Saturday, February 26, 2011

RoboCop 2: Most Important Sequel Ever

The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. The Godfather: Part II is better than The Godfather Part I. The Dark Knight, Dawn of the Dead, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. When people say "the original's always better," they can be easily disproved by any of these and a handful more examples. Then they bring up the Matrix sequels, or Stayin' Alive or Blues Brothers 2000 and you're back at square one in trying to convince this guy Back to the Future Part II is the superior film.

Ah. That's better.

The truth of the matter is, like movies based on books, the law of diminishing terms apply, and all you want from a sequel is to be more fun with characters you love and aren't quite ready to say "goodbye" to quite yet.

In Mr. Smith Returns to Washington, Jimmy Stewart teaches members of Congress what "books" are.

Most of the time, the sequel will meet this facet and everyone leaves the theater satisfied by sagely stating, "the original was better." This happens in a certain progression of understanding: Movie X was good, Movie X part 2 was okay, ad hoc. Such are movies.

Occasionally, though, is the movie that makes someone go, "wow. I guess the first one was actually pretty good."

A lot of people didn't think that about RoboCop, and you can't really blame them. Just look at the word. Say it a couple of times. Pretty ridiculous, huh? That's what the film's director, Paul Verhoeven thought, too. He just threw the script away until his wife read it and discovered there was some pretty funny stuff in there, like when Officer Murphy is crucified with a shotgun.

So Paul makes the movie and, as with Starship Troopers years later, it was too dumb for smart people's attention and too smart for dumb people's attention spans. Discourse came down on it being just another action movie.

Enter RoboCop 2 with the old switcheroo.


RoboCop 2 is unquestionably bad. To quote Roger Ebert in his review, "in fact, we see relatively little of RoboCop in this movie." And even though accorded the film as the second best RoboCop, it claims, "The film was loathed by many."

So the sequel sucks. No surprise, right? Dead wrong, scumbag. The reason RoboCop 2 is so special is people reevaluated the first and found out it's a really, really good movie. It has humor, over-the-top- violence and, here's the clincher, a really interesting plot.

That humor (as even Ebert points out), is about the only through-line between the two movies. Jokes in RoboCop flicks are more or less confined to fake ads, like the ones they used to run on Saturday Night Live, only more terrifying and probable (a Battleship-like board game called "Nukem," and 8.2 miles/gallon car, 5000 SPF sunblock).

This, bizarrely enough, was real.

So laughing at them in the horrifying/boring seesaw that is RoboCop 2 makes you look back at the original and say, "yes. I would buy that for a dollar."

It's that oscillation of "what did that child just say?" versus "why am I still watching this?" that makes RoboCop 2 a retroactive wonder. As I pointed out, there's hardly any RoboCop in RoboCop 2, but he's replaced with anti-union and anti-smoking propaganda while not going anywhere or solving any problems.

"At least in the first one he killed some bad guys." Boy howdy, does he.

Which is how its sequel proves RoboCop is a great film, bar none. It is actually just another dumb action movie; some clever bits, a couple cool 'splosions but nothing to get in the Criterion Collection.

In an obtuse way, the film is what Nathan Rabin would call a "secret success" and sheds new light on how a sequel can suck but make the original better in its own right.

The third one, though, is so bad Nixon met with RoboCop and asked him to stop making movies.

Seriously, don't see RoboCop 3.