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WTF Moments: RoboCop 2's suicidal robots pulling their brains out
Most people agree that RoboCop 2 (1990) is far inferior to the original film... unless you grade on a scale of robot suicides, in which case RoboCop 2 is definitely at the top.
RoboCop (1987) used over-the-top violence to satirize '80s consumerism, police corruption, and the action film genre as a whole. Despite a logline that sounds like it was invented by a not terribly inventive 5-year-old (“it’s about a cop that turns into a robot! And the lady cop has a very unflattering haircut!”), the film was critically praised and spawned two sequels, two live-action TV series, two animated shows, and a reboot that inspired yawns across the nation.
As a sequel, RoboCop 2 isn’t terrible. It’s not good, either, but it really did try to capture the unexpected comedy and shocking moments of the original. One scene managed to encompass all of that, plus a little extra weirdness of its own. I’m referring, of course, to the robot suicide montage.
Towards the beginning of the film, the cops are on strike and the evil Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation is desperate to make an even more effective fleet of robotic policemen. So, the corporate bad guys gather around to watch test footage of the new models.
“It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you: RoboCop 2,” the scientist proudly announces as a triumphant fanfare plays. The large, menacing robot stomps out as the trumpets fade. Then, it kills two people and shoots itself. The next robot appears and instantly tears its own head off!
It isn’t the violence of the scene that makes this so WTF-worthy, though it is plenty disturbing. The first robot clearly has a terrified man inside who doesn’t understand his new cyborg existence and immediately turns to suicide as a way out. As the second robot kills itself, we see a human skull screaming in abject horror. It might be claymation, but a skull crying out for death is jarring in any form.
But here’s why this moment is so weird to me: I think the scene is freaking hilarious! Every time I see these cyborgs off themselves, I just laugh and laugh. After I saw the movie, I’d laugh just remembering the idea of the suicide montage. And writing out “Oh how I laughed at the suicide montage” isn’t a normal thing to do.
In my defense, this moment is set up to be comedic. The heroic music directly contrasts the immediate failure. The OCP members aren’t horrified by the violence, they’re just annoyed that their investment didn’t pan out. It’s not meant to be serious. In fact, it mirrors the scene in the first film in which the ED-209 goes crazy and shoots up the board room. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that the first film's comically violent scene was a turning point in the film. “Because the scene surprises us in a movie that seemed to be developing into a serious thriller, it puts us off guard," he said. "We're no longer quite sure where RoboCop is going, and that's one of the movie's best qualities.”
Yet, in RoboCop 2, the suicides don’t subvert expectations like the ED-209 disaster. We already expect dark comedy and squibs galore. When I laugh at the boardroom scene, I’m laughing at the satirical take on violence and change in tone. When I laugh at the suicide scene, I’m just laughing at the idea of cyborgs dying. That’s it. Oh, also, I never laughed out loud at the first RoboCop. But I audibly cackled at the sight of a frightened man-machine taking his own life.
Maybe the idea of intelligent robotics is so deeply disturbing, it brings me great joy to see them destroyed in any way. Perhaps I hate the OCP so much, I’m delighted by their scientific failures. But more likely, it is I, a human, that is the real monster. And no amount of robotic enhancements can make me a hero, since true heroism starts from within.
Whether I’m a monster or just have a weird sense of humor, RoboCop 2 has little moments of brilliance and a lot of extra weirdness that anyone can enjoy. I didn’t even mention the swearing, drug kingpin child. Or the fact that RoboCop eventually saves the day by letting the villain cyborg shoot himself up with a super drug while RoboCop sneaks in and tears his brain out. How many movies show two robots getting their heads ripped off while they scream for mercy? And do it for laughs? That’s the magic of RoboCop 2. Though not as impressive as its predecessor, the cyborg killing sequel is worth a second look.