Robocop 2 (1990): Irvin Kirshner
Robocop was a wonderful gift to Detroit. But in 1990, life is worse, so much worse that a corporation is offering to buy the city. Kirshner, ten years removed from directing another sequel featuring robots, helms the shoot of the second in the vaunted, untouchable Robocop franchise.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Robocop struggles to stay human while hunting a drug-peddling robovillain and its corporate backers.
Robocop has three prime directives: serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. Complex humans struggle to do those things, and have for, say, 15,000 years. How Robocop can navigate obtuse and flexible meanings confounds me, but it does, because Robocop never screws up. He bank shots a bullet into a goon’s head. Using math. Any kid who says they’ll never use math in the real world, show them that scene.
Robocop, however, is having second thoughts. Well, first thoughts, as Robocop, about Alex Murphy’s former family. He’s stalking his former wife, because Murphy’s memories remain, but when asked if Robocop identifies as human, Robocop offers no answer. But when asked again, Robocop answers that he is not human. But not answering, the first time, is answer enough. Robocop then tells the Murphy widow, “They made this to honor him. Your husband is dead.”
Robocop 2 is much about the study of what makes us human. Is Robocop Robocop, or is he Alex Murphy of the Detroit Police Department? Robocop seems confused, and when he states that he is Robocop, we don’t believe him, but mostly because we don’t want to believe him. He still has Murphy’s face, so he must be Murphy.
The final answer on the subject comes after Robocop has destroyed Robocop Two. He says, “We’re only human.” OK, that could be a robot joke. But he has a human face. He’s totally human, right? Just tell us, movie!
Identity politics don’t matter to the cult leader Cain. Cain is the producer and distributor of Nuke, a new drug, the most addictive in history. He’s also fighting a war against the police department and the whole damn city. He’s a creepy guy who has a nose ring and licks his lips as he tortures stoolie policemen. He looks at people like he sees their souls, but that might just be the drugs, because Cain often violates the first rule of drug dealing–don’t get high off your own supply.
Cain does get high, and it proves to be his downfall, even as Robocop Two. Cops, suits, lawyers, Ellen Murphy–all these people wonder who, or what, is Robocop? But no one ever asks that about Cain, the single villain causing great mayhem in the city.
When Omni Consumer Products uploads Cain’s brain into their newest prototype, he remembers everything, including his addiction to Nuke, a drug so addictive that the brain craves it, and not the body. Cain gives no damns about the law, public trust, or the innocent. He cares only to make people suffer, and to that end he succeeds brilliantly.
Cain is a bad man, but behind him and all of Detroit’s problems is a Fortune 500 called Omni Consumer Products, the “only choice.” OCP wants to buy Detroit. In charge of the takeover are the Old Man, Johnson, a lawyer, and Dr. Faxx. All these people are equally culpable for Cain and his rampages, so they get an equal share.
The Old Man is just an evil asshole. When he sees Robocop Two gunning down bystanders and cops, he remarks that the damage might be bad for OCP’s image. Johnson just wants to serve his devilish master. The lawyer is a classic lawyer jerk more adamant about Robocop’s inhumanity than anyone, but Faxx is the worst.
Dr. Faxx is a psycologist searching for viable brains for Robocop Two. Cops aren’t working because, she says, they want to have bodies and shit. I mean they literally want to shit. That would be better than having a mechanized suit for their remaining “lives.” She hatches a scheme to use death row inmates, the only people with zero shits to give about life on the outside. Halfway through the movie she stumbles upon the best candidate–Cain.
Faxx sneaks into Cain’s hospital room after his arrest and kills him. How the hell does she do it? He’s wanted on six counts of murder, is the head of a city-wide drug ring, and he has not a single guard posted in his hospital room? You can’t even visit your grandmother that easily.
Faxx calls up doctors to harvest his brain, but they have no idea who he is, despite his presence all over the media for his recent arrest and being the self-proclaimed leader of a local terrorist group. It’s as if the guys who autopsied Osama bin Laden on the carrier hadn’t recognize him.
The villains were painted with far too broad a brush, not a brush, but a paint roller, men and women so ruthless as to defy belief. I liked Cain, and RoboCain was even better, but the Faxx was insane and Old Man didn’t even get a name.
Phil Tippett created the terrifying AT-AT walkers of The Empire Strikes Back and the huge robot walking tanks from the original Robocop, has his fingerprints all over Robocop Two. He was the man who created the stop motion models of robot Cain. There’s a real menace to Cain-bot. His hands and feet resemble talon-tipped claws more than hands. Compare them to Robocop, who wears gloves. Instead of a face they gave him a metallic wedge protrusion, which Cain can open when he wants to reveal the monitor that shows his digitized human face.
As a robot, Cain is damn strong. He guns down countless civilians and cops in the bullet-soaked climax. And the producers spared no weapon in this scene nor any other. Just about any weapon one person can shoot is on display. Cain uses a shoulder-mounted shotgun (I think), but his weapon of choice is the gatling gun arm. He holds the trigger (metaphorically) and kills dozens of people. Cars explode, ambulances explode, everything explodes.
The cops shoot back, of course, and they are hardly bereft of firepower. Shotguns, pistols, M16s–all are at their disposal. They affect nothing, but make a lot of noise. Cain’s henchmen, back when he was a human, pack a lot of punches. Uzis, Ak-47s, and sniper rifles were their choices of guns. In the beginning, some goons rob a gun shop, stealing guns, bazookas, even a rocket launcher, which of course one them uses on Robocop’s car. It ends poorly for that guy.
Robocop 2 lacked sense, but not bullets.
Robocop’s friends get little screen time. Even Robocop disappears for 20 minutes. Nancy Allen is back as Anne Lewis, Robocop’s partner. She’s capable, but she was forced to wear her bulky riot helmet and full flak jacket for at least half her screen time. The comical outfit reduced her strength, and not helping was the way she carried her gun, pointed upward, elbows bent. You want to hold the gun down your sight line, and with your shoulders ready to take the brunt of the recoil.
Lewis’s best moment came when she drove the armored personnel carrier into Cain. It didn’t work, but I admired the courage. She just wasn’t given enough time to do anything. No fault to Allen, but fault to the filmmakers.
Cain’s number two man is a boy. The well coifed Hob, a teenager taken from the streets (I guess), loves working for Cain. This guy means business, and conducts it in a business suit tailored to his small body size.
When first we meet Hob, he’s hiding from Robocop in a Nuke factory. Robocop spots him holding a gun, but Robocop won’t shoot him. Hob, sneeringly, says, “You can’t shoot a kid, can you fucker?” and runs away. We have found Robocop’s weakness.
Hob shows up again to extract information from a shady cop. He dangles a Nuke package as a little incentive to the wad of cash. He also tries to strangle Lewis after she and Robocop bust up their party. This is a kid with no fear, one who thinks he’ll live forever. If that sounds like all children, then he struck the mark.
Hob ups his game after Cain’s arrest. He’s gonna take over the whole of operations, and when Cain’s girlfriend challenges him about it, he says, “Fuck Cain.” As ruthless as the OCP brass, Hob dons his little business suit to make a deal with Mayor Kuzak. He has fifty million dollars to spend to save Detroit from OCP.
RoboCain adjourns this meeting with extreme prejudice. Hob crawls on the floor of the warehouse for awhile until he sees the armored truck packed with money and with its door still open. He climbs inside, but Cain notices and shoots all through the armored walls. We are spared the sight of watching a child gunned down, even if he is a mean child, but Robocop arrives in time watch Hob die, swadled in cash.
Hob was an interesting character, but he’s dragged down by the incompetence of Cain’s lesser goons. Why do criminals just start shooting Robocop? Don’t they know who he is and what he can do and that he’s bulletproof? Robocop enters the Nuke plant, Cain’s abandoned warehouse/factory, and the Hob/Mayor meeting, and each time guys just stand in front of Robocop with machine guns and blast away. I don’t understand it.
Many cars explode on Detroit’s streets in the movie. Who needs fireworks when you can just detonate a police vehicle? Bullets are so powerful that they can hit car chassis and instantly send the car up in flames. I don’t know if this could happen in real life, but some of the guns used are powerful enough that I can believe it. They are full of gasoline, after all.
So many people are gunned down that the stunt budget must have been half the bottom line. Cops wearing protective gear are shot. News reporters are shot in knees and backs. Robocop smashes a man’s face into the glass casing of an arcade game. Those stupid henchmen keep getting shot in the chest. The blood was gory and plentiful.
Robocop and Robocop Two only fight one time, but the coordination for the human stunt actor and the robot model must have been difficult. Robocop hangs onto Cain’s back, trying to rip out the brain and spinal cord. When he does, Cain dies.
OCP unveils its plan for Detroit inside the gleaming new 100-story tower draped in Nazi flags. Seriously, OCP’s octagonal black logo rests on a white circle atop a red flag, exactly the design of swastika flags. I laughed at the thought.
Inside the Civic Centrum, OCP’s Old Man lectures the press about the plans to demolish neighborhoods and let everyone live in a clean, safe glass and steel tower. “Anyone can buy OCP stock,” the Old Man says, when the Mayor questions him about democracy.
The Old Man, as a demonstration, pulls out a tube of Nuke, hoping Robocop Two will destroy it. But Cain still wants his juice, and he attacks the Old Man and Dr. Faxx to get it. Luckily, Robocop shows up.
Robocop Two blasts Robocop with his shoulder-mounted gun, which Robocop shoots off. Robocop Two pounds Robocop with his go-go-gadget arm through a cinderblock wall. The two meet in an elevator shaft, but Murphy sends Cain to the bottom, until Cain figures out he can run up the shaft and both fly onto the roof and hang from a ledge. Then Robocop says, “You’re coming with me, Cain,” and they fall 100 stories.
The two battle in the basement and cause a ground-shaking explosion before emerging onto street. Cain kills anyone he can see, while the Old Man watches all and declares that “This could look bad for OCP.” The he delivers the movie’s silliest line: “Scramble the best spin team we have,” like they are fighter jets attacking enemies in our airspace. Corporations are so bad!
Cain begins his tremendous rampage. Anything in range of his massive gatling gun of unlimited ammunition is shot: cops, pedestrians, reporters, cars, vans, ambulances. Scores of people are shot and/or killed. The filmmakers spared nothing for this scene, and it’s great. It almost makes the movie worth watching.
Tippett’s stop motion techniques are on full display, and despite their age they still look great. The animation works well because Cain is a (mechanically) primitive robot. A real mechanical soldier might move in a similar stop-go manner as the model built for the movie.
Robocop has Lewis feed Cain the Nuke canister. I thought it would be a decoy, switched with explosives. It wasn’t. Cain takes the offering and injects it into his core. What the Nuke would do remains an open question, as Robocop uses the diversion to climb above Cain and leap onto his back. A struggle ensues, and Robocop, grasping at Cain’s nape, yanks out the brain and spinal column, the only earthly remains of Cain. Cain’s ghost in the machine screen pops out to show his death agonies. Playtime’s over.
Robocop 2 does not spare the humor. Robocop’s plodding ambulations are inherently funny. When Robocop first breaches the Nuke facility, he politely knocks on the steel door. The camera cuts to the guard inside siddling to answer it, shotgun cocked and loaded. When he reaches the door, Robocop’s fist punches through it and into the guard. Yuk yuk yuk.
Later, Robocop marches outside the police station to shock out the directives OCP gives him, knocking himself out. The cops on strike gather around to bring him back to the station. When the cops lift Robocop one says, “He weighs a ton.” A-doy.
These not-bad jokes are washed away by the cartoonish villainy of the OCP suits. The white-haired CEO is unnamed, because aren’t all CEOs as evil? Dr. Faxx is insane with power. She thinks it’s a good idea to put a suspected murderer’s drug-addled brain into a walking tank. Cain is so evil that he uses children as his lieutenants. Subtlety was not present on the movie set, and the film suffered for it.
Detroit was pretty bad when first Robocop arrived to clean its streets. Now, in 1990, it’s a hellhole. In the first street scene, a woman is nearly hit by a car, only to robbed as she lays in the street by a man who is robbed less than a minute later by two women who are nearly blown up when they pass an exploding storefront. That store is a gun shop, but it also sells bazookas, grenade launchers, a missile launchers, which are being stolen by the thugs who blew up the facade.
After Robocop busts Cain’s inner-city drug plant, he retreats to an abandoned factory outside of town. It’s ENORMOUS, big enough to make passenger jets, and the only people within a mile are Cain’s band of merry men and women. Robocop strolls through it and comes across some funny things like a shrine to Elvis and possibly his encased remains. It’s a strange place.
Contrast the grit and grime with OCP’s gleaming spire. Their offices are palatial, and in one scene the Old Man soaks in a hot tub. Yep, things are pretty good up there in the world of the One Percent.
Like most of the movie’s other touches, I found the settings painted too bluntly.
The terrible scourge awaiting our planet is but a blip on the monitors of the local newscasters. In the opening montage, they report that the Amazon Nuclear Power Station has leaked, irradiating the entire rainforest. “Environmentalists call it a disaster,” says one anchor. “But don’t they always,” answers the other. The Surgeon General is dead, a super-narcotic is on the loose, oh, and some mech-cops are being rolled out into new cities.
Things are bad out there in Detroit. (Just wait until the housing crisis hits.) Spray painted swastikas adorn newspaper stands, and white people are homeless. Honest-to-God, white people!
The social commentary was layered as thick as Robocop’s armor. Detroit conducts a telethon to raise about $37 million dollars. We get to see a man playing violin in tantric positions. After finishing his set, the camera cuts to the pledge board. The eccentric, lovable mayor has helped raise a few thousand dollars only. People just don’t care about their city.
In a fake commercial, Beverly Hills is livable again, thanks to the solid blue sun block 5000. The ozone layer has collapsed, so only the Navi from Avatar can walk in the sun there. I think Detroit would need at least sun block 4000, but I’m no climate scientist.
Before the climax, we learn that OCP is at heart a Nazi front. OCP’s banner hangs from its 100-story tower, and it blatantly evokes the Nazi flag: it is a red background with a white circle in the center. On the circle is the all black octagonal logo of OCP. The company is so Nazi that when Lewis, in the climactic scene, commandeers an APC, she kicks aside an OCP guard who wears a stormtrooper-style jacket and classic octagonal cap.
This might be a good place to mention that screenwriter and geek legend Frank Miller played the drug scientist blown up by the police.
- Why is Robocop vision so poor?
- Several rotating tracking shots boosted the movie’s verisimilitude and weight.
- (-1) Newly updated Robocop drives to the scene of a robbery. A children’s baseball team is looting the store. One child videotapes another smashing a bat into the proprietor’s knee. The coach, loading the pilfered gear into the hatchback, sees Robocop and Lewis approach. He draws a handgun and fires at them. He’s the role model! Lewis, using Robocop as a blocker, guns him down. This was too much. A baseball team, in uniform?
- (-1) Robocop, after he captures Cain, disappears for 20 minutes, long enough for me to forget it was his movie.
Summary (23/68): 34%
Robocop 2 suffered from wooden acting and subpar dialogue. And over-the-top villains. And blunt social messages. And stupid bad guys. It was the last bow for Peter Weller, world’s scariest-looking love interest. When the movie cut to a flashback of Weller kissing the future Widow Murphy, I shuddered.