RoboCop 2 is a bizarre, ambitious sequel which often falls short of its goals, but manages to be relatively entertaining almost in spite of itself. Although it lacks the creative team (director Paul Verhoeven, writer Ed Neumeier, and producer Jon Davison) that made the original a contemporary classic in both the action and science fiction genres, director Irvin Kershner and returning star Peter Weller wrestle a level of spectacle out of Frank Miller's heavily rewritten script, overcoming muddled plot points and a lack of focus with surprising humor and good old-fashioned action.
Set an unidentified amount of time after the end of RoboCop, the film opens with OCP still looking to privatize everything it can. With the police and military already under its control, the company sets its sights on no less than the entire city of Detroit. Detroit is $37 million in debt to OCP, so OCP stops paying the police officers, who go on strike. Crime ramps up, the city's funding drops, and once Detroit has been in debt for long enough, OCP can foreclose, with an eye to mowing everything down and rebuilding an expensive new metropolis called Delta City in its place. It's a power play would turn the citizens into employees of OCP, with The Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy) in charge of the new corporatocracy (not-so-subtly illustrated by big red banners with the OCP logo in the center in white and black, and company patrolmen that look more like the SS than security guards).
The lack of a central villain in this web of deceit is RoboCop 2's primary weakness. Miller and co-screenwriter Walon Green line up at least four villains, all competing for screen time, including The Old Man, drug lord Cain (Tom Noonan), his apprentice Hob (Gabriel Damon), and Dr. Juliette Faxx (Belinda Bauer). The film hopscotches around at random from OCP trying to run off with the city to Faxx trying to corrupt RoboCop and then back to street crime with Cain and Hob, until none of these stories have much narrative weight. On top of all that, RoboCop himself wrestles with vague internal conflict about being a mixture of man and machine. There's probably a nice question of his own willpower buried in the fact that RoboCop remains on duty when his human partners go on strike, but that line is never drawn.
The most troublesome of these threads is Faxx's story. OCP's attempts to build a new RoboCop have been disastrous, so she volunteers to take over the program, but the film never offers a reason as to why OCP is trying in the first place. They already have the original, and although the city needs more of them, there doesn't seem to be any reason to change the model that already exists. Murphy's man/machine conflict also seems like it should lead right into the company's struggle to find another psyche that's able to adapt to the struggle of being a cyborg, but again, the opportunity is ignored. Faxx herself is also a somewhat obnoxious character that feels like a poor attempt to recreate Miguel Ferrer's role from the first movie, and it's never quite clear whether Faxx is malicious or just crazy in her dreams of using psychos instead of heroes as the human component. On the other hand, the scenes where RoboCop is reprogrammed by Faxx with every directive imaginable are hilarious thanks to Weller's cheery delivery, and she eventually puts Cain's mind inside the new Robocop (cleverly named "RoboCop 2"), which leads to the movie's big finish.
Although he falters with a bunch of goofy fake commercials that are painfully broad compared to the commercials in the original, Kershner knows how to put on a show, and he does just that in several action sequences scattered throughout the movie. The film opens with a couple of sequences where Murphy heads out onto the streets (with Nancy Allen's Lewis in tow) to try and take out a few drug dealers, and ends with an all-out battle between Murphy and Cain (as RoboCop 2). Kershner does a pretty note-perfect job of blending live-action with impressive stop-motion animation, and aside from a terrible matte painting, it's a fun, exciting bit of special effects wizardry. Is it fair to let RoboCop 2 off the hook as an action spectacle compared to the brilliant original? Maybe not, but the amount of effort is impressive -- the film certainly doesn't fail for lack of trying.
Whoever mocked up this Blu-Ray cover was clearly not at their most inspired. Take a generic photo of buildings and lazily shop a couple of stills from the movie into it, throw the title on, and voila! As former DVDTalker Scott Weinberg pointed out on Twitter, the arrangement inadvertently makes RoboCop look several stories tall. The disc comes in an eco-friendly case with holes punched in it, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
As a previous owner of the RoboCop Trilogy Blu-Ray, this is the best of the three transfers, featuring a 1.85:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode with colors that so striking, I was almost distracted by how blue RoboCop is in this one (I seem to remember RoboCop's coloration was an issue for fans on previous DVD iterations of the original, but some internet research suggests that his vibrant, sky-blue look is accurate for the sequel). Fine detail is very strong, and I don't see any obvious DNR, although skin might be a touch smooth, and grain is very light and occasionally invisible. The image simultaneously dips in contrast and brightens in overall appearance whenever the shot involves stop-motion animation, but that's no fault of the disc.
The image is paired up with a thunderously loud, exceptionally detailed 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that captures every piece of broken glass and shard of shrapnel in the film's opening and closing action sequences. RoboCop's electronic drumbeat footsteps have a nice weight to them, and the music is bold without drowning out the dialogue. All things considered, this is about as good a presentation RoboCop 2 is ever going to get. As for subtitles, the packaging only lists English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and French and Spanish subs, but there's a whole host of around 20 or 25 subtitle streams.
As this disc was produced for the Trilogy in early 2010, it would've been nice (and timely) for MGM/Fox to have grabbed Irvin Kershner for an interview or a commentary track, and it would've been appreciated if someone had been able to dig up these deleted scenes or a vintage featurette. Alas, aside from two original theatrical trailers, there's nothing here, and now that Kershner is no longer with us, that's probably the final word on the title, period.
RoboCop 2 won't please every fan of the original, but it's a fun popcorn movie with plenty of ideas, even if many of them go nowhere. This Blu-Ray looks and sounds better than any DVD on the market, and although it doesn't pack any real extras, it's probably not going to get double-dipped later. Best of all, you can now buy it independently of the trilogy, saving you the disgrace of owning a copy of the atrocious, all-time-worst-movie-material that is RoboCop 3. Recommended.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.