Maybe “trilogy” isn’t the best termfor this series. It’s really just a succession of sequels where you can tell the team got together each time to figure out what they would do next. However, “trio” didn’t sound fitting, and “threesome” sounded even less so, so here we are. Robo’s one of the most iconic figures of cinema and I find his series to be interesting case study in both good sequel ideas and bad sequel ideas. How about you whip out your Auto-9 and hop in your SUX-9000 for a run ‘n gun through the adventures of the superhero who’s all cop, no matter the composition of his other components?
RoboCop (1987) Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Rorie covered this pretty well already when he inducted it into the Besties, but I’ll say that what appeals to me so much about it is how it’s able to have its cake and eat it, too. What I mean is that it pokes fun at sci-fi and action tropes while relishing them, wholeheartedly, at the same time (in a manner much like Judge Dredd’s 2000 A.D. Magazine and Howard Hawks flicks such as the original Scarface.) It gives you the goods (as Tarantino would say) with a sardonic smile, making all its action beats that much sharper for being punchlines, too. Even the title itself is something both parodiable and straight-up cool at once.
If you’re already an aficionado, RoboCop's self-awareness gives you that many more angles to enjoy it. However, I get a kick out of how I’ve seen it be appraised as an “acceptable” actioner for film snobs too constipated to enjoy other entries in the genre. Hell, it was the only sci-fi flick my film professor praised and he had an absolute gag reflex against spectacle, of any kind, at the movies.
RoboCop 2 (1990) Dir. Irvin Kershner
Maybe the only sequel I can think of where the title actually refers to an actual character in the story. If I were doing Defending Your Movie, this would be one flick I’d suggest everybody give another look because, by my estimation, the backlash stems from people missing the point. RoboCop 2 extends movie #1's satirical oeuvre by pitting Robo against political correctness--a real-life foe more treacherous than any number of gangsters.
The best sequels throw their heroes through some conceptually inversion--T2 presented a good Terminator who wasn’t allowed to kill, Aliens put the xenomorph against trigger-happy marines instead of unarmed truckers--and it’s a truly inspired twist to have Robo’s four Prime Directives saddled with the addition of more than 300 restrictive and contradictory laws meant to please every conceivable focus group. Just like how the first movie took both angles on its genre, this sequel takes critics’ “concerns” head-on in its own plot by showing just how silly such criticisms would be if they were actually heeded.
My big knock against it, though, is the baffling abandonment of any of Basil Poledouris’ themes from the first movie. I take a lot of opportunities to go on about my appreciation for film scores, and I just can’t fathom the decision process that took us from a heroic horn theme to a chorus singing “Roooooooobocoooooop!”
RoboCop 3 (1993) Dir. Fred Dekker
Here’s a textbook case of why reining something in to PG-13 after a thoroughly R-rated identity has been established isn’t too great an idea. Not only does the defanging tip this over into a pit of cartoonishness that had been so sharply balanced above before, the absence of any returning names outside of a few supporting actors makes the whole thing feel like a car that’s running out of gas. Robo's trademark polite one-liners come as less ironic and more sincere, in a very dweeby Dudley Do-Right way.
Cyber-ninjas aside, this does have some interesting ideas--the Rehab security contractor, the zaibatsu buying out OCP, Robo’s modular weapons--but if you haven’t seen this already, I’d advise picking up Frank Miller’s RoboCop instead. It’s a comic directly based off of the wild and feverish first draft screenplay Miller wrote for movie #2. That script was so packed with crazy ideas that it was deemed unfilmable and effectively divided between these last two flicks--and #3 definitely feels like an entree cobbled out of scraps and leftovers.
Since there's so little to entertain of this to entertain on its own merits, I'd say that it's at least notable to fans of Miller's career in total. First, it has a number of odd allusions to Miller’s other comics, with some characters specifically resembling Martha Washington and the Ronin. Also, this was the project that left him so disillusioned with Hollywood that he went back to comics to make Sin City with the expressed intentt of making something impossible to bring to screen. And we know what the desire ironically led to.