Robocop 3: Is It The Worst Sequel Ever Made?

INTRO: There’s a scene, roughly half way through the much maligned Robocop 3, in which the eponymous law enforcer is malfunctioning, battered and bruised, which is almost the perfect metaphor for the franchise at this point. As outlined in our previous video in this series, Robocop 2 may have had its fair share of issues, but alongside the annoying characters and a frustratingly dumbed down hero, it’s actually a pretty decent movie. It was just nowhere near the sequel it could so easily have been. Which leads us to part three, which is, well…Where do we start? Historically, in the wonderful world of movies in which we all often reside, part three’s, and later sequels to popular franchises, have that nagging tendency to LOOK like they should, but for the most part, this familiarity leads to something so very, very…Wrong! Beverley Hills Cop 3 lost all of the edge and humour from parts one and two, Jaws IV: The Revenge impaled the franchise’s reputation for good, while the likes of Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers deviated from part four too much for some fans. So, get ready to strap that jetpack on and face-off against ninja robots in what is generally regarded as one of the worst sequels in movie history. Is it REALLY that bad? Let’s find out in this episode of REVISITED

SET-UP: Robocop may have been one of those rare films where all of the elements in making a classic film came together perfectly, with the resulting incendiary movie blowing people’s minds, and OCP junior execs, apart. However, its sequel suffered because of the writing process and part three didn’t fare much better in this regard. Legendary comic author Frank Miller, who co-wrote Robocop 2, returned to write the screenplay. Miller was keen to make an impression in Hollywood still, and was hoping that some of his ideas that didn’t make the cut in Robocop 2 would be used in part three. However, after discovering that his work on the screenplay had been drastically altered, a disillusioned Miller left tinseltown, before ultimately returning for the 2005 adaptation of his graphic novel series, Sin City. Following his experience on the Robocop franchise, Miller is quoted as saying that, “Working on RoboCop 2 and 3, I learned the same lesson, don’t be the writer. The director’s got the power. The screenplay is a fire-hydrant, and there’s a row of dogs around the block waiting for it.” All was not lost for Miller’s ideas, however, with both his nine-part comic book series, Frank Miller’s Robocop and Boom Studios’ eight-part series Robocop: The Last Stand both incorporating his previously discarded ideas.

Edward Neiumier and Michael Miner, who co-wrote the first two movies, are credited on Robocop 3 for the characters only, for which I’m sure they’re still losing sleep…The script this time was a collaboration between Frank Miller and the guy who had the daunting task of following previous Robocop directors Paul Verhoeven and Irvin Kershner, Fred Dekker. Dekker’s previous credits included 1986’s Night of the Creeps and 1987’s The Monster Squad, as both writer and director, so the production had a very capable person on board and in fact had some very talented individuals throughout the entire project.

One person, who was integral to the first two installments in the Robocop franchise would, however, not be returning; Peter Weller. He had brought such gravitas, humour and pathos to the role in the first movie, and also in the second, despite the script’s barmy direction it took the character in places, that his departure was devastating. The actor had already made a commitment to starring in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch and while he dodged a bullet by not reprising his role as Robocop, the film suffered as a result. His replacement, Robert John Burke is a fine actor, best known for his roles in Hal Hartley movies as well as Tombstone and Thinner, both post Robocop 3. However, the suit he was asked to wear was originally created for Robocop 2 and the actor complained that wearing it, just for a short time, was uncomfortable and painful. This certainly shows in the movie as he doesn’t have that almost gracefully robotic stature and presence that Weller brought to the role in the first movie. The script also lets the actor down badly with the character of Robocop going from shooting rapists in the dick, to babysitting an eleven year old girl who somehow knows how to reprogramme the once terrifying ED-209 into what she calls “loyal as a puppy”.

Thinking back to what must have been some pretty fraught and frenzied production meetings between the execs at Orion Pictures and the production team, it makes you wonder if they had no option, in their minds at least, other than to significantly water down the Robo threequel. Orion wasn’t in the best of financial states, having had to sell the domestic rights of The Addams Family movie in order to stay afloat, and needed to accumulate some much needed cash…And fast! Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop had already been forced to release a cut version in both the US and UK territories, and the violent and drug-centered sequel was destined to have a higher certificate. Sweary ten year old, gun-toting villains and hardcore violence meant its destiny was sealed in this regard. So, against the backdrop of two ultra-violent movies, well, one if you want to be pedantic as there’s nothing as brutal as an innocent cop being blown to pieces or a toxic waste engulfed villain having his head splattered against a car windshield in Robocop 2; Orion had to broaden the appeal of its upcoming sequel. The point is, in doing so, they completely torpedoed any credibility the franchise had built. It wasn’t just this shift in tone that put the production in jeopardy, there was also the small matter of making it look believable, and not at all ridiculous, that a hulking robotic law enforcer could fly using a jet-pack. The movie had ambitious visual effects to create, and with Orion’s financial troubles they were under pressure to NOT make Robocop look like stupid. And, if you’ve seen the movie, they failed…Miserably.

Not only did Robocop 3 suffer greatly from Orion’s decision to neuter the franchise by making it kid friendly, but it was also perhaps ahead of its time as far as the studios were concerned. In the early 2010s 20th Century Fox, before Mickey Mouse got his claws into it, made the decision to cut several of its key franchise movies in order to reach a younger, and broader demographic. Films such as A Good Day to Die Hard plus Taken 2 and 3 were cut in the UK so that the BBFC (the British Board of Film Classification) awarded them a 12A certificate, while they were left uncut in other territories. This actually worked in the UK with the movies pulling in decent opening weekend and lifetime numbers while they mostly underperformed in other territories. It’s probably safe to say that these films were not exactly franchise highlights so the studios perhaps didn’t see it as much of a gamble. However, it seemed to work. Unfortunately for Robocop 3, the decision to water down a once beloved and hardcore franchise was about as smart as pitting a jet-pack toting hero against robot ninjas.

REVIEW: In his 2021 book, critic Nathan Rabin sums up the main issue with Robocop 3 with this on-the-money observation, “Who needs Peter Weller when you’ve got a jet-pack?”. Indeed, if you’re looking for a direct to TV style movie in terms of quality and production values, with no other aim than to be mildly entertained for a couple of hours then, yeah, Robocop 3 might just make your time spent on it worthwhile. However, if you’re expecting a worthy sequel to a once great franchise with an immeasurably good first part and serviceable second then you’ll be left bitterly disappointed at what happened with Robocop 3. The plot originally rehashed ideas from Frank Miller’s Robocop 2 script and the ultimate narrative we get sees Robocop avenging the, spoiler alert, death of his partner Anne Lewis, while attempting to save the city of Detroit from breaking into chaos. You see, evil conglomerate OCP are going full steam ahead, all guns blazing on their Delta City project with the help of the Japanese Kanemitsu Corporation, who are financing the plan by demolishing the homes of Delta City residents. OCP recruits a heavily armed security task force, called ‘rehabs’, led by evil Englishman Paul McDaggett, to forcibly relocate local residents to make way for the new city.

Along the way, Robocop teams up with a young girl called Nikko, an inexplicably genius level hacker who seems to know exactly how to reprogram pretty much anything, including the once awesome “loyal as a puppy” ED-209! While defending civilians from the rehabs, Lewis is mortally wounded in what’s a pretty lame, and strangely early death scene for such an iconic character. Robocop is badly wounded and is rescued by a group of resistance fighters, including plucky young genius Nikko who joins them after losing her parents in the relocation attacks. What follows is, well, to be honest, more than just a tad embarrassing for all involved. Robocop doesn’t even show up for the first twenty minutes of the movie and when he does it’s via a fairly nonsensical and ridiculously over the top stunt . He drives his car to the top of a parking lot only to drive off it, crash land then shoot his way out of the roof because, well, I guess the writers thought their new prepubescent demographic would find it cool. It wasn’t. Another issue with the movie is the antagonists. Clarence Boddicker was a villain for the ages in the first movie; creepy, menacing and incredibly unhinged while Cane from Robocop 2 was a pretty effective if not exactly a memorable bad buy. However, all we get in Robocop 3 is a disappointingly tame Rip Torn as OCP’s new CEO, plus the underwritten head of the Kanemitsu corporation, played by Conan the Barbarian’s Mako. We’re also treated to the aforementioned Paul McDagget, played by Man of La Mancha’s Paul Castle, who comes across as bargain bin Bond Villain and yes, those wonderful ninja robots.

This is where the movie really falters. Sure, we all love ninjas, especially kids, right? However, although actor Bruce Locke looked the part, with his impressive physique looking suitably intimidating. Unfortunately, however, the android enforcer called Otomo, named after Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, is generic and disposable. The idea to pit a statuesque, immobile robot against nimble ninjas may have been great fun if handled properly, but the fight scenes look uncoordinated and messy. Otomo is probably mostly remembered for his crooked jaw and laughably disfigured face. Robo can’t even dispatch the bad guys without the help from, yep, you’ve guessed it – child genius Nikko. The franchise never really recovered from part three and even returning cast members from the franchise, or Jill Hennesey’s Dr Lazarus, and her one witty line could save it. At the end of the day, Robocop 3 is a mess. It does have some merits, the score is helped by the returning Basil Poledouris and some of the cinematography is decent, but Orion, in their desperate financial state, gambled too heavily on this movie, and the resulting kid-friendly product, is a disaster. That said, the Canadian-made TV series that followed it was much worse.

LEGACY / NOW:

RoboCop 3 opened at number one in Japan, grossing 147,695,744 yen (which was roughly $1.3 million at the time) in its opening week from 17 screens. It also opened at number one in France with a gross of 9.6 million French franc roughly ($1.7 million) from 317 screens. In the US, it grossed $4.3 million in its opening weekend from 1,796 theaters, placing third, and ended its run with $10.6 million in the United States and Canada. Internationally, the movie grossed $36.3 million for a worldwide gross of $47 million, against an estimated $22 million production budget.

From a critical perspective, the film was, unsurprisingly, met with a largely negative response. Rotten Tomatoes has a score of 6% for the movie with an average score of 3.20 out of 10 and the biting critical analysis from the website reads as follows, “This asinine sequel should be placed under arrest.” Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars with the longevity of the characters a bone of contention for the late critic; “Why do they persist in making these retreads? Because RoboCop is a brand name, I guess, and this is this year’s new model. It’s an old tradition in Detroit to take an old design and slap on some fresh chrome.” Others were slightly more positive about the ill-fated sequel with Reel Film Reviews saying in their two and a half star review that; “The best one could hope for is a movie that’s not an ordeal to sit through, and on that level, RoboCop 3 certainly excels. When placed side-by-side with the original, the film doesn’t quite hold up. But, at the very least, RoboCop 3 works as a popcorn movie—something part two couldn’t even manage.”

Robocop 3, just like its predecessors, also spawned a side-scrolling video game shoot-em-up for DOS systems as well as the Amiga and Atari ST platforms, created by Digital Image Design. After a while there were also side-scrolling platform games released for the movie on the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, NES, Super NES, Game Gear, Master System, and Sega Genesis. The movie may have been a disaster but at least some mildly fun shoot-em-ups kept kids entertained for a while back in the early 90s.

So, despite everything this video has thrown at Robocop 3, what’s YOUR view of the movie? Did they keep it in any way watchable, did they successfully manage to maintain a cohesive narrative for the final chapter, or was the introduction of Nikko and her pet ED-209 too much to bear? As usual, please let us know in the comments below. Also, we’re sticking around the dystopian world of Robocop for a while longer as with all popular franchises, you know exactly what’s just around the corner don’t you. That’s right – a reboot! Well, that’s a story for next time here on REVISITED, but don’t go thinking they learned from their mistakes.

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/robocop-3-is-it-the-worst-sequel-ever-made/