Watched all three RoboCop movies earlier in the week. Thoughts!
RoboCop: One of those films I’d been meaning to see for a long time, so it was nice to finally catch it.
Cop gets killed on duty, and is harvested as part of a cybernetic police enforcement system, turning him into the machine-man RoboCop! Drama ensues over RoboCop retaining memories of his human life, holding a grudge against the thugs who murdered him, and his correct executive manufacturers seeking to replace him with their own project.
It’s a brainless, macho action movie about invincible cops wrecking everybody’s shit, but there’s a certain wit and heart to it. Commercial breaks and newscasts break up the film both to establish plot points, or simply to establish the futuristic society it takes place in, but they have a very dark humour to them, satirising the Cold War dread, showing nonchalant attitude to wanton destruction, death and other issues. They’re small inclusions that are easy to forget about, but they genuinely help craft the atmosphere that surrounds the film.
Also, for all the corrupt executive backstabbing and crime clobbering, the human drama plays out very nicely. All sides of the story have decent, engaging storylines – the OCP company and their internal power struggles, the police going on strike, and Murphy as he struggles to come to terms with his identity. You come to see RoboCop shoot motherfuckers, but you stay because it does have a decent story going on. For an 80s sci-fi action flick, at lesat.
And really, it’s hard to dislike it – it’s an action movie icon! RoboCop’s a macho movie powerhouse and it’s hard to hate a robot that fills baddies full of lead in the name of justice.
RoboCop 2: One of those movies where I wasn’t expecting anything memorable, but was hoping for at least a decent bit of entertainment. I’m not sure if it even amounted to that.
A group shilling a drug called Nuke are making things bad for Detroit, and RoboCop is taken apart by them, but when rebuilt he’s filled with new directives in an attempt to make him a good role model – and a useless policeman. Meanwhile, OCP are looking to make a new robot police unit, and one of the Nuke cultists is chosen as its brain.
RoboCop 2 lacks a lot of the punch of the first movie. Basil Poledouris’s booming score is absent; newscasts and advertisements are barely present, thus losing a lot of the original’s satire and fast pace. Heck, RoboCop himself barely even has a story in this one. A lot of shit happens to him, but he himself does very little.
The movie begins with him having memories of his wife and child and is seen driving past their house everyday – his wife is brought in and RoboCop is effectively forced to deny that he is Alex Murphy. It’s a very bitter scene for RoboCop, and demonstrates just how nasty the OCP execs are… and it’s never brought up again. His wife leaves in tears, Murphy watches after her longingly, and that’s it, no further expansion. A number of plot points in the film really seek to establish this as a direct continuation of the first one, but this doesn’t add anything to the greater sum of things, and just seems to rub in the viewer’s face, “hey, you interested in this sub-plot, huh? Well TOO BAD. We’re gonna make RoboCop’s wife cry.”
And again with things that don’t go anywhere, RoboCop gets rid of OCP’s family-friendly reprogramming by erasing all of his directives. All of ‘em! No “uphold the law” or anything, it says there’s no directives at all. Does this mean RoboCop will go rampant and have no sense of right or wrong? Will he look at a human corpse and think that’s good enough to feed a family of four? … who knows, because it doesn’t mean anything! RoboCop still busts bad guys and shoots motherfuckers like he usually does. It’s probably just shorthand to say that all of the two hundred directives the OCP gave him are gone, but you’d think something basic like “protect the innocent” would be nice to have in writing.
There’s nothing personal at stake here. There were lots of plots in the first movie, but they were all tied to Murphy in some way – the police, the criminals, his manufacturers. Here, there’s nothing. The bad guys are just generic drug dealers who just happen to get the focus. There’s a RoboCop 2 who’s going to replace him and has the brain of one of the dudes Murphy killed, but he had little conflict with the guy as a human, and fighting him as a robot offers no real engagement outside of neat stop-motion robot animation.
The film is two hours long, and although it doesn’t drag, it does feel a bit slow-paced, especially without the frequent newscasts casting a bit of light on the weird future society. Basically, it’s missing a lot of what the original so engaging, and has very little (if any) charms of its own to make up for it. It’s pretty funny to see RoboCop trying to act like a good role model rather than a godless killing machine. Seeing him ride a motorcycle makes me chuckle. There’s a scene in an arcade that’s fun for game nerds to identify the wares, and the aforementioned stop-motion robot animation is bound to appeal to folks who appreciate the art.
But aside from those very niche draws, there’s really not much worth seeing. It’s the sort of thing you can have on in the background, watch a few bits, and know you’re not missing an awful lot.
RoboCop 3: My expectations were really low after the rather pointless second instalment, but I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this was!
“Urban Rehabilitators” are in force to destroy housing and shuttle people to camps in preparation for building a new city, and the residents are fighting back. After the head of the organisation kills his partner, RoboCop sides with the ‘rebels’ to fight for what is right, rather than what is lawful. Meanwhile, a new brand of robot mercenary is out to snuff RoboCop.
RoboCop 2 lacked action, lacked humour, lacked heart… lacked a bit of everything, frankly. The third one can’t restore it all, but it makes a decent effort. RoboCop is made a proper character again – he’s much more human this time around, having more emotional scenes and a lot more snappy one-liners, and is taken in new directions. Having to disobey his lawful directives in favour of what he, as a human being, believes is right, is a very cool direction to take, and seeing some human interaction with the girl and his partner helps round out his character again. There’s also a lot more whimsy to him this time – in the sense that he’s got some wicked firepower to shoot motherfuckers. He not only has a machine gun arm replacement with built-in flamethrower, but he gets a freakin’ flight suit. RoboCop with jets and smart bombs! It is exactly the sort of incredibly badass imagery that makes you pump your fist and exclaim, “fuck yeah!” And let’s face it, that’s what you should do anytime you see RoboCop. He’s an icon worthy of fist pumping.
There’s a more light-hearted vibe this time – the gore isn’t anywhere near as brutal in the other films, and combined with the rather toy-etic enhancements to RoboCop (and the fact a kid is a main character, I suppose), it looks like it aims for a slightly younger audience. And to be honest, I’m almost surprised they didn’t do that sooner – RoboCop kicks ass, man, and he’s the sort of icon kids love. He’s an image crafted for coolness, and it’s no wonder everything from anti-smoking ads to fried chicken commercials seek him out. It results in a film that’s a lot less gritty with a lot less satire… and I’m not sure what to use as a positive point, but if it gave us RoboCop with a jetpack and a flamethrower, I ain’t complaining.
It’s also nice that after two movies, we finally get to see the Detroit police actually do something rather than strike, and get to show their practical, human side by throwing away their badges and defending the town from the Rehabilitators. On the downside, it does kind of round off all the already-established plots – the OCP go down the tubes, Detroit is adamantly protected by RoboCop, and the tin man gets in touch with his human side. It takes care of everything, but not with a ball-bustingly extravagant conclusion.
It’s the sort of movie you walk out of with a smile on your face, and then later think back on it and go, “it wasn’t that great.” It ain’t a perfect movie, and it’s still nowhere near the first one in terms of quality, but it’s a fun ol’ romp, which is more than I can say for the last film.