Robocop 3

Directed by: Fred Dekker
Category: Action/Sci-fi

The Robocop franchise is a touchy subject with a lot of die-hard action/sci-fi fans. I think that pretty much the majority of the world just flat out loves the original one. Even by today's standards, it's exceptionally well done and hasn't aged a bit. In fact, I personally feel the Robocop remake was completely unnecessary. And the more I discuss Robocop 2 with fans and friends, I'm realizing that it's pretty much split right down the middle. To date, with everyone I've discussed this with, it doesn't seem to sway farther in either direction as far as those who love it and those who hate it. Right now, it's about 50/50. But then we get to Robocop 3 and it's pretty unanimous; it sucks. I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes it, and for good reason.

If you do any digging, you know getting the film from page to screen was not easy. Filmed a year after Robocop 2 was released in 1990, it sat on the shelf until it's eventual 1993 theatrical release due to Orion's bankruptcy. Legendary comic book and graphic novelist Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns), who had written the screenplay for Robocop 2, had again worked on the screenplay for 3, hoping that a lot of his crazy ideas that were removed from Part 2 would make their way into this film. However, as with most films, his original vision was severely altered and cut down, resulting in Miller turning his back on Hollywood until 2005's Sin City, and a lazy, watered-down Robocop film that bares more of a resemblance to the Canadian television show than it's two predecessors. It's pretty sad really, and almost comical how silly this film is in comparison. The constant thought that kept repeating in my head over and over as I watched this was that more than anything, it looked and felt like a Made-for-TV movie.

Robocop 3 had a lot of odds stacked against it before it was ever made. In a few interviews years after it was released, years in which co-writer/director Fred Dekker was pretty much ostracized from Hollywood for his sins, he's been pretty honest about what made Robocop 3 fail. But all in all, they are things were had already assumed anyway. Like the fact that he was under orders to deliver a PG-13 Robocop by the studio. And how he himself had made the decision to try and deliver a more "heartfelt" story rather than relying on insane action to movie the film along, and that ultimately it was the wrong one. He also mentions that while Frank Miller's script was ambitious, he felt it needed "more heart and less cynicism", which was ultimately the film's failure, among other things. When it did come down to the action, which he watered-down considerably to begin with, he envisioned Hong Kong style action since he was a huge fan of John Woo and Tsui Hark. Lack of budget and tenacity prevented him from accomplishing this and he admits also that the ending was pretty "lame". He realized afterwards that despite his best intentions, the franchise and the character itself was never meant to appeal to kids. The two previous films were both rated a hard "R", and filled to the brim with insane violence, language, drug use, and a healthy amount of gore, and did considerably well at the box office. So for the studio to insist on a PG-13 rating, which is just downright preposterous logically, was the first step in this franchise's epic downfall. Dekker also admits that if he had the chance to do it all over again, he'd make it completely different. He'd make it less funny for starters, which clearly didn't work to begin with, and make it a much darker and more violent film, which is what the franchise was always meant to be. He wouldn't settle for a smaller budget, and insist on having the money to be able to deliver the bigger picture that everyone had hoped for.

Peter Weller seemed destined for the role, and tailor made for it. So to have someone else fill the shoes because of a scheduling conflict was a dumb move, especially a guy nobody had ever heard of before. Sure he's a recognizable face now if you watch shows like Law & Order, but back then you didn't know who the hell he was. Just that it sure as hell wasn't Peter Weller. And while Nancy Allen did return to reprise her role as Lewis, albeit briefly, it was bittersweet. Bringing a kid into the picture rather than having his trusty sidekick along for the ride was another poor decision on both the studio and writers. There is just so much wrong with Robocop 3 that there honestly isn't time to list them all here because we'd be here forever and you'd be bored to death. But needless to say, major studio interference, and Fred Dekker's own bad choices made for a tremendously mediocre and highly unimaginative film. A film that was the complete opposite of what fans of the first two were expecting, and the results are clearly evident in it's embarrassingly low box office tally; $10 million on a $23 million budget.

As I watched Robocop 3 for the very first time just a few days ago, yes it took me 21 years to bring myself to brave this atrocity, I remember thinking that while it was clearly evident that we were in for a "tame" Robocop film right from the beginning, I kept hoping that maybe the second half would somehow make up for the first, especially after the character of Otomo is introduced. You see Otomo is a japanese ninja cyborg. Needless to say, that was not the case. The second half only frustrates you even more because, among other things, this character is severely wasted and barely used in the film. And when the action finally does roll in at a snails pace, it's very tame and uninspired. And I'll admit, the concept of Robocop using a jetpack is pretty cool, but the execution was terrible, almost laughable.

The cast is littered with a lot of noticeable faces who may not have been household names then, but surely have become well known since. Action movie God screenwriter Shane Black even has a small role in this one. And as I mentioned before, Nancy Allen does return as officer Lewis again, but it's a short-lived excitement as her character is only in about a quarter of the film. The real letdown unfortunately is Robert John Burke in the role of Murphy/Robocop. While he's not terrible per say, he's definitely not memorable or even likable either. While he does slightly resemble Peter Weller in the slightest bit - not sure if that was on purpose - he's more robotic in nature than Weller and comes off as completely forgettable. I would think that if they were going to cast someone other than Weller in the iconic role, a bad move to begin with, you'd think that they would either try to find someone who can resemble him wholeheartedly in the hopes that most people wouldn't care or notice, or just go a completely different route and cast someone totally unexpected to shake things up.

Robocop 3's failures lie solely on both Orion and Fred Dekker's shoulders. What should easily have been a slam-dunk of entertainment, albeit PG-13, which could still very well have been fun had they infused the damn thing with more integrity and most importantly action, unfortunately turned into a terrible film that easily ranks as one of the top ways "not to make a sequel" in Hollywood. Obviously the majority of the problems come straight from Orion's decision to make a kid-friendly film, but most of the blunders come straight from Dekker's inability to handle the material and some really bad decision-making. As much as I admire him as a filmmaker, he seems completely out of his element in this genre, which makes me incredibly worried knowing he will be directing the next Predator film. Yes, he'll be co-writing it with the always awesome Shane Black, but with Dekker back in the directors chair with another popular sci-fi/action franchise, well I'm hesitant to get excited anytime soon. I think Black would be a much better fit directing that one. He's more than proven that despite having an incredible knack for writing hardcore action films, he's also a pretty damn good director as well as evident with his two directing efforts Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Band and Iron Man 3. But who knows, maybe in the 21 years since his last film, Dekker has learned a thing or two and I'm worried over nothing because in all fairness, while the same can't be said about Robo 3, he offered some really nice visuals in The Monster Squad.

A lot of this Robo film also just doesn't make sense. For example, when we are first introduced to Robo in the middle of a big shootout, he literally drives his car off of a building landing in the middle of the action. Instead of just stepping out and shooting, he shoots a circle out of the roof of his car so he can stand up and shoot the bad guys. Then he steps out of the car and continues through the car door. Why didn't he just step out of the car that way to begin with instead of shooting a hole in his roof? Theatrics maybe? And how does the cyborg Otomo know really anything about America like where to find a map at a gas station and whatnot if he was a full blown cyborg from Japan created from scratch and not a human that was turned into a robot?

I've been a fan of comic writer Frank Miller for as long as I can remember. Considered a God in the comic
book world after revitalizing the Daredevil comics in the 80's and blowing us away with The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300, Ronin, Elektra, Wolverine, and yes, even Robocop, Miller just doesn't seem to be able to transition to film as easily as we would assume. After turning out an interesting, yet deeply flawed and lacking script for Robocop 2, his turn in part 3 only fared worse. In 2005 after a long hiatus from film due to his disheartening experience working on the two Robocop sequels, he came back to co-direct Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, based on his own graphic novels. With the directing bug in place, he next set out to write and direct The Spirit on his own in 2008, which resulted in a jumbled, weird, unapologetic mess that is easily one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made. I think it's safe to say that while he's considered one of the top creators/writers/artists working in comics in the last 40 years, his talents just don't transition well into film.

Robocop 3 is a prime example of how "not" to make a sequel to a popular franchise. Lame in almost every regard - hell, even the poster is terrible - this film is probably one of the worst sequels I've ever seen. I'm talking Superman IV: The Quest for Peace kind of bad. My 11 year old son summed it up rather perfectly when it was over. "Wow, for a Robocop movie there was hardly any action and no blood!". See, even the kid gets it.

Frank Miller eventually turned all his crazy ideas for Robocop 2 and 3 into a 12 issue mini-series in comic book form in 2003 later published into a trade paperback. This right here is one of the best, most insane comics I've ever read and one that's perfectly in line with the vibe the franchise was trying to go for with the first film, only much more balls-to-the-walls. It's gory, violent, nasty and crazy as hell and if you want to check out Miller's true Robocop vision, skip the sequels and just get your hands on this book.


  1. Hey Jason, good write up. I've got to say, I don't hate Robo 3 as much as most people but I think that's because I worked my way through the franchise backwards. I started off in 1994 watching the really tame live action TV show (which I dug because I was 11), then watched Robo 3, then 1, then 2, then the awful Prime Directives mini-series (man, if you hated Robo 3 don't go anywhere near this)!

    Robo 3 isn't a very good film but I dug some elements - the ridiculous car chase with Robo in a pimp mobile, the creepy way Otomo's face gets smashed, the whole idea of Robo on the run and the news making up crazy lies about him murdering nuns. Also, after watching the ultra tame TV show I dug how comparatively more violent this was.

    Like you say the execution was severely lacking and I never really noticed until recently that Robo is more or less broken for the entire movie!

    You should totally get the recent Robocop comic Last Stand. I think you'd really dig it. It's based on Miller's original outline for Robo 3 (confusingly it doesn't pick up from the previous Frank Miller Robocop comic, it follows straight on the Robocop 2 the movie). It's more or less the same story beats but a much more satisfying conclusion and much more violent.

    1. Thanks for the heads up Jack! I've actually come across it several times in my local comic shop, but as I paged through it quickly, it didn't really feel worth picking up. But I will now once it comes out in TPB based on your recommendation for sure.

      You know, there are some good ideas in here like the jetpack, the japanese cyborg, the cool new arm gun, etc., but when my 11 year's first words were "Wow, for a Robocop movie there was hardly any action and no blood" after the film, I found that remark to be pretty spot on. I think even with the considerably less action, had a better or more fitting director been at the helm, it would have turned out better. Don't get me wrong, I love Dekker as a filmmaker. The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps are great, but his handling of this material was so far off in the wrong direction that it's really frustrating.

      I can't help but wonder what the hell the studio's were thinking also. I mean, if a tame Robocop tv show wasn't successful, what made them think a tame kid-friendly big budget film would do any better? Was it just to sell toys?

    2. Jack, I hit a comic shop when I went out of town recently and saw that Last Stand has been released in a TPB, which I picked up and will dive into soon. But also, there's a new Robocop series that just started from Boom! Studios that looks really rad. Just wanted to give you a heads up!

  2. I always hated this movie and I watched it as a kid. I went into this movie with the expectations that it would be just as good if not better than the first two movies before it. Needless to say I was completely let down. The entire movie was much like you mentioned in your very accurate review. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding that there are no presents under the Tree and finding a broken window. I (as many other action starved children and adults at the time) felt robbed. Robbed of a decent film. What we all got instead was a pile of turd that the Dog who had just it on the lawn would not bother to eat.

    1. Ha! That's a great analogy my friend. Obviously with any sequel, I think there intent is always to go better with each film, yet the powers that be at Orion felt differently, as did Dekker himself who said he was aiming for a more "heartfelt" Robocop film and a "less violent" one. Huh? Give me a break. It's a Robocop film, which means lots of action, and gratuity on almost every level.

      I'm glad I watched it though, because it makes me appreciate Part 2 even more. Yea it's kind of a mess and a letdown in some regards, but it's still heaps better than this pile of junk. What did you think of the reboot? I personally didn't like it. My feelings are that it's been 25 years and we still haven't gotten a decent Robocop film.

      Thanks for stopping by man!