish or juddery as the previous film’s. The climactic villain is a more genuine threat (it’s responsible for at least one massacre at any rate) and the battle with RoboCop, a mix of life-size props and stop-motion, makes for an exciting, well-matched finale, something the first film’s falling-down-the-stairs moment didn’t quite achieve.
I can’t say I’m overly enamoured with either of the RoboCop films I’ve watched to date. As a character and franchise it seems to have slipped from the consciousness a bit in the last decade or so, and I can’t say I find huge fault with that status. Plus, it’ll be interesting to see if the forthcoming remake can do anything to boost the franchise’s fortunes. Nonetheless, this sequel is a solid example of R-rated late-’80s action entertainment that, as noted on more than one occasion, I certainly liked better than its predecessor.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.