Very typical of franchises that started in the 80s, RoboCop began with a violent, gory, smart, witty, and exciting opening entry and quickly descended into nonsense aimed for children. Studio executives drove the franchise into the ground as fast as possible while chasing merchandizing potential from a demo that had no disposable income.
It was then rebooted in the 2010s because Hollywood needed a recognizable property to fill a release date, and they gave the reins to a promising indie director that they then boxed into a corner and wouldn’t let him make the movie they hired him to make.
If you want a microcosm of what’s been wrong with Hollywood since the 80s, I can’t think of a better example than the RoboCop franchise. No surprises in the definitive ranking below. And do check out the rest of the definitive rankings to bask in their definitiveness.
The third entry in the RoboCop franchise is a great example of what was going wrong with a lot of franchises in the 90s. Toned down to appeal more to kids while only retaining the barest amount of talent from the original films no matter how unimportant to the actual story, Fred Dekker’s RoboCop 3 is the Saturday morning cartoon version of a hard R-rated satirical action movie. Where the second movie went wrong by trying to be too much and satisfying nothing altogether, the third firmly sets its sights on the most dumbed down version of the same idea.
Poor Nancy Allen. Her character of Anne Lewis was never a huge part of the first movie. She was a supporting character with no real life of her own, and the second movie had little idea of what to do with her. The third kills her off in a Death Wish attempt to give our titular hero some motivation, literally any motivation, that the audience can latch onto. In reality, he has a couple of different reasons why he decides to back the homeless people of Old Detroit against OCP’s new relocation forces headed by Paul McDaggett (John Castle), but it all feels like weak justification to keep RoboCop involved, especially since he disappears from the film for large swaths of time.
OCP has been purchased by a Japanese conglomerate. Why? So we can get a Japanese robotic samurai, Otomo (Bruce Locke), to fight RoboCop in the finale. Does it make any sense? Not really. Does it affect anything? Nope. Is it at least cool to watch? Not at all.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The efforts to build Delta City are about to go into overdrive, and OCP needs the residents out. They’re pushing everyone out with the relocation forces, and the brilliant eight year old hacker (oh, dear Lord in heaven…) Nikko (Remy Ryan) gets separated from her parents and ends up with Bertha Washington (CCH Pounder) and her terrorist crew that are trying to do…something about OCP’s efforts. It’s really unclear what their end goal is, though they do mention holding out for three days when OCP won’t be able to do anything anymore because…I don’t know. They, along with Nikko, break into a police armory complete with Nikko, ugh, hacking an ED-209 and making it, ugh, loyal as a puppy (I don’t think this part was in Frank Miller’s original script). With these weapons (and not the ED-209 which would be great to have, you know?) they flee.
Then, Officer Lewis gets called to give chase, crashing and being attacked by splatterpunks, Mad Max inspired gang members in Old Detroit (why are people trying to save this place?). Who are the splatterpunks? Doesn’t matter. Do they matter? No. Are they eventually good for one of the movie’s few good jokes? Surprisingly, yes! We have that to look forward to, a throwaway moment an hour later that made me giggle. Does this scene matter? Well, it gets the OCP executive Jeffrey Fleck (Bradley Whitford) to yell at Dr. Marie Lazarus (Jill Hennessy) about killing RoboCop’s emotions because he gave up chase of the homeless van to save his partner (the emotional connection between RoboCop and Murphy was never that strong). She, of course, doesn’t follow through, and…it doesn’t matter all that much. Are we sensing a pattern yet?
Now, the movie’s hard edges have been sanded far down, but there is one sequence that does have a hint of the original’s satirical joy. After RoboCop decides to protect the homeless and Officer Lewis gets shot dead, news runs rampant that OCP’s mechanical police officer has gone rogue, and OCP’s offices have descended into chaos. One executive, with his wife on the phone, walks out onto the ledge of his office dozens of floors up, and jumps out. The timing of the editing between his jump and his fall to the left side of frame as another car pulls up in front of the building is hilarious. And, moments later, Fleck gets fired after having showed off his gun, saying that he’d go out with a bullet to the head if it ever came to that. He walks out of the office, and again, the timing is perfect as we keep with the scene he leaves behind, eventually hearing the single gunshot.
That’s almost the extent of the joys of the film, though. RoboCop ends up sidelined for pretty much the rest of the movie until halfway through the action finale as nothing of any real importance happens around him. Otomo eventually tracks him down, but Otomo and RoboCop don’t have any kind of connection, so it’s just empty spectacle. It’d be one thing if the fight between the two was well filmed, but it’s pedestrian at best. The police all quit the force in protest of OCP’s plan to wipe out Old Detroit, and they set up barricades to fight. The removal teams decide to bring in the splatterpunks as extra guns (why? It doesn’t matter), and we get the one moment where a punk with huge green spikes for hair, in the background of a tracking shot, tries to fit on a tactical helmet without messing up his hair. What can I say? After 90 minutes of almost universal drudgery, I laughed.
Is this movie remotely good? Not in the least? Is it a fun time anyway? No. Does it have brief moments of levity? Yes. Are those worth the investment of time? Not at all. The film is mostly kind of boring, though it’s perfectly competently made. The script is a disaster. Whatever ideas Frank Miller had wanted to put into this were gone by the time this came to theaters. It’s just bad.
Originally published here.