Since the events in the first film, the situation in Detroit has gotten even worse. The police are on strike, crime is everywhere, half the city is addicted to a new drug called nuke, Detroit is in default and will be taken over by OCP corporation, children beat up storeowners, and RoboCop is a scab. In this setting, OCP attempts to make another RoboCop, this one from a psychotic killer.
Less a story than a series of vignettes, RoboCop 2 suffers from all the normal flaws of a sequel. It repeats, in different forms, two of RoboCop’s opening scenes: the mutilation of Murphy and the malfuntioning “robot” shooting someone at OCP (but the second is a pretty good gag). The social commentary is gone, replaced by additional bullets (a sequel always has more). The violence is notched up, with two scenes of torture that are unsettling even for people like me who are generally immune. The humor still exists, but humor and savagery are tricky to blend. Paul Verhoeven, director of the first film, had the knack; Irvin Kershner does not.
The script is the most confusing element. Was it unfinished when they started filming and new pages, unrelated to the old ones, brought in every few days? Frank Miller’s initial screenplay was changed beyond recognition, but what was the plan? RoboCop 2 begins as a story about Murphy longing for his old life and his wife’s fear and confusion. Then that plot is dropped, completely. We never again see the wife. There’s a discussion of what kind of person it takes to make a successful cyborg (loyalty is the important component), but that idea is forgotten. The police are on strike for good reason, but nothing comes of that. RoboCop has his mind filled with contradictory and silly commands by OCP, which leads to an amusing scene, but then that’s over. Much of it is enjoyable, but none of it hangs together.
There are a large number of new and repeat characters, too many for character development. Murphy has half the screen time he did in the first film and his partner (Nancy Allen) is close to a cameo. The Old Man (Dan O’Herlihy) makes a welcome return and may be the only one to have a larger part. There a common misconception that The Old Man was a nice guy in the first film and turned evil in this one. I can’t see how that popped up, but all you need to do is watch the scene were one of his employees is gunned down in front of him to see he was a bastard then and is a bastard now. He brings with him both old and new staff, including a psychologist who decides that a psychotic killer would be the best choice for the new cyborg. I wonder where she got her training, as her concept breaks credibility. There are also cops, the scientist, the mayor (Willard Pugh), council men, and Murphy’s wife. Not enough characters? Well, add in the criminals. Cain (Tom Noonan) is the unhinged, religious drug lord. What a weird, twisted story he has. Well, I assume he has as we’re not told it. His main sidekicks are a nuke-whore and a malignant kid (Gabriel Damon). Much has been made of the fact that the most bloodthirsty killer in the film is a child. Add that a little league team brutally beats and robs a storeowner, and critics yell that RoboCop 2 is setting a bad example. Well, perhaps, just perhaps, it isn’t trying to set an example. The homicidal youth is the one place that the sequel approaches the first in looking at society with a sharp twist. Unfortunately, it all goes wrong when things turn bleak for the boy. Suddenly, the film becomes sentimental, implying the audience should tear up at the poor child’s plight. A film that has the guts to show children as maniacal fiends should have the guts to take it to its happily disturbed conclusion.
With too many characters, too many sub-plots (many unfinished), and too many touched on and then ignored themes, RoboCop 2 ends up being nothing more than a battle between two stop motion figurines, which can be fun, but lacks the satisfying feel of actual characters meeting.