(On TV, April 2017) Robocop 2 doesn’t have the best reputation, and it’s easy to see why: It almost entirely re-creates the thematic points of the first film, sometimes in more entertaining ways but never quite going beyond what had been settled in its prequel. Worse yet, the script doesn’t quite know what to do with its most daring ideas (such as the underage killer) and puts them all away during its last act, dumbing down everything to a fairly dull combat sequence that keeps going and going. This being said, there are a few interesting moments in this sequel (The body horror, the over-programming interlude, etc.)—in fact, some of those moments are good enough that a truly decent remake would pick and choose scenes from the first and second movie to be able to create something much stronger than the result of either film. But we have what we have on-screen, and the best thing we can say about Robocop 2 is that it’s more of the same, except not as smart. The violence remains excessive, the special effects have a charming 16-bit quality, the humour isn’t always well-handled and director Irvin Kershner can handle the mayhem efficiently, even though he can’t elevate the material like Paul Verhoeven did. Belinda Bauer is deliciously evil as an amoral psychologist, Wanda De Jesus has a small role and Peter Weller is fine as Robocop, even though the scripts frequently asks him to step out of character. As a sequel, it’s passable … but viewers are advised to avoid the dreadful third installment.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2017) Contrarily to most of the movies I’m revisiting recently, I didn’t have very fond memories of Robocop. For the past twenty years or so, I’ve been remembering as an overly violent, implausible, mean-spirited piece of exploitation. Having grown older and given it another chance, however, I’m forced to be more positive upon second viewing. Oh, I still think it’s overly violent, implausible and mean-spirited (the last of which makes the first two characteristic feel even worse) but I can now appreciate that it has quite a bit more on its mind than the average action SF movie. Its preoccupation with industrial decay, man/machine relationships and corporate corruption still ring as relevant today (even more so than its recent remake), adding considerable depth to the film. It’s also, thanks to director Paul Verhoeven, a finely crafted piece of entertainment—fast, darkly funny, cleverly presented and relentless in achieving its vision. Some of the special effects are dodgy today (especially ED-209), although much of the practical stuff remains well done. Peter Weller is fine in the lead role, but special posthumous mention has to be made of Miguel Ferrer as an actor who aged exceptionally well—his character here is young and brash and detestable, but by the end of his career Ferrer had grown in his unusual features and could play a fearsome leader. It all adds up to a notionally respectable result, even though the cynicism of the film is still a bit too dark for my taste. With this second viewing, I update my appreciation of Robocop upwards and note that at a time when I’m happy when a revisited film holds up to my good memories, it’s rare that I like it even more twenty years later.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) I haven’t seen the original 1987 Robocop in at least two decades and wasn’t a big fan even then (I’ve never been fond of grotesque ultra-violence), so this remake doesn’t offend me on any level other than a basic exasperation at Hollywood’s insistence in pilfering existing concepts rather than try to come up with something new. It turns out that while this remake doesn’t quite make a case for existing, it does tackle a few ambitious themes, is competently directed and doesn’t feel like an outrage. The basic premise remains the same, as a severely-wounded policeman is remade as a cyborg and has to face dangerous criminals at a time where corruption is institutionalized. This Robocop clearly exists in an environment where dubious moral judgements are made by corporate executives, where automated force projection is seen as desirable and where the lines between man and machine is becoming blurred on its own. As a result, the film touches upon issues of political manipulation and free will that weren’t strictly necessary for an action film of this kind. (It also features a hair-raising scene of pure body horror that goes beyond the limits of its PG-13 rating) Left untouched is the idea that police work isn’t necessarily all about well-informed deadly firepower, but I suppose that something has to be left for the inevitable sequel. Joel Kinnaman isn’t much of a presence in the titular role, but Michael Keaton is interesting as an affably evil CEO, while Gary Oldman offers a bit of humanity as a low-key scientist trying to balance curiosity with ethics. Jay Baruchel and Samuel L. Jackson also have smaller roles that capitalize on their core persona while stretching them a little bit. Still, the star here should be director Jose Padilha, suffering under Hollywood constraints to deliver a dynamic direction while touching upon quite a bit of thematic content. If the film has a flaw, it’s that the villains are a bit dull, and the ending somehow fails to cohere and bring everything together: it feels more like a few things thrown together for the sake of resolution and a bit of robot-on-robot combat. All told, though, it’s a serviceable remake, a bit better than it most likely could have been in other hands. Make no mistake, though: People are still going to remember the original far more readily than this remake.